YEAR 2, WEEK 7, Day 5, Friday, 17 February 2023

Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Friday, 17 February 2023:

Ezra 10:1 – While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly.

Can you imagine a great number of people in America gathering together and weeping bitterly in repentance for the Nation’s sins? When was the last time you wept bitterly over your sins and the sins of your people?

Ezra 10:8 – …and that if anyone did not come within three days, by order of the officials and the elders all his property should be forfeited, and he himself banned from the congregation of the exiles.

Those who were not willing to submit to church discipline were removed from the congregation.

Ezra 10:10-12 – And Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have broken faith….”

Again, Ezra knew the specific commandments of God the people had broken. (see Exodus 34:11-16; Deuteronomy 7:1-4)

Ezra 10:11 – Now then make confession to the Lord, the God of your fathers and do his will.

Sin requires confession, repentance, restitution, and changed behavior.

Ezra 10:13, 14 – But the people are many, and it is a time of heavy rain; we cannot stand in the open. Nor is this a task for one day or for two, for we have greatly transgressed in this matter. Let our officials stand for the whole assembly. Let all in our cities who have taken foreign wives come at appointed times, and with them the elders and judges of every city, until the fierce wrath of our God over this matter is turned away from us.

God’s discipline includes mercy. We couldn’t stand the punishment we deserve.

Ezra 10:14 – Let our officials stand for the whole assembly. Let all in our cities who have taken foreign wives come at appointed times, and with them the elders and judges of every city, until the fierce wrath of our God over this matter is turned away from us.

The people were so serious about repentance and renewal that those who did not show up to the assembly were punished.

Ezra 10:17 — By the first day of the first month they had come to the end of all the men who had married foreign women.

Returning to fidelity to God came with great personal sacrifice and pain. The impact was likely felt for generations.

Ezra 10:18 – Now there were found some of the sons of the priests who had married foreign women: Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib….

Sin was recorded by name and dealt with publicly. Those who were willing to acknowledge and correct their sin were restored.

Ezra 10:44 – All these had married foreign women, and some of the women had even borne children.

Sin has terrible consequences on the next generation.

Acts 7:1-53 – Brothers and fathers, hear me….

Pay close attention to Stephen’s example: When accused and attacked by others, he resisted the temptation to make himself the focus or to defend himself. Rather he turned the attention to Jesus, staying true to his mission of reconciliation. He used the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel and to call for repentance. Don’t allow people to make you the center of attention for good reasons or for bad reasons. Don’t allow yourself to be a distraction from Jesus. The moment you start defending yourself, you become the focus.

Acts 7:2 – The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia….

God takes the initiative and calls those who are not looking for Him. God also calls us to take the initiative and reach out to people who have not asked.

Acts 7:3 – …and said to him, “Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.”

Don’t expect God to tell you where He is leading you – just go and trust Him with the destination.

Acts 7:5 – Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child.

Abraham called on a mission that would not be fulfilled in his lifetime on earth. Are you willing to receive a mission like that from God?

Acts 7:6 – And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years.

God called Abraham and his children on a mission that would require hard living all of their days. Are you willing to receive a mission from God like that? Can you see how faith is required to fulfill God’s plan for your life?

Acts 7:6 – And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

Stephen mirrored the forgiveness Jesus modeled on the Cross.

Acts 7:10 – [God] rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.

Wisdom is forged in adversity. There is no comfort in the growth zone, and there is no growth in the comfort zone.

Acts 7:25 – He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand.

In service to the Lord, we have a tendency to do things in our way and on our own timing which always leads to sin and failure. We must be led by the Holy Spirit in all that we do.

Acts 7:35 – Who made you a ruler and a judge?

As a priest on this earth, people will question your authority. Your authority and power comes from Jesus (see Matthew 28)

Acts 7:40 – Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.

The Israelites desired the provision of God rather than God Himself. The Israelites saw the activities of God but did not love, know or trust God. Their religion was self-centered and void of real faith. When they no longer saw the activities of God in their lives, they fell away and sought what they wanted in some other way, creating a fake savior. Do you truly seek Jesus or just His blessings? If you had no apparent blessings, would Jesus be enough to sustain your joy and your confidence? When you don’t see God working, do you look elsewhere for what you want?

Acts 7:42 — But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven.

In His mercy, God does not give us what our sinful hearts desire. In His mercy, God often disrupts our ‘Towers of Babel’. Often our ‘unanswered’ prayers are actually God’s controls where He knows we lack self-control. Often, we need humbling circumstances to keep us humble. Perhaps, you don’t have the ‘blessings’ you desire because they would actually be ‘curses’ in your hands. Perhaps you do not have what you want because God knows you cannot control your own passions. (James 4:3) Perhaps you require a thorn in the flesh to keep you dependent on God rather than falsely believing in your own self-sufficiency. But what if God did give you your “hearts desires?” How quickly would you “turn to Egypt?” (Acts 7:39) Often God disciplines by giving people what they want, by turning them over to their own desires. God’s punishment described in today’s readings was just that, giving the unfaithful what they wanted. Stephen’s warning to his wrongful accusers was that they had not ‘circumcised their hearts.’ Their hearts were not cut and marked for God. The promise of the Bible is that if we truly delight in the LORD, he will give us our desire, and the “fountain of life” will turn us away from the snares of death. (Psalm 37:4; Proverbs 13:14) What does your heart truly desire? What do your actions reveal about your heart?

  • Psalm 81:12 — So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.
  • Romans 1:24, 26 — Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves…. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.
  • Psalm 37:4 — Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
  • Proverbs 6:25 — Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes….

Acts 7:51-53 — You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

Even facing a hostile crowd, Stephen did not hold back the truth or attempt to sugarcoat it.

The Holy Spirit is available to God’s people but often resisted.

Falsely accused of crimes warranting death, Stephen stood on trial before the Sanhedrin — “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” What would you do? Stephen does not seek to directly defend his actions but rather uses the opportunity (the issue at hand) to serve as an ambassador for Christ and to challenge his accusers on their rejection of the Truth.

Stephen’s bold, confrontational words aroused the Sanhedrin into a murderous rage, but Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, only saw Jesus standing (not sitting) at the right hand of God, which Stephen also proclaimed to the crowd. Still his accusers refused to listen to him, and they stoned him.

Many today might decry Stephen’s lack of ‘wisdom’ and tactlessness in dealing with the Sanhedrin. They might argue that he was only casting “pearls before pigs” and sacrificing his future opportunities to influence. Perhaps he should have stuck with what many today call “pre-evangelism,” hinting at the truth without over offending, hoping for future opportunities to share. Perhaps there are times to withhold the Gospel, but Stephen didn’t hold back. The key to Stephen’s choice was he was full of Holy Spirit discernment, not fear. Concerning Holy Spirit wisdom in discerning when to face persecution, John Bunyan in 1684 offered the following as shared previously:

“Thou mayest do in this as it is in thy heart. If it is in thy heart to fly, fly; if it be in thy heart to stand, stand. Anything but a denial of the truth. He that flies, has warrant to do so; he that stands, has warrant to do so. Yea, the same man may both fly and stand, as the call and working of God with his heart may be. Moses fled, Ex. 2:15; Moses stood, Heb. 11:27. David fled, 1 Sam. 19:12; David stood, 1 Sam. 24:8. Jeremiah fled, Jer. 37:11– 12; Jeremiah stood, Jer. 38:17. Christ withdrew himself, Luke 19:10; Christ stood, John 18:1–8. Paul fled, 2 Cor. 11:33; Paul stood, Act 20:22–23. … There are few rules in this case. The man himself is best able to judge concerning his present strength, and what weight this or that argument has upon his heart to stand or fly…. Do not fly out of a slavish fear, but rather because flying is an ordinance of God, opening a door for the escape of some, which door is opened by God’s providence, and the escape countenanced by God’s Word.”

Inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit, Stephen faced his trial and execution in stereo with that of His Savior, Jesus: Jesus said before Pilate, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.” (John 18:37) Stephen before his accusers bore witness to the Truth. On the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Similarly, Stephen said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60) On the Cross, Jesus, called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46) Likewise, as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” (Acts 7:59) Truly, Stephen was a faithful disciple, ambassador and martyr (which means ‘witness’) “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5) who glorified God unto death. May we be so bold and faithful in the Holy Spirit when opportunities to share the Gospel and glorify God arise.

  • 2 Kings 7:9 — Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us.
  • Proverbs 25:25 — Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.
  • Proverbs 3:27 — Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.
  • Ephesians 5:16 – Mak[e] the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
  • Proverbs 27:1 — Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.
  • Isaiah 52:7 — How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
  • Isaiah 61:1 — The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
  • Luke 3:18 — So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.
  • Luke 4:18 — “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
  • Luke 4:43 — but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”
  • Luke 7:22 — And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.
  • Luke 8:1 — Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him,
  • Romans 10:15 — And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
  • Mark 13:10 — And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.
  • Mark 16:15 — And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.
  • Acts 20:24 — But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
  • Romans 1:16 — For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
  • Romans 15:20 — I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation….
  • 1 Corinthians 9:12 — Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.
  • 1 Corinthians 9:23 — I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
  • Ephesians 6:18-20 — To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel….
  • 2 Timothy 1:8 — Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God….
  • 1 Peter 4:6 — For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.
  • 2 Timothy 4:2 — Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

Acts 7:56 — Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.

Jesus stood to receive Stephen.

Acts 7:58 – Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.

God brings circumstances together for his purposes. God brought Saul to the stoning of Stephen for a purpose. God would use Stephen to convict the heart of the most unlikely apostle. You never know what God is doing in the life of the person who is persecuting you the most. Will you continue to pray honestly from your heart that your persecutor will become a mighty ambassador for Jesus?

Acts 7:58-60 — Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

How Stephen died was an incredible testimony to his faith in Jesus Christ. How do you think his death affected Saul?

Acts 7:60 – And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

Stephen mirrored the forgiveness Jesus modeled on the Cross.

“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 17 February 2023: Share the Gospel with someone today.

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