The Importance of Marrying in the Lord

“How can I find the perfect spouse?”  is a question many single people ask.  The Bible gives clear guidance on one attribute that is non-negotiable.

Today’s reading: Ezra 8:1-10:44

In a fallen world, no one can find or be a perfect spouse, but we, who seek to honor God, must wait for a life partner who is a believer (1 Corinthians 7; 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1)

[For more reflections on this passage see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

God’s Sovereignty over Kings

How confident are you that God rules over all people and things, even kings, presidents, and nations?  Here we find an example of the power of God over a pagan king (Ezra 6:22).

Today’s reading:  Ezra 4:1-7:28

When things look bleak in our society, it’s easy for us to forget that God rules over all.  But we are commanded to pray and to trust God. Today, let worry and complaining go.  Pray instead.

[For more reflections on this passage see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].


Weeping and Shouting

There was a strange mixture of responses as construction began on the temple.  Why this weeping and shouting over the same event?

Today’s reading: Ezra 2:1-3:13

The elderly who had seen the original temple wept as they realized how much smaller and less glorious would be the new one.  The younger people shouted for joy not knowing what they had lost.

In this world we are never completely free from tears.  But God promises that in the New Jerusalem “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 ESV). I long for that day, don’t you?

[For daily reflections on every book of the Bible get my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

The Importance of Expository Preaching

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 7-8; Acts 3

8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.                                                               Nehemiah 8:8

18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.                                                                                                                 Acts 3:18-21

In both the Old and New Testaments, the importance of clear preaching is demonstrated.  Expository preaching includes the reading of Scripture as well as the explanation of its meaning.

In Nehemiah’s day there had been a lack of reading and teaching the Scriptures. When the people heard the Word, they were grieved by what they heard and understood. They wept. It was natural that they should feel the weight of their failure and sin, but then the preacher (whether Ezra or Nehemiah, is not clear) exhorts them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10).

In Acts, another preacher stands proclaiming God’s Word, also in Jerusalem but centuries after Ezra and Nehemiah’s day. Peter takes the opportunity, afforded by the crowd attracted by the healing of a lame man, to proclaim the good news of the risen Christ. The good news is preceded by bad news, they have killed the Author of life, Jesus, but Peter tells them they may repent, turn back, and have their sins blotted out. God will hear their prayer and send times of refreshing from His presence. Then they may wait expectantly for Christ, who promised to come back for His people.

The gospel teaches us of our sin, but it doesn’t end there. It takes us to the mercy and grace of God who saves His repentant people, restores us to Himself, and gives us joy. Are you both grieved by your sin and relieved by God’s joy? Good expository preaching takes us to both repentant grieving and unspeakable joy. Be sure you have both.

To the End of the Earth

Today’s reading: Ezra 9-10; Acts 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. 2 And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, of the sons of Elam, addressed Ezra: “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this.                                                                                                                      Ezra 10:1-2

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”                                                                                                            Acts 1:8

God prohibits His people from marrying unbelievers, but sends them to proclaim the gospel to those same unbelievers.

It is worth reminding ourselves that God promised in His covenant with Abraham that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). Meanwhile, God told His people entering the Promised Land to destroy the pagan nations and not to intermarry with them. Whenever they disregarded this command, they suffered for it and brought problems on the nation. Yet there were clear exceptions where foreigners joined themselves to Israel and worshiped Yahweh. Some examples are: Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth, all who entered into the royal lineage of David and Jesus Christ.   Ezra was appalled at the arrogant disregard for God’s law shown by those who intermarried with the pagans. The kingdom had just experienced severe judgment, being ejected from their land and taken captive, in part, for their mixing in marriage and in worship with the heathen.

Yet it was always God’s plan to save people from all the nations. Jesus announced the imminent coming of the Holy Spirit to His Apostles. They would receive power and they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth.   Their mission would not be fruitless. The result was the rapid expansion of the Church into the entire known world within a few generations.

The Church is called to be holy and evangelistic. Naturally, a tension is created as we seek to live and witness among lost people without adopting their beliefs and sinful lifestyles. Rely on the Holy Spirit, not your own power, and be a witness to Jesus. He is the only hope of the world. In Him shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

Following Christ without Distraction

Today’s reading: Ezra 6-8; John 21

10 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.                                                                    Ezra 7:10

21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”                                                                                                      John 21:21-22

When God calls people to serve Him, He calls them to avoid distractions and focus on following Christ through careful study and applying of His Word.

Peter was by nature an impulsive and fickle person. This is obvious from the various stories we read about him in the gospels: his nervous response to the transfiguration of Jesus, his confession of Jesus as the Son of God followed quickly by a rebuke of the Lord for His prophecy about His death and resurrection, his promise to be loyal to Jesus to death, if necessary, followed by multiple denials that he knew Him. Now Jesus speaks to him personally giving him the opportunity to confess three times his love for Christ. Jesus charges Peter three times: “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, and feed my sheep.” Jesus then makes a reference to Peter’s future martyrdom and says, “follow me.”

But Peter, true to form, notices another disciple nearby (John) and asks about his future. Jesus gently tells him it’s none of his business and repeats His earlier command, “You follow me.”

Peter needed to take a lesson from Ezra, who “set his heart” to study, do, and teach the Law of God. Ezra focused on what God had given him to do and would not be distracted from it. Peter did indeed learn this lesson as we can tell from accounts of his later life in the New Testament about his service for Christ in the gospel.

How about you? Have you set your heart to study, do, and teach God’s word? Are you single-mindedly following Christ? We can all improve in this. Pray that you will be undistracted in your devotion to the Lord and His word.

Believe and Live

Today’s reading: Ezra 3-5; John 20

12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.               Ezra 3:12-13

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.           John 20:30-31

The presence of God among His people, Israel, in Old Testament times was symbolized by the tabernacle and later the temple. Because of persistent, unrepentant sin, God sent Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army to conquer Judah, capture the king, and destroy the temple. Now, in our reading, God is allowing the returned Jewish exiles to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem under a grant by Cyrus, king of Persia, but their joy is mixed with bitter sorrow when the elders see how small the new temple is going to be.

When Jesus rose from the dead, He fulfilled His prophecy to do so and to do so in three days. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” He told the Jews (John 2:19). He showed Himself again and again to the bewildered disciples and they began to understand and to believe. “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” He said to Thomas, the famous doubter. And to all the world John says that he wrote his gospel so that we “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing [we] may have life in his name.”

The temple brought temporary joy mixed with disappointment, but it was never meant to be more than a symbol of God’s dwelling place with us. God took on flesh and dwelt among us in His Son, Jesus (John 1:14). In Him, we have life by faith. It is real life that lasts forever because He finished the work of atoning for the sins of His people. Believe and live! We are nearing home.

God’s Sovereignty in Human History

Today’s reading: Ezra 1-2; John 19:23-42

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: 2 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.        Ezra 1:1,2

36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”                                                                                                    John 19:36-37

God providentially and sovereignly rules over every event of history, whether the participants recognize it or not.

We have two cases in today’s readings where human agents did God’s will. In one case there was conscious participation and in the other there was probably not.

Ezra records God’s sovereign moving by His Spirit in Cyrus the king of Persia to make a decree to send Jewish exiles back to Judah to rebuild the temple. Ezra knows this is the Lord’s doing in the heart of Cyrus, but Cyrus in his written decree shows that he, too, recognizes that it is God who has given him political power and charged him to build the Lord  a “house at Jerusalem.” So Cyrus responds in conscious obedience to God to carry out the order by making his own decree to the exiles to gather resources and go do the work. God further moved in the exiles to want to do this project.   God’s hand is seen at every level here.

The details surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and burial all reveal that Scripture is being fulfilled while the participants seem to be unconscious of that fact. The soldiers cast lots for His garment. They fore go breaking His legs to hasten His death, but, thrust a spear in His side. All of these actions are related by John to earlier prophecy and are fulfilled precisely. Yet there is no indication that the soldiers have either knowledge of the Scripture or awareness of the importance of their seemingly inconsequential actions.

Are you aware that the events of this day, whether in Washington, DC, or Moscow, Russia, or Moscow, Idaho are all under God’s providence? He does hold the whole world in His hands while we go about often oblivious to this truth. Are we robots? No, we act freely, but God engineers the outcomes and purposes so that His will is perfectly carried out. We may choose to obey Him or not but, in the end, He will be glorified and all that He purposes will come to pass.

Do not fret that the world is out of control and going to hell in a hand basket. God is still on the throne. Be confident in Him and grateful to Him and ,like Cyrus, do what He gives you to do.

The Importance of Marrying in the Lord

Today’s reading: Ezra 8:1-10:44

My selection: Ezra 10:9-11

9 Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin assembled at Jerusalem within the three days. It was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month. And all the people sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling because of this matter and because of the heavy rain. 10 And Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have broken faith and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. 11 Now then make confession to the Lord, the God of your fathers and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.”

My reflections:  As Ezra led the captive people of Judah and Israel back to Jerusalem and to the restoration of worship of the true God, he discovered that many of them, even the priests, had taken foreign wives. He gathered them together in the midst of a heavy downpour and exhorted them to repent and separate themselves from their foreign wives to avert the wrath of God.

This prohibition of marrying with foreigners did not include those who converted to faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (e.g. Rahab and Ruth were included in the genealogy of Jesus Christ) but it did include pagan wives who would turn the hearts of their husbands away from the Lord. Solomon was a prime example of how this could happen (1 Kings 11). Nor were women of Israel free to marry pagan men.

The choice of a marriage partner largely determines the spiritual and theological direction of one’s life. This is why so much emphasis is made on “marrying in the Lord” and not being “unequally yoked with unbelievers”. [See 1 Co. 7; 2 Co. 6:14-7:1]. Certainly many Christians have married unbelievers and have learned the bitter truth that this is a foolish decision which follows them all their lives. It is not an unforgiveable sin, but it is a dangerous road to take which makes it difficult to grow and serve the Lord and to raise godly children. It sometimes results in the unbeliever coming to faith but this seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Often it results in the believing spouse either renouncing the faith or being restricted in his or her growth and service for Jesus Christ.

My challenge: If you have married an unbeliever, you must seek to win that one to the Lord. [I Peter 3:1-7] If he or she is willing to live with you, you must make the best of that marriage. [I Co. 7:12-16]. If you have not yet married, pray for the grace to remain single unless and until God leads you to a godly spouse.

If you are married to a Christian and you are growing in love and knowledge of the Lord together, then give thanks to God for that. Be sure to encourage your spouse to seek God and to serve Him all the days of your life together.

Tomorrow’s reading: Nehemiah 1:1-4:23

God’s Sovereignty over Kings

Today’s reading: Ezra 4:1-7:28

My selection: Ezra 6:22

And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the Lord had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.

My reflections:

Here is an example of the well known proverb.  The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;  he turns it wherever he will. Proverbs 21:1

My challenge: If we believe this, we should reflect our confidence through prayer for the king (or president) rather than complaining about him. Whether he knows it or not, he is God’s servant for our good (Romans 13:4). God will deal with him if he fails to fulfill his mandate as servant. Stop complaining. Start praying.

Tomorrow’s reading: Ezra 8:1-10:44