Weekly Devotionals for June 18-23
Monday, June 18, Ezra 1:5-6
5Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. 6All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings.
As a youngster, I rarely gave God any thoughts. Sure, I made references to ‘the man in the sky’, but I never looked at God as someone to take seriously. The exiles of Judah just spent the majority of their lives as slaves, some 50+ years, yet they responded to a call from God to repair the temple, something many of them had never seen. I had the privilege of a childhood without restrictions of captivity, yet never took God seriously. God moved the hearts of these men and even as slaves, and they answered.
Tuesday, June 19, Ezra 2:1-6
Now these are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive to Babylon (they returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to their own town, 2 in company with Zerubbabel, Joshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum and Baanah): The list of the men of the people of Israel:
3 the descendants of Parosh 2,172
4 of Shephatiah 372
5 of Arah 775
6 of Pahath-Moab (through the line of Jeshua and Joab) 2,812
I have always liked when people remember my name. It usually helps me feel more attached or at least part of the crowd. When people call me “sir,” or “Mr.,” or “hey you”, like the line in a song, I feel like “another brick in the wall.” God had Ezra list the leaders of the people returning by their individual name. They were more than faces in the crowd. I recognize some of the names from other Bible books. The list continues throughout the rest of chapter 2. These men may have been bricks in the wall, but they had names and individual lives. Just like them, God knows me by name.
Wednesday, June 20, Ezra 3:10-13
10When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. 11With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. 13No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.
Couples spend 9 months waiting on the birth of their child. When the child finally arrives, they are overjoyed, mostly, with emotions, sometimes with relief from the end of the ordeal. The grandparents, who have done this a few times, may know what to expect, yet they can still be caught up with emotions. Many of the men repairing the old temple had no idea what they would experience. The older men who knew something the about the first temple, saw it as a restoration with God, and the younger ones who only heard stories, experienced a new sensation. Just like the new life in the long-awaited child, restoring the temple gave the captives new hope in God.
Thursday, June 21, Ezra 5:9-12
9We questioned the elders and asked them, “Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and to finish it?” 10We also asked them their names, so that we could write down the names of their leaders for your information.11This is the answer they gave us: “We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the temple that was built many years ago, one that a great king of Israel built and finished. 12But because our ancestors angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar the Chaldean, king of Babylon, who destroyed this temple and deported the people to Babylon.
I often hesitate to share the good news about God because I don’t want my friends judging me. I’m even more hesitant to share with adversaries. Some of the neighbors saw the Judean exiles rebuilding their temple and questioned their motives. The exiles happily shared their reason—because they served God.
Friday, June 22, Ezra 6:15-18
15The temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. 16Then the people of Israel—the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles—celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy. 17For the dedication of this house of God they offered a hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred male lambs and, as a sin offering for all Israel, twelve male goats, one for each of the tribes of Israel. 18And they installed the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their groups for the service of God at Jerusalem, according to what is written in the Book of Moses.
Usually when I purchase something that requires assembly I try to put it together myself, without using the instructions. About halfway through I realize that I missed a step or two, and often frustration develops. It’s only then that I turn to the instructions. It took exile for Judah and Benjamin before they began to look at the instructions. When they did, they looked at every detail and as verse 18 says, ‘they installed priests…according to what is written in the book of Moses.’ They finally read the book, the same one I need to keep reading myself.
Saturday, June 23, Ezra 9:8-9
8“But now, for a brief moment, the Lord our God has been gracious in leaving us a remnant and giving us a firm place in his sanctuary, and so our God gives light to our eyes and a little relief in our bondage. 9Though we are slaves, our God has not forsaken us in our bondage. He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia: He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem.
When I watch innocent people suffer I have to convince myself that God is still in control. It’s like I have to build up the nerve to acknowledge God anyhow. When a parent loses a baby, or someone shoots into a crowd, or a business has a disaster and people lose their jobs, then homes, and etc., I wonder who is in control. The harder things are for me to understand the less I see God in them. The exiles had a lot of things to consider, way more questions than I have. Yet they recognized that although God gave them grace briefly, He was still God.
Weekly Devotionals for June 11-16
Monday, June 11
While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, 2 much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. 3 So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand.
Just prior to Peter and John speaking with the people they had healed a man who had been crippled from birth and had become a beggar. Those who knew the man were amazed at this healing. But now the leaders of the temple, those who felt compelled to maintain the status quo are becoming irritated with these heralders of the new covenant – much change is on the horizon. But even putting these preachers in prison did not stop the spread of the gospel. Are there ways that the “institutional church” interferes with the gospel message and tries to contain it? In what ways do we see the gospel breaking out in new ways? What might you need to confess that you would like to stay the same but may be interfering with the gospel message getting out?
Tuesday, June 12
5 The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11 This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’
12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
The priests and scribes and elders who held all the power were curious about the “power” that had enabled Peter and John to perform miracles. It is likely they had come to fear this new power as it was attempting to usurp the power they had amassed for themselves. Peter explains to them that the very power they tried to strike down by crucifying Jesus Christ is now even more powerful through the acts of the apostles. The apostles were doing good deeds and the message of salvation is being spread by those good deeds. What good deeds would help people in our culture recognize the need for Jesus Christ? Who has power in our society today? How can we use our power for good?
Wednesday, June 13
13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. 14 When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. 15 So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. 16 They said, “What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. 17 But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” 18 So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; 20 for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 21 After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened. 22 For the man on whom this sign of healing had been performed was more than forty years old.
More than 40 years old!!! That was quite a miracle – given that the life span in Jesus’ day was considerably shorter than our current actuaries. Are there periods in your faith that you were so excited that you just could not help but telling others about Jesus Christ? These apostles were under threat of imprisonment or worse and yet were compelled by the Holy Spirit to keep speaking about God’s wonderful love and grace. What helps us judge as to what we should believe? How do you determine what is true about God and faith in God?
Thursday, June 14
32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). 37 He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
This is always a difficult concept for us to get our heads around, especially in our independent culture. How is it that people who had worked hard for their possessions are seemingly so able to turn those possessions over to the good of the whole community? The audience for Luke, the author, would have found this idealism appropriate and not surprising. Communal unity were prominent societal conventions of the time for many cultures. This inspired generosity becomes a tangible sign of Jesus’ message. What if we let our heart be led more often by the urging of the Spirit and what if our generosity is a function of our faith?
Friday, June 15
12 Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by. 16 A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.
As more and more people were hearing about Jesus Christ and witnessing the healing and restoration that was happening because of those who had faith in Jesus Christ – they were bringing others in need of healing to the apostles.
What are the signs and wonders we are waiting to see that would encourage and inspire us to bring those who we know to a community of faith so that they might experience restoration and compassion?
Saturday, June 16
17 Then the high priest took action; he and all who were with him (that is, the sect of the Sadducees), being filled with jealousy, 18 arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, 20 “Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.” 21 When they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching.
It can be an amazing thing, the prison built by jealousy. Don’t we sometimes have those moments when we long for the good fortune that happens to others? Have you ever ridiculed another or stood in judgment of another because you were jealous? How can jealousy cause us to act in ways that are counter productive to community? What other prisons exist in this life? How might you be captive to the world’s prisons? How has God freed you in your life? How might you use your freedom to tell the story of your faith in Jesus Christ?