Nehemiah 9: In your great compassion you heard and helped them again.
One result of the reading and study of God’s Word is a powerful reconnection by the returned exiles to their history. Nehemiah 9 is made up mostly of a song written to tell this story. In it, God’s grace and mercy is highlighted. The Lord is good to them, from Abram of Ur to the day when they occupied the Promised Land. However, there’s great spiritual failure as their ancestors reject God and his Law. There’s a lot of repentance in this song, but there’s also great hope. God is still their God and they rely on him to deliver them from their enemies and re-establish them in this place that was promised to Abraham so long ago. This song is not only a song of history but is a hymn of invitation as well. As it ends, the heads of the families are challenged to come forward to sign a binding pledge. From this moment forward they’ll be a faithful people of God. They’re sure of God’s grace, now they commit themselves to that grace. It’s a powerful moment. Without it, the story of Nehemiah is just about rebuilding a wall. With it, we have a story about God rebuilding a people.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for his patient, merciful, transforming grace.
Nehemiah 8: This is a day holy to God. Don’t feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!
Many of those listening to Ezra read and explain the Scripture this day left the land of their birth to return to this land of their ancestors. They left family and friends, security and comfort to go to an unsecured city that wasn’t a city at all; rather, it was a pile of rubble. They made the hazardous journey to Jerusalem and then braved real opposition as they labored to rebuild the wall and prepared to re-occupy the City of David. As this task is completed, a holy event is planned. Governor Nehemiah and Priest Ezra organize an event centered on the Word of the Lord. However, something unexpected happens as Ezra reads and explains the Scripture to them. These good people begin to weep and wail. The sense of celebration is replaced with a feeling of failure and fear. The leaders have to act quickly or this holy day will turn in to a day of mourning. Why is it that the people react as they do? I think it’s because they begin to grasp the enormity of their sins and that of their forefathers. Generations earlier, King Josiah responds in the same way when the Book of God is found in the Temple. As he hears it read he’s alarmed and responds in humble fear of God. There’s a place for this kind of response to God’s Word. In fact, I need to be fearful and heartbroken when I realize my sin. However, the story must never end here. The Word of God is not intended to condemn me. Instead, it’s to be for me a wonderful message of hope. I’ve failed God and should stand condemned but God is gracious and offers me hope. The bad news is that I’ve sinned against God. The good news is that he’s the God of Second Chances graciously offering me and you hope and restoration.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
The End…well, not quite
2 Chronicles 36: …he wanted to give them every chance possible. But they wouldn’t listen.
The intended audience of the Chronicles is the descendants of those in the story that’s told here. The original readers live in exile, hundreds of miles from Jerusalem. These people have never seen the City of David and are in danger of becoming disconnected from their rich heritage. However, there’s more. These books tell why they are where they are. The passage before us gives the final word. God had warned their ancestors again and again that if they continued down the road they were traveling it would end in destruction. The mercy and grace of God in reaching out to them was disregarded. His repeated overtures to them were rejected and because of that rebellion God gave up on them and all was lost. Now both Israel and Judah are gone and the holy city of Jerusalem is destroyed. The End. However, the Chronicles author can’t let it end like that. After writing the obituary of Judah he ties the old story to their current lives. The God who gave up on their ancestors is now reaching out to them. There’s the possibility of rebuilding the Temple they’ve read about in this story. The God of Second Chances is still at work even in their lives. This story tells us a lot about the descendants of Abraham but it tells us even more about God.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
The last ray of light
2Kings 21: And God was angry.
Manasseh wasn’t even born when Hezekiah received the 14-year extension on his life. He assumes the throne at just 12 years of age and rules Judah for 55 years. His record as king is that of total failure. All the reforms of his father are reversed. He’s as committed to sin as his father was to righteousness. Over time he moves heathen idol worship right into the Temple of God. The result, according to the Bible, is that, “God was angry.” Now, decades after the fall of Israel God says he is sending the same, and worse, upon Judah. He’s put up with their evil long enough. Still, in spite of the dire words of doom, the Almighty does not act, at least not yet. Manasseh finishes his life and is buried in peace. His son Amon doesn’t fare as well and is assassinated within two years of assuming the throne. In these accounts I’m overwhelmed by the patience of mercy of God. Even when he’s “fed up” he waits a bit longer. That doesn’t mean that I can assume that God will always give me one more chance but it does mean that God’s patience is beyond my comprehension. In each generation he reaches out with a new and old message of hope. Even as the door of his mercy is closing he extends a final ray of light, one last opportunity to receive that light. This is what sometimes happens on a deathbed where a merciful God gives a person who has rejected him again and again one last opportunity. It works in lives that are, so far as the world is concerned, ruined beyond repair. Even as the darkness descends, there’s one last glimmer of hope for the one who will reach out and grasp it. And it works for people who are reading the Internet desiring some word of hope when they stumble upon a mostly unread blog.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
The God of Second Chances
1Kings 18: Reveal to this people that you are God…and that you are giving these people another chance at repentance.
The “god-contest” is about over. Baal’s priests have prayed for hours. They’ve cried out and they’ve offered their cruel god their own blood. But there’s been no answer. The lone prophet of Jehovah God steps up. Now, it’s his turn. There’s no shouting and Elijah doesn’t cut himself to get his God’s attention. Instead, he cries out for God’s mercy: “Show them that you are giving them another chance” he prays. I am glad today that God is the God of Second Chances. Even when we mess up in stupid ways, God offers us second chances to repent and turn. Note that this isn’t about God turning a blind eye to their sin, offering to take them back on their own terms. The “second chance” is the chance to repent and change their ways and return to him. It’s a great offer that gives those of us who’ve crossed over the line away from God the opportunity to return. In this story, the falling fire on the sacrifice is a minor thing in comparison with the mercy of God that falls on these backslidden Hebrews.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances and that’s good news because we desperately need a second chance.
Ruth 2: God hasn’t quite walked out on us after all! He still loves us, in bad times as well as good!
A ray of sunshine in a dark place
Naomi and Ruth are destitute and alone as they return to Israel. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. They are two widows on their own. Ruth goes out to the fields hoping to find enough left over from the harvest to give her and Naomi something to eat. To her surprise, she finds herself talking to a wealthy landowner who welcomes her and treats her kindly. Upon returning home she tells Naomi of her adventure. It’s then that Naomi makes this wonderful statement concerning God’s grace. “God hasn’t quite walked out on us after all!” It seemed that way. Naomi has buried a husband and two sons. In Ruth’s surprisingly good day of gleaning, and especially in her encounter with Boaz, she sees God at work. “He still loves us, in bad times as well as good!” That, my friend, is pretty good theology from a widow woman living in the dark days of the book of Judges. I’m reminded today that my circumstances aren’t an indicator of God’s work, or lack thereof, in my life. Just because things get hard it doesn’t mean that God has stopped loving me. Naomi is wise enough to recognize this truth, and I need to realize it too.
Take Away: Even in the hard days the Lord, sometimes unseen, is at work bringing good to our lives.
Cities of refuge
Joshua 20: A person shall escape for refuge to one of these cities.
We’ve been looking over Joshua’s shoulder as the newly occupied Promised Land is divided up among the tribes of Israel. Frankly, this isn’t an especially inspirational section of the book. Now we are down to special cases: cities for the Levites and priests, and the Asylum-Cities. These cities are important places indeed. If a person has messed up and accidentally killed someone they can flee there and find mercy. These cities of refuge are the only hope for some in need of a second chance. I think there will always be a need for “cities of refuge.” Simply put, people mess up. Our world is filled with broken families, broken promises, and shattered dreams. The need of the day is not for the Church to tell lost people how bad they are as it is to tell them that there’s still hope. To some extent every church is to be a “city of refuge.” God’s people are to offer, in Christ, mercy and hope of restoration. The Church is to be a city of refuge for hurting, broken people.
Take Away: Hurting people, including people who’ve messed up, need hope and through Christ the Church offers that hope.
Cooperating with God
Exodus 12: The Israelites then went and did what God had commanded Moses and Aaron. They did it all.
Emancipation day is coming. After generations of slavery God is about to keep his promise to “rescue and redeem” them from the bondage of Egypt. The deciding event will be one of fearsome judgment. Death is coming. However, death will not visit every home in the land. The Israelites must to follow explicit instructions if they’re to escape the terrible events of that night. A lamb is to be slaughtered, cooked, and eaten. Some of the blood, mixed with hyssop is to be smeared on the door posts of their homes. As a result, the death angel will “pass over” their dwellings. They listen and obey – “they did it all.” In so doing they become a part on their own deliverance. Most of what needs to be done is accomplished by the Lord but they must cooperate by taking this action. Well, you know where this is going by now. God has acted to deliver me from slavery to freedom. He has done the vast majority of what must be done. Still, he has instructions for me to follow. I must respond by cooperating with the Almighty if his perfect will is to be accomplished in my life.
Take Away: How can I best cooperate with God today?
Something new: prayer!
Genesis 4: That’s when men and women began praying and worshiping in the name of God.
Things are really messed up. The human race is fallen. The Garden is gone. The first murder has taken place. It’s all falling apart. This “free will” thing isn’t working out very well. Eve has another son and names him Seth. Seth has a son and names him Enosh. Then a wonderful thing happens: people start praying and worshiping. I wonder how that came about. Is Seth so thankful for the gift of a son that he decides to start worshiping God? Is it Enosh who has a hunger for God and introduces praying and worshiping? I don’t know the answer but I do see here a change for the better; one that brought hope to a hopeless situation. So what does it take in my life? Does it take tragedy…or some great blessing? Does it take someone else finding the way and showing it to me? What does it take to turn me from a life being lived for self to one being lived in fellowship with God?
Take away: Prayer and worship is an “important discovery” for every person to make.
The New Jerusalem
Revelation 21: Death is gone for good – tears gone, crying gone, pain gone – all the first order of things gone.
The final battle has been fought and the Day of Judgment has taken place. The indescribably beautiful City of God descends from heaven to a made-new earth. This City and this made-new earth is inhabited by people made new. The old ways have ended and new ways have come. Death, tears, and pain are forgotten. It’s been a long time coming but now the new day has dawned…a day without a sunset. John watches as the wonders of the New Jerusalem are revealed to him and as an angel measures out the magnificent city. Nothing that will spoil its perfection will enter this place. God’s people, those whose names are written the Lamb’s Book of Life, though, will get in. In one setting, Judgment Day, the vital importance of having one’s name in that all-important book is seen as the only way to survive Judgment. Now, as we watch John watch the Holy City coming down out of heaven, we find ourselves back at that same Book. Is your name in the Book of Life?
Take Away: Ultimately, that’s the only question that really matters.