Prayer Psalm: 70
Prayer Point: Do you know someone who is afraid and overwhelmed to the point that they feel like giving up? Pray Psalm 70 on their behalf.
Jesus came to establish God’s kingdom on the earth, so that God’s will, which was fully obeyed in heaven, might also be done on the earth. You might think of the kingdom of God as any place where God is obeyed, where his subjects love him with all their heart, mind, and soul and love their neighbor as themselves. But where is this kingdom? Does it have a palace? An army? Where are its borders? The kingdom of God is unlike any other kingdom, which makes it difficult to describe. This is why Jesus often used pictures to describe it.
What do the mustard seed and yeast tell us about the kingdom of God? How does it begin? How does it grow? What does it look like when it is fully grown?
The common thought in Jesus’ day was that the vast majority of Jews would be included in the kingdom of God, excluding the most egregious sinners. I suspect that this isn’t much different from the prevailing view today.
How does Jesus’ idea of the narrow door challenge this view? Who will be surprised that they are excluded? What surprise group of people will be included? People from the east, west, north and south refer to the Gentiles, those outside of Israel.
There is a narrow door, but the number of people saved will be larger than we think.
I encourage you to read yesterday’s post (Revelation 16:1-11) as today’s reading is a continuation of the first half of Revelation 16.
In this reading, we see another parallel between this vision of God’s judgment on Babylon, the Empire of the Beast (Satan) who oppressed God’s people, and his judgment on Egypt in the Exodus story. God’s final blow against Egypt was the destruction of their army in the Red Sea. How did God do it? He deluded their king to fight Israel in an attempt to drag them back into slavery. How is Babylon deluded into fighting God (see verses 13-14)?
What warning and encouragement does Jesus give his people in verse 15?
How does the unbelieving world respond to God’s judgment on Babylon?
This chapter begins with the introduction of Ezra and it recounts his rather impressive genealogy which numbers among it such heroes as Hilkiah (the chief priest during the time of Josiah – who held Judah together during Josiah’s minority – see 2 Kings 22), Phinehas the son Eleazar who received honorable mention from God as being instrumental in staying the LORD’s plague against Israel (in Numbers 25), and perhaps most notably, Aaron the brother of Moses. Let’s just say that Ezra comes from good stock. Like so many before him, Ezra enjoyed the LORD’s favor.
Why is Ezra’s background and the role he will play in Jerusalem vital to the rebuilding efforts? How does Artaxerxes, the King of Persia, serve God’s purpose and pave the way for Ezra’s mission? It was believed that a defeated people pointed to a defeated God. How does God prove once again that he is still God even when his people are in exile?
Artaxerxes’ reason for such generosity is purely self-serving: he wants to get on the LORD’s good side: “What ever is decreed by the God of heaven, let it be done in full for the house of the God of heaven, lest his wrath be against the realm of the king and his sons.” (Ezra 7:23 ESV emphasis added)
*Sirach is a Jewish holy book written about 100 years before the coming of Christ. It is not considered to be Scripture by the Jewish faith nor our tradition, but the book is still worth reading. We offer Sirach in addition to the Old Testament readings.
HYMN IN HONOR OF OUR ANCESTORS
1 Let us now sing the praises of famous men,
our ancestors in their generations.
2 The LORD apportioned to them great glory,
his majesty from the beginning.
3 There were those who ruled in their kingdoms,
and made a name for themselves by their valor;
those who gave counsel because they were intelligent;
those who spoke in prophetic oracles;
4 those who led the people by their counsels
and by their knowledge of the people’s lore;
they were wise in their words of instruction;
5 those who composed musical tunes,
or put verses in writing;
6 rich men endowed with resources,
living peacefully in their homes —
7 all those were honored in their generations,
and were the pride of their times.
8 Some of them have left behind a name,
so that others declare their praise.
9 But of others there is no memory;
they have perished as though they had never existed;
they have become as though they had never been born,
they and their children after them.
10 But those also were godly men,
whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten;
11 their wealth will remain with their descendants,
and their inheritance with their children’s children.
12 Their descendants stand by the covenants;
their children also, for their sake.
13 Their offspring will continue forever,
and their glory will never be blotted out.
14 Their bodies are buried in peace,
but their name lives on generation after generation.
15 The assembly declares their wisdom,
and the congregation proclaims their praise.
I have mentioned this on several occasions, a gimmick often used in trying to preserve important history or information is to set it to music. We have seen this with Moses (Psalm 90) and Deborah (in the book of Judges where she had the temerity, along with another woman, to visit victory to the Hebrews) and also to Mary once she learned she was to be the mother of the Messiah. So this vehicle is not new. What is Sirach urging us to do? (Sirach wants us to remember those who have gone before: “Some of them have left behind a name, so that others declare their praise. But of others there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed; they have become as though they had never been born they and their children after them.” (Sirach 44:8-9 NRSV))