Return From Captivity To Jerusalem

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Ezra was a teacher of God’s law who was sent by King Artaxerxes of Persia to provide spiritual guidance for the resettlement of Jerusalem.  (This resettlement plan had been initiated by a predecessor, King Cyrus of Persia.)

Ezra was shocked by the degree of idolatry he found in Jerusalem!  Step by step, he began to re-teach the people the truths about their God whom they had so long ignored (22).

About 10 years later, Nehemiah — an able administrator in the court of King Artaxerxes — was shocked to learn that rebuilding in Jerusalem had been halted!  Nehemiah appealed to the king for permission to go to Jerusalem to make sure the work was completed.  Upon arrival in Jerusalem, Nehemiah carefully surveyed the situation, developed a plan for its correction, and then led the people in the successful implementation of that plan.

Haggai & Zechariah were prophets during the resettlement & rebuilding of Jerusalem, who encouraged the people to rebuild the Temple of God.

Malachi was inspired to proclaim the last of God’s messages recorded in the inspired Jewish scriptures.  He told the people to expect a forerunner, a new Elijah, whom God would send to prepare his people for their ultimate savior, the long-awaited Messiah we know as Jesus.

But then, for 400 years after Malachi’s ministry, God’s chosen people waited for this promised forerunner & for some additional word from God.

LORD, please help us to love Your perfect timing in all things.

(22) Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

 

 

Isaiah

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The ministry of the prophet Isaiah was directed to all of God’s chosen people in Israel & Judah (16).  His long service for God overlapped the reigns of three significant kings of Judah – Uzziah, Jotham & Hezekiah.

During the reigns of Uzziah & Jotham, Isaiah was used to deliver prophetic messages concerning God’s judgment of Judah, God’s judgment of the surrounding nations, and God’s certain judgment of his chosen people.  The prophet’s ministry was greatly magnified in the year that King Uzziah died, in which he received an amazing vision of the holiness of God in heaven.

Four chapters then form an historical bridge between Isaiah’s prophecies of judgment & his prophecies of peace.  During the reign of Hezekiah, Isaiah was used both to judge & to encourage the king, as he contended with the invaders from Assyria.

The remainder of the book emphasizes three aspects of God’s promised peace: (1) God intends peace for his chosen people, and for all who will serve him as king. (2) God will send his Prince of Peace to help us understand & submit to God.  (3) God has a specific program in mind as to what this promised peace will look like in the lives of his people.

Among all God’s prophets included in the inspired Jewish scriptures, Isaiah best helps us understand the significance of Jesus as the Messiah (or Prince of Peace) whom God had determined to send to rescue his people from their sin.

LORD, please help us to love Your peace more than our distress.

(16) Isaiah

Inspired Scriptures

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The inspired scriptures are a library of many books written by many authors at many times from many places – all under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  They were compiled by church leaders during the first few centuries after Jesus returned to heaven.  They remain a profound means through which God speaks to us today.

The first main part of the inspired scriptures tells of the Jewish people & their relationships with God.  Included are the stories of Moses & David, the two Jewish leaders with whom God had the most intimate & profound spiritual relationships.  Also included are the great prophets –such as Isaiah & Daniel – who were used by God to call his wandering people back into relationship with him.  Many passages in these Jewish scriptures point to a Messiah – who God promised would rescue his wandering people, and whom we know as Jesus.

The second main part of the inspired scriptures tells of the life & ministry of Jesus, and the establishment & growth of his church.  Included are four accounts of Jesus’ life, death & resurrection, plus an historical narrative, describing how the Holy Spirit grew the early church.  These Christian scriptures also contain letters from early church leaders – such as Paul, James, Peter & John – which encourage & instruct the first church communities in their witness for Jesus.

Most Christian Bibles include a handful of additional books & additions to books in the inspired Jewish scriptures, referred to as the Apocrypha.  Some Christian Bibles  (mainly Protestant) exclude these scriptures.

Not included in any versions of the inspired scriptures are several other early letters which claim to tell of Jesus, but which were not written by the closest followers of Jesus & which were not in common use by the early church.

LORD, please help us to love hearing You speak into our lives.

In The City Of Rome

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From Puteoli, Paul’s party went by land toward Rome (338). More local followers of Jesus met them along the way– at Appii Forum and then at Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God & was very encouraged.

When at last they came to Rome, Julius (the Roman officer) delivered his prisoners to the captain of the guard, who gave Paul separate living quarters & ordered Julius to continue to guard him.

After three days, Paul called the local Jewish leaders together & said to them: “Men & brothers, I have been delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans, although I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers.  When the Roman authorities & even King Agrippa examined me, they wanted to let me go, because they found no cause for putting me to death. But the Jewish leaders there spoke against my release, so I was compelled to appeal to Caesar. I have called you here to let you know my situation.  It is actually for proclaiming the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain!”

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Then the local Jewish leaders said to Paul, “We have received no letters or personal reports from anyone in Judea about you. However, we do know that many Jews are opposed to the Christian way, so we would like to learn more about this from you.”

So on an appointed day, many local Jews came to Paul at his confinement lodging.  Paul taught & testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them from both the law of Moses & the prophets that Jesus was the promised Messiah!

This went on all day; some were persuaded by the things Paul said, and others were not. Paul rebuked the latter group: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet, saying, ‘Go to this people and say: “You will hear but not understand; you will see but not perceive.  For your hearts have grown dull, your ears have grown hard of hearing, and your eyes have closed.  Otherwise, you would see with your eyes & hear with your ears & understand with your hearts, and you would turn to God, who would heal you.’

“So know this,” Paul continued.  “The salvation of God has been offered to Gentiles, and some of them are willing to receive it!”  After Paul had finished, the Jews left — having a great dispute among themselves about all that Paul had taught.

Paul remained in minimum custody in Rome for two more years.  He was able to receive any & all visitors.  To them all, he freely & faithfully & confidently preached the kingdom of God & taught about Jesus the Christ.

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LORD, please help us to love telling Your story, even when some refuse to listen.

(338) Acts 28:14b-31

The Spirit Of Self-Sacrificing Love

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In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul was prompted by the Holy Spirit to explain his special concern for the Jewish people (318).

Centuries before, God had chosen the Jews to know him & serve him.  Abraham, Isaac & Jacob were some of the very first people of faith; they had believed in God & they had learned to obey God.

Paul emphasized this order of things.  First, Abraham believed: this was the key to his relationship with God.  Then, Abraham obeyed: this grew out of his faith in God.

However, as the inspired scriptures make abundantly clear, God’s chosen people subsequently chose often not to follow God.

God had always intended to include Gentiles in his family, and over time he did this – ultimately to include many of the Roman Christians to whom Paul was writing.

grafted and grateful copy

But Paul insisted that God has not forsaken the Jews; he will still rescue the remnant who will receive Jesus as Messiah.  In Jesus, God has opened the gates of heaven for all who will believe – both Jew & Gentile.

jew gentile

Then Paul re-focused on the Christians in Rome.  Following Jesus involves sacrificing our independent self-lives to God, which Paul said is our continuing spiritual act of worship.  And Paul listed many behaviors which will result from this sacrifice – most notably, a new & inspired inclination to love other people, even our enemies.

Echoing Jesus, Paul argued that it is this sort of self-sacrificing love for other people that is the main characteristic of true faith in God.

self-sacrificing love

At several points in this letter, Paul expressed the hope of going to Rome & even beyond Rome, to carry the good news of God’s kingdom to Spain – which he may well have done in later life.

LORD, please help us to love the people You bring our way today.

(318) Romans 9-16

Apollos

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After spending some time in Syrian Antioch, Paul set out on his third mission trip, when he was about 50 years old (308).  He began by making a lengthy journey through the eastern Turkish regions of Galatia & Phrygia, strengthening the believers in the new churches there.

Paul may have worked with Epaphras at this time, serving churches in the Lycus River valley, particularly in the Turkish city of Colosse.

lycus

While Paul was on this journey, Apollos came to Ephesus in western Turkey.  He was a Jew who believed that Jesus was God’s Messiah; he was also an eloquent speaker who had a thorough knowledge of the inspired scriptures.  He taught in the synagogue about Jesus with great boldness & enthusiasm.

But at that time Apollos knew only the water baptism of John. When Aquila & Priscilla heard him, they took him home & got to know him, and they explained to him the Spirit baptism of Jesus.

Aquilla-and-Priscilla

Quite possibly, Apollos was filled with the Holy Spirit at this time, and fully surrendered his life & ministry to the Spirit’s leading.

Eventually, Apollos was called by God to go to Greece, and he was obedient to that call.  The Ephesian believers wrote to the Greek believers, urging them to welcome Apollos.  This they did, so that Apollos was provided an open door to help the church in Greece.  With his strong arguments, Apollos overcame the unbelieving Jews in public debates, proving from the inspired scriptures that Jesus is the promised Messiah.

LORD, please help us to love learning more & more about You.

(308) Acts 18:23-28

From Athens To Corinth

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Paul concluded his testimony before the Athenian city council (303).  Some in the audience didn’t believe in resurrection from the dead, so they made fun of Paul.  But others said, “We want to hear you speak about this again.”

When Paul left the meeting, some people joined him & believed; among them were Dionysius (a member of the city council), a woman named Damaris, and some other people.

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Before leaving Athens, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonika, to see how the new church there was holding up in the face of persecution from unbelieving Jews.

Then Paul left Athens and went on to the Greek city of Corinth. Living there was a Jew named Aquila; he was originally from Pontus in northeastern Turkey, but he had later lived in Italy.  When the Emperor Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome, Aquila had moved to Corinth with his wife, Priscilla.

Upon his arrival in Corinth, Paul lived with Aquila & Priscilla; he also worked with them, since they all earned their living by making tents.

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Every Sabbath, Paul held discussions in the local synagogue, trying to convince both Jews & Greeks to follow Jesus.

When Silas & Timothy arrived in Corinth from Macedonia, the Holy Spirit led Paul to begin preaching the message full-time, testifying to the local Jews that Jesus is the Messiah.

Some of these Jews opposed Paul & said evil things about him.  Paul protested by shaking the dust from his clothes & saying to them, “If you are lost, you yourselves must take the blame for it; I’m not responsible. From now on I will minister to the Gentiles here in Corinth.”

So Paul then began teaching next door in the house of Titius Justus, a Gentile who had been converted to the worship of God.

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Many people in Corinth heard the message, believed & were baptized – including Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, together with all his family.

LORD, please help us to love serving You, wherever You send us.

(303) Acts 17:32-18:8