Saturday, February 24, 2018

Year Two, February 25

Everything Will Live Where the River Goes1
We will now read from one of Ezekiel’s most interesting and instructive visions.
Ezekiel 40:1-4
1bThe hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me to the city. 2In visions of God he brought me to the land of Israel, and set me down on a very high mountain, on which was a structure like a city to the south. 3When he brought me there, behold, there was a man whose appearance was like bronze, with a linen cord, and a measuring reed in his hand. And he was standing in the gateway. 4And the man said to me, “Son of man, look with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and set your heart upon all that I shall show you, for you were brought here in order that I might show it to you. Declare all that you see to the house of Israel.”
Ezekiel 47:1-12
1Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. 2Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side. (We see here “the river of the water of life,”2 the divine outpouring of the Holy Spirit when the gospel is preached. The river begins at the altar of sacrifice.)
3Going on eastward with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits (about 500 yards), and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep. 4Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was waist-deep. 5Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through.
The power and influence of the life-giving gospel grows each day. The streams in Palestine frequently decrease as they run, but the river of grace becomes deeper and wider. The grain of mustard grows into a tree. The drops that trickled from beneath the altar deepened and widened into an overwhelming flood.
6And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?”
Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other.
Fruitful results come from grace. Wherever the gospel goes, blessings spring up like fruitful trees.
8And he said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea; when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh. (The repulsive Dead Sea is almost within sight of Jerusalem. The foul waters continually increase and now cover the ruins of the doomed cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is a sad reminder that sin leads to death. In Ezekiel’s prophecy, the living water flowed into this horrible lake of death and made it so sweet and clear that it swarmed with fish. This a beautiful picture of the way that the worst parts of the earth are rescued by the gospel, when it comes in the power of the Spirit of God.)
9“And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. 10Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. 11But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. (To some the gospel does not have the aroma of life. They reject the truth and so miss its healing power. Their wills are decided on evil and they are given over to a unprincipled mindset. They may not always seem like the worst of persons; they are not found in the foul deepness of the Dead Sea, but only in the swamps and marshes. Perhaps their imagined excellence prevents them from humbly accepting the grace that brings salvation.)
12 “And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for good. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”
So Ezekiel’s vision melts into that of John in the Revelation and we are made to rejoice in the ever fresh, varied, satisfying, and soul-delighting blessings of the covenant of grace. May we all drink of this water and never thirst again.
1 Ezekiel 47:9
2 Revelation 22:1

Friday, February 23, 2018

Year Two, February 24

Can These Bones Live?1
Ezekiel 37:1-14
1The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. (The Israelites held captive in Babylon, among whom Ezekiel lived, were like dry bones. They were dead spiritually and as a nation. Their recovery seemed hopeless.) 3And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”
Prophesying to dry bones seemed useless. Preaching to unregenerate sinners appears just as hopeless. It is our responsibility to do as God tells us and leave the result to him.
7So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. (Preaching may awaken a man’s sense of right and wrong, but it cannot give him spiritual life until the Holy Spirit breathes on him.) 9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” 10So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. (The Holy Spirit accomplished this miracle easily. May the Lord bless the word of our pastor in the same way, to the salvation of thousands.)
11Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’ 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.”
Israel would live again, even though as a nation it was politically and even morally dead. God had not given up his people, nor forgotten his covenant. Before long he would restore their life as a nation and bring the remnant back to live in their own land.
May the Lord also cause our souls to spring into productive spiritual life.
This must have been good news to these Jewish exiles. Their sadness is described very well in:
Psalm 137:1-6
1 By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows there
we hung up our lyres.
3 For there our captors
required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How shall we sing the LORD’s song
in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill!
6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy!
Love for Zion had not died out with the faithful. Some Jews settled into distasteful comfort in their captor’s land, but not the spiritual ones among them. To them the land of promise was as dear as it had been to the patriarchs of old. Let us never call this Babylonian world our rest, but keep our eye toward the heavenly Jerusalem, where our place is reserved.
1 Ezekiel 37:3

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Year Two, February 23

I Will Establish for Them a Renowned Planting Place1
Ezekiel thirty-four opens with Ezekiel prophesying against the “shepherds of Israel.” Matthew Poole notes that these shepherds were “the rulers of the people, both political, such as kings, wise men, and princes, and also religious, like priests and prophets.”2 After complaining about the unfaithful shepherds who had scattered his people, the Lord promises to gather his chosen by his own hand.
Ezekiel 34:11-31
11“For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.”
Because they are his own people he will not allow them to be lost. The Lord’s elect will be gathered by efficacious grace3 and brought to Jesus.
13“And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD.”
Food and rest are two great necessities. We have both of these blessings in Christ Jesus.
16“I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.”
There is no place in God’s covenant for proud, independent, and self-righteous people. Only judgment is reserved for them.
17“As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord GOD  Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. 18Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? 19And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?”
A hard, domineering spirit toward weaker brothers in Christ always brings God’s discipline.
20“Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, 22I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. (Who is this but Jesus, the true David, the gentle Shepherd who tenderly cares for the weak?) 24And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken.
25“I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. 26And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers of blessing. 27And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them. 28They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid. 29And I will provide for them renowned plantations so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the reproach of the nations. 30And they shall know that I am the LORD their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord GOD. 31And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord GOD.” (This last sentence is the grandest ever spoken. Nothing more can be wished for when the Lord has once said to us, “I am your God.”)
1 Ezekiel 34:29 (NASB)
2 From A Commentary on the Holy Bible by Matthew Poole (1624-1679).
3 Efficacious Grace - Sometimes referred to as Irresistible Grace, is a theological term that refers to God’s effectively working in the lives of those he has chosen to save (the elect) so they will come to Christ in such a way as to overcome their fallen nature’s resistance to the Gospel.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Year Two, February 22

Those Who Walk in Pride He Is Able to Humble1
The book of Daniel contains a remarkable incident in the life of Nebuchadnezzar. He dreamed a dream that made him afraid. The prophet Daniel came before the king and gave him the interpretation of the dream.
Daniel 4:20-30; 33-37
20“The tree you saw, which grew and became strong, so that its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth, 21whose leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in which was food for all, under which beasts of the field found shade, and in whose branches the birds of the heavens lived— 22it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong. Your greatness has grown and reaches to heaven, and your dominion to the ends of the earth. 23And because the king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Chop down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump of its roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, in the tender grass of the field, and let him be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts of the field, till seven periods of time pass over him,’ 24this is the interpretation, O king: It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king, 25that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will. 26And as it was commanded to leave the stump of the roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be confirmed for you from the time that you know that Heaven rules. 27Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.” (The proud ruler was given fair warning, but his love of sin was so great that he did not repent or change his ways. Therefore, the threatened judgment soon fell on him.)
28All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. 29At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?”
33Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws. (The king was insane. His disease is known as Lycanthropy, a miserable madness where the patient imagines himself to be changed into an animal, and acts accordingly. There are many similar cases on record. Some even exist today. We ought to bless God every day for our mental health, because if we lost it we might be no better than the beasts of the field within the hour.)
34At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,
for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”
36At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. 37Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
Proud Nebuchadnezzar was humbled and bowed before the Lord and confessed before all men that the Lord alone is God. If he was not a converted man he certainly wrote like one. Let us avoid his pride. If we have been guilty of it, then from now on let us imitate his humility.
1 Daniel 4:37

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Year Two, February 21

Our God Whom We Serve Is Able to Deliver Us1
Daniel 3:1; 3, 7-9; 12-28; 30
1King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits. He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.
3Then the satraps, the perfects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. And they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
7Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
8Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews. 9They declared to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever!
12There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
13Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. 14Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? 15Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”
16Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
19Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated. 20And he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. 21Then these men were bound in their cloaks, their tunics, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the burning fiery furnace. 22Because the king’s order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace.
24Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” 25He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”
26Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace; he declared, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. 27And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them. 28Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.”
30Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon. (The unwavering loyalty of these three holy young men is an example we should follow. They never hesitated or tried to discuss options with the tyrant. Their hearts were anchored in God. They were confident that they had made the right decision. As a result, they conquered the proud king, triumphed over death itself, and overcame the brute force of the flames. Their reward was greater than immense wealth. Jesus walked in the intense flames with them and turned the fiery furnace into a grand palace. Let us hold tightly to the truth that is in Jesus without flinching and no evil will come near us. When it comes to God and his holy gospel, let us never debate or question. Rather, let us be bold to sacrifice even life itself if it becomes necessary. May the sons of this family be such young men as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Amen.)
1 Daniel 3:17

Monday, February 19, 2018

Year Two, February 20

The Kingdom Shall Be the LORD’s1
A short time after Nebuchadnezzar had taken Jerusalem, the Edomites (who were the descendants of Esau, the firstborn son of Isaac) were also overthrown. The prophet Obadiah foretold this. We have time to read almost his entire little book.
Obadiah 1-12; 15-19; 21
1The vision of Obadiah.
Thus says the Lord GOD concerning Edom:
We have heard a report from the LORD,
and a messenger has been sent among the nations:
“Rise up! Let us rise against her for battle!”
2 Behold, I will make you small among the nations;
you shall be utterly despised.
Boasting usually ends with the boaster being despised.
3 The pride of your heart has deceived you,
you who live in the clefts of the rock,
in your lofty dwelling,
who say in your heart,
“Who will bring me down to the ground?
4 Though you soar aloft like the eagle,
though your nest is set among the stars,
from there I will bring you down declares the LORD.
Pride is followed by destruction.2 Neither God nor man can stand it.
5 If thieves came to you,
if plunderers came by night—
how you have been destroyed!—
would they not steal only enough for themselves?
If grape gatherers came to you,
would they not leave gleanings?
But nothing would be left. There would be complete destruction.
6 How Esau has been pillaged,
his treasures sought out!
7 All your allies have driven you to your border;
those at peace with you have deceived you;
they have prevailed against you;
those who eat your bread have set a trap beneath you—
you have no understanding.
8 Will I not on that day, declares the LORD,
destroy the wise men out of Edom
and understanding out of Mount Esau?
9 And your mighty men shall be dismayed, O Teman,3
so that every man from Mount Esau will be cut off by slaughter.
10 Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob,
shame shall cover you,
and you shall be cut off forever.
11 On the day that you stood aloof,
on the day that strangers carried off his wealth
and foreigners entered his gates
and cast lots for Jerusalem,
you were like one of them.
12 But do not gloat over the day of your brother
in the day of his misfortune;
do not rejoice over the people of Judah
in the day of their ruin;
do no boast
in the day of distress.
If we are hard on others when they are in distress, it will be sure to come home to us. “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”4 This is especially the case if we rejoice over the sorrows of God’s people.
15 For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations.
As you have done, it shall be done to you;
your deeds shall return on your own head.
16 For as you have drunk on my holy mountain,
so all the nations shall drink continually;
they shall drink and swallow,
and shall be as though they had never been.
The Edomites drank in celebration of the overthrow of Judah, but their partying turned to bewilderment. Distress was about to visit them too!
17 But in Mount Zion there shall be those who escape,
and it shall be holy,
and the house of Jacob shall possess their own possessions.
18 The house of Jacob shall be a fire
and the house of Joseph a flame,
and the house of Esau stubble;
they shall burn them and consume them,
and there shall be no survivor for the house of Esau,
         for the LORD has spoken.
Israel must live, but Edom must die. Those who God elects to life will survive, but their enemies will perish. Happy are those who are the true children of God.
19 Those of the Negeb shall possess Mount Esau,
and those of the Shephelah shall possess the land of the Philistines;
they shall possess the land of Ephraim and the land of Samaria,
and Benjamin shall possess Gilead.
21 Saviors shall go up to Mount Zion
to rule Mount Esau,
and the kingdom shall be the LORD’s.
A sweet ending. It is the inspired answer to our prayer, “Your kingdom come.”5
1 Obadiah 1:21
2 Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
3 Teman was located in southern Edom.
4 Matthew 7:2
5 Matthew 6:10