Monday, September 30, 2019

READ IT! - Introduction to Romans 1-6

Readings for this week

Monday: Ezekiel 48
Tuesday: Romans 1
Wednesday: Romans 2
Thursday: Romans 3
Friday: Romans 4
Saturday: Romans 5
Sunday: Romans 6

Context of Paul's Letter to the Romans 

Why did Paul write to the Romans? 

Paul’s letter to the Romans is the longest book he ever wrote, but we don’t really know for sure why he wrote it. Unlike his other letters, Paul does not appear to be addressing conflicts or responding to questions from the different churches he started. In fact, Paul had never even visited the church in Rome before he wrote to them. 

It would seem that one of Paul’s goals in his letter to the Romans is to give to them a clear presentation of his theology. It’s almost like he’s sending them his resume in the hopes that they will accept him. Paul hopes to one day go to Rome and he hopes that this letter can help create a good first impression. He has pretty much spread the Gospel to the entire eastern half of the Roman Empire, and now he wants to head west. He is hoping that the church at Rome will be a good base camp for him as he heads even further west, all the way to Spain. He hopes that they will support his mission. 

In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul continues to emphasize that Jesus came into the world not just to save Jews, but to save all people. This is really his main theme. This is good news for the Romans, but it’s not new news. They’ve heard this all before. Paul, being a Jew himself, is eager to let these non-Jewish Romans know that he is on their side. There had been some prejudice in the early church and some of the Jewish Christians had been telling the non-Jewish Christians that they weren’t really saved. Paul wants the Roman Christians to know that he’s not too keen on this kind of prejudiced attitude, so they can feel comfortable supporting him on his missionary journeys throughout the empire. 

The Church in Rome 

We don’t know who exactly started up the church in Rome, but it was around long before Paul ever showed up. It’s possible that the folks who started the Roman church had been Roman Jews who were visiting Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit showed up. They then took the Gospel message they heard Peter preach on the Day of Pentecost back to Rome with them to spread it there. 

But by the time Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome, he was writing to mostly non-Jews there. 

Where did all the Jews go? 

The Roman Emperor Claudius didn’t like the Jews very much because they were always fighting about whether or not they should worship Christ as God, so he kicked them all out of Rome - both the Jews who believed in Jesus and the Jews who didn’t. They eventually got to move back after Claudius died, but in the meantime the church in Rome had grown to become a fairly large church without the Jews being involved much. 

In Paul’s letter to the Roman church, he points out that there should be no division in the church – Jews and non-Jews are no different from each other. All people are equally sinners, and all people can be saved from slavery to sin through faith in Jesus. It’s not about being a good moral Gentile, and it’s not about being a Torah-following Jew. It’s about faith in Jesus. Morality is never moral enough, and the Torah only points out to us how messed up we are already. Jesus is our only hope. 

Introduction to Romans 1-6 

Chapter 1 

The introduction to the letter provides some general notes about Paul. He introduces his apostleship here and introductory notes about the gospel he wishes to preach to the church at Rome. Jesus' human line stems from David. Paul, however, does not limit his ministry to Jews. Paul's goal is that the Gentiles would also hear the gospel. 

First, Paul says he thanks God for them because of their famous faith. He says he is always praying for them and hopes he will be able to visit them. He says he hopes to visit so that he might be able to give them a spiritual gift to make them strong, and that they might encourage each other. He says he has been prevented many times from visiting. He says that he is obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish, and that is why he’s so eager to preach the gospel to the Romans. He says he’s not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. He says the gospel reveals God’s righteousness from beginning to end, and he quotes scripture: “The righteous will live by faith.” 

In the next part of the letter Paul discusses justification… the imputation of righteousness. First, he discusses the guilt of the Gentiles, saying that God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against the evil of humanity. People suppress the truth even though God has revealed himself plainly to them. He says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” He says that they didn’t glorify God even though they knew God, and they became fools in the dark while claiming to be wise, and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. 

He then discusses the results of Gentile guilt, saying that because of this God gave people over to the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator. Because of this, people were given over to shame and lust, and women started having sex with women and men with men... And they suffered greatly because of their error. Furthermore, since they didn’t think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. Paul says that they have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. He says that even though they know that God’s Law says that such actions deserve death, they keep on doing them and approve anyone else who does, too.

Chapters 2-3 

Paul then says that the Jews he’s talking to have no excuse because the things they judge the gentiles for all the same things that they themselves do. He asks them why they show contempt towards God’s love by condemning the gentiles for doing the things they do… do they really think God will let them get away with that? He says they take advantage of God’s patience and they apparently don’t realize that God’s kindness is intended to lead to repentance. He says that because of their stubbornness and their unrepentant hearts, they are storing up wrath against themselves for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. He says that God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” 

He says that to those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, God will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. He says that there will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.

He says that all who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. And he says that it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. And he says that when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them. And adds that this declaration will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ. 

Paul asks the Jews if they think they are superior because they know what the Law says. They consider themselves to be teachers of the blind and ignorant… and yet, they do not follow their own teachings, and they cause God to be dishonored. And Paul quotes scripture again: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” 

He says that circumcision has value if they observe the law, but if they break the law, they have become as though they had not been circumcised. And he adds that if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, they will be regarded as though they were circumcised. He says that an outward-only Jew is not the real deal, and that circumcision isn’t just a physical thing… it is spiritual. 

Paul asks rhetorically if there’s any advantage in being a Jew or being circumcised. And he concludes there is because the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God. And he adds that just because some were unfaithful, this did not nullify God’s faithfulness. He says, “Let God be true, and every human being a liar. 

He then refers to a popular argument that said that we should sin even more if our sin makes God’s righteousness stand out more clearly… leading to the conclusion that God’s wrath is not justified. But he says that this is a foolish argument because, of course, God is correct to judge the world… and the people who argue for that position deserve damnation. 

But then Paul jumps back and says that the Jews don’t have any advantage because they, like the Gentiles, are all under the power of sin. 

And he quotes the psalm that says: 

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one…” 

And he says that the law speaks to those who are under it, so that every mouth will be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. 

In the next section of the letter, Paul discusses salvation - the universal provision of righteousness. Paul says that God’s righteousness has been revealed apart from the Law… and that even the Law and the Prophets said this would happen. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith in order to demonstrate his righteousness. He says the reason he did this was because he had left peoples’ sins from the past unpunished in order to usher in his righteousness presently, showing himself to be the one who justifies people who have faith in Christ. 

Paul says that boasting is excluded not because of any law but because of faith because people are justified by faith apart from the works of the Law. God is the God of both Jews and Gentiles. And he says that faith doesn’t get rid of the Law… but it fulfills the requirements of the Law. 

Chapter 4 

Paul says that Abraham could not boast about being justified by works. Scripture says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Paul says that people who work receive wages out of obligation, but people who don’t work but rather trust God receive righteousness as a credit for their faith. 

Paul asks if this “blessedness” is only for the circumcised, and he concludes it is not because Abraham received credit for righteousness before he was circumcised. And his circumcision was a sign of what he had already received credit for. He says that Abraham is the father of all the uncircumcised and all the circumcised who share the same faith. 

Paul says that it was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. He says that “those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.” He concludes that the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. 

Paul says that against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” He knew full well that his body was as good as dead at age 100, and that Sarah’s womb was also dead, but he didn’t lose faith in God’s promise. 

Paul says that the words “it was credited to him” were written just about Abraham, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. Jesus was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. 

Chapter 5 

Paul says that since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Jesus who gives us access to the grace in which we now stand and who gives us hope in God’s glory even in the midst of suffering. He says that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope… and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

He says that at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. He adds that it’s a rare thing for someone to die on behalf of a righteous person (though they might consider it for just a good person) … but God shows his own love for us in this: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

He says that since we have now been justified by Jesus’ blood, he will also surely save us from God’s wrath… because if God was willing to be reconciled to us through his own son’s death while we were still his enemies, then of course we will be saved through the life of Christ! 

In the next section of the letter, Paul discusses sanctification - the impartation of righteousness. Paul says that just as sin came through one man bringing death to all, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through the one man Jesus. Because all people sin, all people die from Adam on… people didn’t need to wait for the law of Moses to arrive in order to break it because sin isn’t just about breaking commands. But sin isn’t accounted for when the law is unknown... even though death still reigned over those who never had the Law. And Adam was only a pattern of the one to come. But Paul says that the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! One sin damned the whole world… but one act of righteousness gave life to the whole word. 

Paul says that the law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Chapter 6 

Paul then discusses the rationale for sanctification. He refers to a popular argument at the time that claimed we should sin even more if more sin leads to more grace, and he says that this is not at all correct because being “dead to sin” means you don’t sin by default. He says when you were baptized you were baptized into Christ’s death and were buried with him in this way so that we also will be raised from death with Christ and be able to live a new life. He says if we are united in his death then we will be united in his resurrection… and this means that our old sinful selves were crucified so that sin his no ruling power over our new selves. And he says that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again because death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 

In the same way, Paul tells the Romans to count themselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. He tells them to not let sin reign in their lives or to offer the parts of their body as instruments of wickedness because sin is no longer their master since they are no longer living under the Law but under grace. 

Paul then refers to a popular argument of the time that said we should keep on sinning because we not under the law but under grace so it doesn’t matter. Paul says this is wrong because the one to whom you offer yourself to obey is the one to whom you are a slave – whether your master is sin who gives death or obedience who gives righteousness. He says they used to be slaves to sin but now they have become slaves to righteousness… which is freedom. He says that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Monday, September 23, 2019

READ IT! - Introduction to Ezekiel 41-48

Readings for this week

Monday: Ezekiel 41
Tuesday: Ezekiel 42
Wednesday: Ezekiel 43
Thursday: Ezekiel 44
Friday: Ezekiel 45
Saturday: Ezekiel 46
Sunday: Ezekiel 47

Introduction to Ezekiel 41-48

The last several chapters of the book describe Ezekiel’s vision of the New Jerusalem. Much of this final vision of Ezekiel pertained to the new temple God was planning. This vision describes in detail the schematics of this new temple. Perhaps the reason this section is so detailed is because Ezekiel had originally planned on being a priest. We do not know what the vision of the New Temple is exactly about. Maybe it was looking forward to the Temple built after the exile. Maybe it was looking forward to the promise of God’s Spirit coming to dwell inside people. Maybe it was describing the kingdom of heaven being established on earth.

In chapter 11, the Glory of The LORD departed from the temple, but here we see God’s Glory returning to dwell in the New Jerusalem. God is described as entering through the eastern gate of the city upon His return. In the New Testament, Jesus entered through the eastern gate on Palm Sunday.

The vision also described a great river that closely resembles Revelation 22. The river flows from the temple and provides “healing for the nations.” Ezekiel also describes the tribal boundaries and the city gates of the New Jerusalem in a similar way to Revelation.

Ezekiel closes his book by affirming that after all is said and done, the name of the city will be “The LORD is there.” This is the goal of all the history of God and humans – restored fellowship.

Monday, September 16, 2019

READ IT! - Introduction to Ezekiel 34-40

Readings for this week

Monday: Ezekiel 34
Tuesday: Ezekiel 35
Wednesday: Ezekiel 36
Thursday: Ezekiel 37
Friday: Ezekiel 38
Saturday: Ezekiel 39
Sunday: Ezekiel 40

Introduction to Ezekiel 34-40

Chapter 34 

In chapters 33-39, Ezekiel declares God’s promise of restoration to his people. In chapter 34, Ezekiel tells the parable of the good shepherd. Ezekiel compared Israel’s leaders to shepherds who tended their flock (the people). These shepherds fed themselves instead of the flock. They abused and mistreated the flock. And so The flock was scattered to all kinds of places on a “day of darkness.” God promised to be a shepherd for His people and to bring them back from all of the strange places to which they had been scattered.

Later, the goats of the flock began to “muddy the waters” and “trample the pastures” so that the sheep could no longer eat or drink. God said he would appoint His good shepherd “David” to come and take care of his flock, and that He would separate the sheep from the goats.

God says: “I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beasts so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety. I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them.” 

Chapter 35 

Chapter 35 contains an extra oracle against Edom. The Edomites had sided with the Babylonians against Judah, so Ezekiel gave them an extra oracle of judgment. 

Chapter 36 

Ezekiel then describes the reversal of Israel’s disgrace. God says through him:

“For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.” 

Chapter 37 

The hand of the LORD came upon Ezekiel and took him to a valley full of “dry bones.” God asked him, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel said, “You alone know.” God commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones. When he did, the bones began to rattle and came together to form skeletons. Then “tendons and flesh appeared on them” and “skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.” God told Ezekiel to “prophesy to the breath” and “the breath” came and entered the bodies and they became living beings. God said that these bones were the people of Israel who had lost all hope.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land.”

God then told Ezekiel to take a stick with Joseph’s name on it and a stick with Judah’s name on it and join them together, representing the reunification of God’s divided people in the north and the south. God said that they would get their land back, He would make a covenant of peace with them, and “David” would rule over them. 

Chapters 38-39 

Up to this point, Ezekiel’s messages had focused mainly on events surrounding his own historical setting, but here he looks into the future. No one knows what “Gog and Magog” mean, but they appear to describe the ultimate foe of God’s people. They are mentioned in the book of Revelation in the New Testament, but are confusing there, too. Here, Ezekiel and Revelation similarly describe the great destruction of this ultimate foe. Gog and Magog would gather the nations of the world together to fight against God’s people. God would cause all creatures on earth to tremble and He would overturn the mountains. God would pour down burning sulfur upon His enemies. The birds of the air would eat all the corpses. It will take seven months to bury all the bodies. God’s people will burn all the weapons and use them for fuel. God would pour out his Spirit on His people and the whole world would know that he is God. 

Chapter 40 

The last several chapters of the book describe Ezekiel’s vision of the New Jerusalem. Much of this final vision of Ezekiel pertained to the new temple God was planning. This vision describes in detail the schematics of this new temple.

Monday, September 9, 2019

READ IT! - Introduction to Ezekiel 27-33

Readings for this week

Monday: Ezekiel 27
Tuesday: Ezekiel 28
Wednesday: Ezekiel 29
Thursday: Ezekiel 30
Friday: Ezekiel 31
Saturday: Ezekiel 32
Sunday: Ezekiel 33

Introduction to Ezekiel 27-33

Chapters 27-32 

Chapters 25-32 are made up of Ezekiel’s oracles against the nations. 

Lament for Tyre:

Of oaks they made your oars. Tarshish, Dedan, Judah and Damascus traded with you. Now you are wrecked by the seas.

To the king of Tyre:

You were perfect in Eden. You became proud. I cast you to the ground. There will be no more thorns for Israel."

To Sidon:
You will be judged!

To Egypt:

I am against you, Pharaoh, the great dragon. Egypt will never again rule the nations. Nebuchadnezzar will carry off its wealth. A sword will come upon Egypt. Those who support her will fall. Nebuchadnezzar will destroy the land. I will break Pharaoh's arms. Assyria was a cedar. It towered above the trees. Its heart was proud. Foreigners have cut it down. This is Pharaoh and his hordes.

Lament for Pharaoh:

You are a dragon in the seas. The sword of Babylon will come upon you. Elam and Edom are laid with the slain. You were an unreliable ally! God will take you down into Sheol where Assyria, Elam, and Edom are waiting to greet you.

Chapter 33 

In chapters 33-39, Ezekiel declares God’s promise of restoration to his people. God appointed Ezekiel as a “watchman” over the city. A watchman kept watch for signs of the enemy and warned the people of any threat or attack. Ezekiel was responsible to warn the people of their sin before God judged them for it. 

Monday, September 2, 2019

READ IT! - Introduction to Ezekiel 20-26

Readings for this week

Monday: Ezekiel 20
Tuesday: Ezekiel 21
Wednesday: Ezekiel 22
Thursday: Ezekiel 23
Friday: Ezekiel 24
Saturday: Ezekiel 25
Sunday: Ezekiel 26

Introduction to Ezekiel 20-26

Chapters 20-24 

Chapters 20-24 is God’s response to Israel’s sins and takes us to the end of Ezekiel’s oracles of judgment against Judah.

First, we hear how rebellious Israel was purged:

They rebelled against God in Egypt
They rebelled against God in the wilderness
They rebelled against God in the promised land

So God says, “So I gave them other statutes that were not good and laws through which they could not live; I defiled them through their gifts—the sacrifice of every firstborn—that I might fill them with horror so they would know that I am the Lord.’”

Then we hear how rebellious Israel will be renewed. God says through Ezekiel, “I will accept you as fragrant incense when I bring you out from the nations… and I will be proved holy through you in the sight of the nations.” But the peoples’ response is: “Isn’t he just telling parables?”

We then hear about Babylon as God’s sword of judgment. Ezekiel prophesied that the king of Babylon would come to a fork in the road and would cast lots to see in which direction he should conquer, and all of his idols and magic would tell him to go towards Jerusalem.

We then hear again about God’s Judgment on Jerusalem’s sins. Ezekiel described Israel as a nation of dross, or the refuse material that rises to the top of molten metal. God would “set fire” to Israel and remove the “dross,” or “impurities,” from the “precious metals,” and throw the dross away.

Ezekiel then tells the parable of the two adulterous sisters

Ezekiel described two sisters – Oholah and Oholiba. Oholah represented Samaria, the northern capital. Oholibah represented Jerusalem, the southern capital. Both sisters were wicked, but God took them as His own and married them anyway. Oholah was so evil that God gave her over to be judged by the Assyrians. Her sister Oholibah learned nothing from this and became worse than her sister, and would be judged more severely.

Ezekiel then tells the parable of the cooking pot

In January of 589 B.C., the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem began. In July of 587 B.C., the city finally fell to Nebuchadnezzar’s forces. On the day the siege began, Ezekiel prophesied and compared Jerusalem to a rusty cooking pot. Just as a cook would throw out stew that had mixed with rust, so would God throw out his people who had mixed with sin. 

We then read about the death of Ezekiel’s wife. God warned Ezekiel beforehand that his wife was going to die and told him how he should respond. Ezekiel was to mourn inwardly but make no external display of mourning and lamentation. The people asked why he did not appear to be sad about his wife’s death. Ezekiel told them that it was because soon all of the inhabitants of Jerusalem would experience so much horror that they would find themselves unable even to cry or mourn. 

Chapters 25-26 

Chapters 25-32 are made up of Ezekiel’s oracles against the nations.

To Ammon:
Babylon will destroy you!

To Moab:
Babylon will destroy you, too!

To Edom:
God will judge you because you cut down my people as they fled from their enemies.

To Philistia:
God will also judge you!

To Tyre:
You exalted yourself above all the gods, but you will fall! You will be swept away by the sea! ...Some people associate this passage with the fall of Satan.