Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Tuesday, 24 July 18:
1. Ezra 7:6 — “The king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him.” God can change the hearts of your potential adversaries.
2. Ezra 7:6 — “He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given.” God gave you the Bible. Does that fact impact how you prioritize daily Bible study?
3. Ezra 7:9, 10 — “The good hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”
– In today’s readings the lives of Ezra, Simeon, Joseph, Anna, and Jesus reveal important characteristics of God’s servants of which we should seek to emulate: First, they diligently and humbly studied God’s word, lived by it, and taught it to others (Ezra 7:9, 10; Luke 2:46-52). Second, they were committed to fervent prayer (Luke 2:37, 38). Third, they were obedient to God’s word but were also submissive to earthly authorities – even Jesus submitted to the authority of his earthly parents while simultaneously teaching them (Luke 2:4, 2:51). Fourth, they had earned reputations as “righteous”, “insightful”, “wise”, and “devout” people (Ezra 8:16, 18, 21; Luke 2: 25, 52). Fifth, they were guided by the Spirit, seeking to fulfill God’s purposes rather than their own, and trusting on God’s provision rather than that of men (Ezra 8:22; Luke 2:25-27). These were lives surrendered to God and used mightily for God’s purposes and to God’s glory. Are you ready to be a living sacrifice? Are you ready to assume your role as a priest like Ezra?
— Romans 12:1 — I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
— 1 Peter 2:4, 5 — As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
— 1 Peter 2:9 — But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
— Revelation 1:5, 6 — From Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
– Ezra was known throughout the land, even by the king, as a faithful man of God. For what are you most known? As Ezra stepped out in faith to follow God’s direction for his life, God worked where Ezra had no power in order to accomplish His purposes and bring glory to Himself – he changed the heart of the king to allow the Temple to be built and to supply the financial needs. When serving God, do you do only what you know you have the power to do, or do you trust that God will provide? Though Ezra accepted support from the king, he refused to depend on human institutions because he knew he could depend on God. (v. 8:22) He recognized that dependence on government would compromise his witness to a watching world. Do you at times look for human solutions rather than trusting in God? You may not consider yourself a temple builder, but you are. You are the Temple as is the Church collective. (1 Cor 3:17, 1 Cor 6:19, Eph 2:21). Are we building day by day to bring the greatest glory to God? What can we learn from Ezra?
– “Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” Teachers must be, both, studiers and doers. Many want to teach so they study diligently, driven mostly by pride as their knowledge puffs them up. Real teachers are doers who model what is right based upon a deep understanding of God’s word. Notice that Jesus taught by word and example.
4. Ezra 7:14 – “For you are sent by the king and his seven counselors to make inquiries about Judah and Jerusalem according to the Law of your God, which is in your hand….” Ezra used God’s word to evaluate the situation and the condition of His people.
5. Ezra 7:16 – “…with all the silver and gold that you shall find in the whole province of Babylonia, and with the freewill offerings of the people and the priests, vowed willingly for the house of their God that is in Jerusalem.” Even the king of Persia expected Jews in exile to want to give money to maintain worship in the temple in Jerusalem.
6. Ezra 7:24 — “We also notify you that it shall not be lawful to impose tribute, custom, or toll on anyone of the priests, the Levites, the singers, the doorkeepers, the temple servants, or other servants of this house of God.” The church had a tax-exempt status.
7. Ezra 7:25 — “…appoint magistrates and judges who may judge all the people in the province Beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God.” Judges were to judge based on God’s laws, not personal opinion or popular opinion.
8. Ezra 7:27 – “Blessed be the Lord, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem.” God controls the hearts of kings. God will make national leadership respond if His people are faithful to God. God uses ungodly leaders to punish His unfaithful people. The most influential people in politics are God’s people, based not upon what they do in the voting booths but rather what they do before God daily and publicly.
9. Ezra 7:28 – “I took courage, for the hand of the Lord my God was on me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.” Courage comes from God. Knowing God is your God should give you complete courage.
10. Ezra 8:18 — “And by the good hand of our God on us, they brought us a man of discretion.” Are you equipped with the godly character and competence required for you to be usable by God for important jobs within His Kingdom?
11. Ezra 8:21 – “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods.” Ezra called a fast to show dedication to and dependence on God as they traveled, acknowledging that safety and protection would come from God alone and not through human capabilities. On what do you base your security?
12. Ezra 8:22 – “For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, ‘The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.’” Ezra trusted God to protect him and to punish his enemies. Ezra considered it a great embarrassment for God’s people to trust in the government.
13. Ezra 8:23 – “So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.” God heard Ezra’s prayer.
14. Ezra 8:24, 25 – “Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests: Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their kinsmen with them. And I weighed out to them the silver and the gold and the vessels, the offering for the house of our God that the king and his counselors and his lords and all Israel there present had offered.” Ezra appointed leaders but also held them accountable and set controls to ensure they carried out responsibility. (Ezra 8:25-34)
15. Ezra 8:31 – “Then we departed from the river Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem.” The hand of our God was on us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way. God did what Ezra had trusted Him to do.
16. Ezra 8:35, 36 – “At that time those who had come from captivity, the returned exiles, offered burnt offerings to the God of Israel….” Ezra began his work in prayer, executed his work in faith, and completed his work in worship. This is a good model for us.
17. Proverbs 24:10 – “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” You must develop strength before you need it. During hard times, you use the strength you had already developed. When the hard times come, it is often too late to build the strength you need.
18. Proverbs 24:11, 12 – “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” If you remain silent, concealing your knowledge of ‘The Way, The Truth, and The Life, Jesus while those you know continue to walk in darkness, you will be held accountable by God.
19. Proverbs 24:19 – “Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked…” Let God worry about the wicked while you focus on being faithful to Him, regardless of apparent outcomes. God knows what is going on and will judge the hearts of all people.
20. Proverbs 24:29 — Do not say, ‘I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done.’” Do not chase after the poisonous snakes the bite you – the poison will just travel to your heart. Let God deal with those who offend you. Just continue to follow Jesus.
21. Proverbs 24:32 – “Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction.” God wants you to compare the actions of others to God’s word, consider the consequences of their actions, and learn from their actions, both good and bad.
22. Luke 2:4, 5 – “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.” With his betrothed being very pregnant, Joseph could have made excuses for not obeying an ungodly government, but being a man of God, he obeyed anyway. (See Romans 13) Joseph did not make excuses for not obeying the law of the land.
23. Luke 2:9 – “And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.” God didn’t first reveal His Son to the religious leaders or to those that society would have expected but rather to seemingly insignificant shepherds in a field. Who receives the true revelation of God today?
24. Luke 2:11 – “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Jesus is the Savior, Messiah, and LORD; He has been for eternity.
25. Luke 2:15 – “When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’” The shepherds were guided, not by sight or human intellect but by the Holy Spirit.
26. Luke 2:16 – “And they went with haste….” When God speaks and reveals truth to you, you don’t waste time in response. Delayed obedience is sin.
27. Luke 2:17 – “And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.” When people experience the reality of God, they are compelled to tell others – it is not difficult or awkward for them.
28. Luke 2:19 – “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Even Mary could not understand the birth of Jesus completely.
29. Luke 2:20 – “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” Again, when you respond to God’s word, and He proves faithful, you cannot help but praise God and glorify Him.
30. Luke 2:21-24 — God made sure Jesus complied with all Jewish laws and so was a faithful Jew in every way. God takes obedience very seriously, in every regard, and expects His people to do the same. Only sinners attempt to distinguish between big sins and little sins.
31. Luke 2:22, 23 – “…according to what is said in the Law of the Lord.” Joseph was obedient to both the laws of the land and, more importantly, to God’s laws. How about you?
32. Luke 2:25 – “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” Simeon was known to be “righteous, devout” and filled with the Holy Spirit. Are you? Simeon was usable by God for an important assignment. Are you?
33. Luke 2:27 – “And he came in the Spirit into the temple….” Are you led by the Spirit? Do you go to church in the Spirit?
34. Luke 2:34 – “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel.”The Good News is only good news to those who accept salvation through Jesus.
35. Luke 2:36 – “And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin….” The Bible is full of prophets and prophetesses. Again, most are not in established religious positions.
36. Luke 2:51 – “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” The Son of God submitted in obedience to imperfect human parents out of obedience to the Father, and example for everyone. God calls us to obedience.
37. Luke 2:52 – “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”
– This verse has always fascinated me. It reminds me of Proverbs 3:3, 4: “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.” A Christian should model love and faithfulness, something the world desperately desires, something the Bible says is very hard to find, something that even kings long for – “Love and faithfulness keep a king safe.” (Proverbs 20:28) The Christian proclaims, through both word and deed, that true love and faithfulness come from the Lord and flow through His people. It is with God that “Love and faithfulness meet together.” (Psalm 85:10) David proclaimed, “I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness from the great assembly.” (Psalm 40:10). If we are growing in favor with God, our behavior will gain the favor of those around us – we will be very easy to like. As Ambassadors of Christ and proclaimers of the Gospel, Christians must be very diligent to make sure that their behavior does not stand in the way of the message. The prophet Samuel stood before the whole Assembly asking if there was anyone he had ever wronged. (1 Samuel 12:3) On trial for his faith, Paul proudly proclaimed the Gospel while adamantly denying any wrongdoing: “So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” (Acts 24:16) We are reminded that with love, a clear conscience is required – “love… comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5) We see in today’s readings that Joseph and Mary also took great “pains” to honor both God and man – Jesus was born while Joseph and Mary were traveling to fulfill Caesar’s decree. As was exemplified by Jesus, the perfectly lovable Christian will still be rejected by men, but because of the Gospel, not because of their behavior. This reveals the righteousness of God’s final judgment of those who reject Love. Peter summed it up well: “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor…. Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (see 1 Peter 2, 3). Like Jesus, let’s “increase in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”
– God favored the heart of Jesus, and men favored the words and deeds of Jesus. People see the outward you, but God sees the inward you. Both should glorify God. Our mission (the Great Commandment) is all about relationships. Whether we like it or not, we are called to be people persons. We must learn to build loving relationships with others as an act of worship to God. Strained relationships with others is a signal of a heart problem and a relationship problem with God. God says that if you cannot love the person you can see, you cannot love Him who is unseen.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 24 July 18: Today, focus on humbly and diligently obeying and respecting all authority as an act of worship to Jesus, trusting Him for your protection and using your obedience as an opportunity to glorify God. (see Philippians 2:1-8, Ephesians 5:21, and Romans 13)