From generation to generation
Ezra 1: Who among you belongs to his people?
Nebuchadnezzar, it turns out, is the last strong king of Babylon and his destruction of Jerusalem comes near the end of his reign. Before long a new world power rises to swallow Babylon. Cyrus has united the Medes and the Persians, creating a powerful and ambitious kingdom. While it’s probably true that Babylon would have fallen under its own weight anyway, the Persians speed things up to dominate the entire region. For the scattered people of Israel, it appears to simply be a change from one conqueror to another. However, this point of view fails to take the hand of the Almighty into account. This new ruler doesn’t have the negative emotional baggage toward these people that Nebuchadnezzar had. He saw them as a stubborn and rebellious people. Cyrus, on the other hand, wants their God to look on him favorably. A series of events causes him to authorize the rebuilding of the Temple that was destroyed before he was ever born. Because of that he offers these second and third generation exiles permission to return to Jerusalem for that purpose. Many of the Hebrews are satisfied to stay where they were, after all this is the land of their birth. However, some, possibly influenced by the writings in the Chronicles are willing to embark on this challenging adventure. As I work through this material I’m reminded that God is the God of History. From generation to generation he continues to work. People are born, live, and then die, passing from the pages of history. However, God always “is.” There are countless individual stories to be told but through it all, there is just One God.
Take Away: There are many stories to be told, but only one God lives and reigns through them all.
He died before his time
Genesis 5: Adam lived a total of 930 years. And he died.
I’ve heard that the very long lives of people mentioned in the first pages of Genesis are the result of someone’s counting the seasons as years or something like that. While I have no authority to say it, I’ll say it anyway: I think that’s silly. Based on the Creation story, I think the Lord designed human beings to live forever. It’s their disobedience that brings death into the world. In fact, this very moment the only man already possessing a resurrection body is still alive 2000 years down the road. He’s physically at the right hand of his Father right now. Sin short-circuited the “forever aspect” of human life and it’s Jesus who redeems, not just the souls of people, but our bodies as well. At this point, Jesus is the only man to experience the redeemed body, but judging from his post-resurrection appearances the new body is a fascinating mix of familiar (eating) and unfamiliar (appearing and disappearing). Now, back to Adam. I think his extremely long life is a residue of his original design. If you think about it, his body was designed for eternity and he “only” lived 930 years. Soon, God will move to further limit life spans, not once, but twice. The original limitation, though, is the big one. Because of sin, life expectancy is throttled back from forever to under 1000 years. For a creature intended to live forever that’s like dying in infancy.
Take away: Jesus redeems us entirely, body and spirit.
The curtain rises and there stands God
Genesis 1: First this: God created the Heavens and Earth.
Genesis is the book of beginnings. Here I’m told how the world began: light and sky and life. In Genesis I see the first sunrise and meet the first man and woman. Of course, I see the first sin and the first death here, but I also see the first act of redemption, hear the first prayers prayed, and encounter the first man known for his faith and friendship with God. The big omission of a “first” happens in chapter one, verse one. As the curtain lifts I find One Being already standing at center stage. There’s no prelude and no introduction. I start reading and even though there’s nothing to be seen, there He is. It’s staggering isn’t it! The first thing that ever happens is when God steps out into nothingness and begins doing something. Right off I know he’s the Creator and right off I know there’s no hope of my ever fully comprehending him.
Take away: I can know this eternal, Creating Being.
Revelation 20: I saw all the dead, great and small, standing there – before the Throne!
The events described are challenging to say the least. There’s a 1000 years of peace on earth as the old dragon is bound in the pit. Is it a literal thousand years? Is the peace total or just the general condition of the earth? At the end, it seems there’s a good chance that the story of the human race is about to start all over again as the dragon is released and goes to work. But it’s not to be. Time is up. The dead are called forth and Judgment Day has finally come. Two books; one detailing the deeds of each life and the other listing those who’ve given themselves to the Lamb are the witnesses. The separating of the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares takes place. It’s the end. It’s the beginning. Everything that’s happened has been the prelude to eternity. As is plain to anyone reading my devotionals on Revelation I really don’t have a clue. I’m lost as to both timeline and actual events. However, even someone as clueless as I am can have a handle on this final event. I’m going to stand before God. My life is going to be an “open book.” At that point, my only hope will be that second book, the Book of Life. If I’ve given my heart to Jesus and lived for him, it’s that book that’s my hope: my hope of life. Is your name in the Book of Life?
Take Away: Ultimately, that’s the only question that really matters.
Why it’s taking so long for Jesus to come back
2Peter 3: So what’s happened to the promise of his Coming?
The Apostle tells his readers that as the time for the return of Christ gets closer that people will be more outspoken in their doubt that it will happen. One of their reasons for doubting is that it’s been so long since the promise was made. Common sense, they think, dictates abandoning belief. People will think, “Nothing like that has ever happened since the beginning of time, now so long after the promise, things have continued as they have always been. It’s time to move on and forget about the promise.” Peter gives a three point response to that kind of thinking. First, there’s precedence for God stepping in and changing everything. After all, for eons the universe existed without this planet. Then, God stepped in, bringing about the creation of this very world. Later on, in Noah’s day, God changed everything again by bringing to pass a great flood. Here are two prime examples of God intervening in Creation to do a new thing. Second, time matters a lot more to us than it does to the Eternal One. A thousand years is a lot of time for humanity, but it’s a blink of the eye for the Ancient of Days. Third, God has reason to wait. That reason is that he wants to give more generations opportunity to be redeemed. The Lord wants to save people; all the people he can save. Therefore, he’s patient, taking all the time necessary to get as many in as he can. The Day of Judgment is definitely coming. Jesus will return and that will set the whole End of Time in motion. Meanwhile, we wait with the understanding that God knows exactly what he’s doing and at just the right time Jesus will come back. My job is to get ready, to stay ready, and to help all who will to prepare for that certain upheaval of history.
Take Away: No doubt about it, Jesus is coming back.
The slam of the door of the Ark
John 12: First they wouldn’t believe, then they couldn’t.
John begins his countdown to crucifixion with a summary of Jesus’ relationship with the religious leaders of the day. Our Lord has spent considerable time with them and while those exchanges weren’t necessarily friendly, they were convincing. These men thrive on debate and Jesus gives them more debate than they want: winning the argument each time. He also proves his words by his deeds. On this very day Jesus is dining with Lazarus, the man Jesus called forth from the grave. At first, the leaders investigated Jesus and his miracles. At some point they saw the truth: that the miracles were real, confirming his identity. The problem is that Jesus isn’t one of them. In fact, he’s a nobody from an unimportant place. Surely, the Messiah will be an “insider” and not an “outsider” as is Jesus. They held back, at first, sure that they’d find a flaw in all this that would prove them right. When that flaw wasn’t found they hardened their position. Now, we find that they’re locked in to it. God has allowed them to be the unbelievers they choose to be all along. In this, the Lord didn’t have to shut them out. Rather, he let them be where they wanted to be all along. As I think about this, I hear the slam of the door of the Ark way back in the book of Genesis. I see the thousands of Israelites being marched off into captivity. I fear I see a future Day of Judgment in which people who would not believe are allowed to spend an eternity in that unbelief, apart from God and hope. It’s serious business to refuse to believe.
Take Away: Belief is a matter of the will.
Living in the city of “God-is-There”
Ezekiel 48: The name of the city will be Yahweh-Shammah: “God-is-There.”
In his vision Ezekiel continues measuring the Temple and the land surrounding it. He sees a stream flowing out of the Temple that increases in size, giving life to all it touches. The prophet measures out divisions in the land and finds that there’s a place for all the people of Israel; no one is excluded. Ezekiel sees that there are gates named after each tribe, providing abundant entrance to all who will come. He then concludes that the Holy City will be christened with a new name: “Yahweh-Shammah.” In that, he understands that people far and near will conclude the same thing, that heaven has come to earth and that God is now with us. After journeying through Ezekiel for some time now and hearing his pain-filled sermons I find this passage to be a welcoming place to land: a flowing river, green trees, and the Holy City with space for all who will come to the Presence of God. That’s God’s intent for Israel and it’s his intent for all Creation. If you think about it, the book of Revelation follows the same pattern: war, suffering, hard times giving way to eternity as the Lord intended it in the first place. For Ezekiel a vision of God’s intentions is all about the restoration of Israel and the Temple. The Revelator paints a broader picture, but that River is still there and his rebuilt Jerusalem comes down out of heaven. For both, the end result is “Yahweh-Shammah.” I join both of these godly men in looking forward to that day.
Take Away: Ultimately, the Lord will redeem his people and will dwell among them.
Looking at the mountains, thinking of God’s love
Isaiah 54: Even if the mountains walk away…my love won’t walk away from you.
“On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” Those words from an old gospel song come to mind as I read this portion of Isaiah today. I recently enjoyed some time at Rocky Mountain National Park, one of my favorite places in the world. Jackie and I did some hiking and soaked in the beauty and the majesty of those wonderful mountains. Some people go to the beach for restoration of the soul, I go to the mountains. When Isaiah wants to compare God’s steadfast love to the most enduring, “for sure” thing imaginable, it’s the mountains that come to mind. However, he doesn’t say “God’s love for us is as lasting as those mountains.” Instead, he says, “Take a look at these mountains. See how solid and permanent they appear. Well, when those mountains are worn down to the size of anthills, God’s love for us will remain, undiminished.” Today, I thank God for his more-enduring-than-mountains love to me.
Take Away: The Lord’s love for us lasts…forever!
Looking at life “backwards”
Proverbs 4: Keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions.
When the proverb writer advises us to ignore all the distractions of life he’s just stating common sense but, obviously, it’s something easier said than done. For instance, before I can focus on the goal I have to know what that goal is. Right off the voices of the snake oil huskers begin selling me their bill of goods. They tell me that whatever they’re selling is just the thing I should give my life to. Some of the offers contain just enough truth to sound right. I’m reminded of all the sports leagues that demand so much of a families’ time. There’s a great deal of good happening in such activities, but, honestly, they aren’t worth committing one’s life to and they sure don’t deserve the status they’re given in many families. So what is it that’s worthy of my focus? I think the answer can be found by looking at life “backwards.” When I’m at the end of my life, when they’re closing the lid on my coffin, what will matter? I say it’s my relationship with God. Of course, other things will matter: family, friends, and how I’ve impacted the world in my brief life. However, eternity is, well, forever. The goal of life has to be to prepare for forever. With that in mind, I can read this proverb and better identify not only what truly matters, but what needs to be kept in its proper place as well.
Take Away: How are you doing in preparing for forever?
Grabbing the gusto, looking to eternity
Proverbs 1: When you grab all you can get, that’s when it happens: the more you get, the less you have.
As I read this passage I can’t help but think of the beer commercial that tells us we only go ’round once in life so we’d better grab all the gusto we can. I actually think there’s some truth to that. Life is a gift of God filled with many wonderful opportunities and blessings. I can’t sit around talking about “pie in the sky” and get the most out of my life. There’s a lot of living to do right now. The wise man of the Proverbs, though, gives me the other side of that coin. If I make my life completely about living in the here and now, ignoring all that is yet to come, well, I’m setting myself up for a great fall. Life is more than “right now.” This life might be considered to be a warm up for eternity. So, grabbing the gusto can make sense, but that approach must be kept on a leash and not allowed to just run wild because there’s much more to our existence than just going ’round once. Or, as Jesus says in Matthew 6:20, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
Take Away: One way to live the best life possible in the here and now is to live with an eye on eternity.