Ezra 1

Vs. 1, “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing:”  King Cyrus would eventually conquer Babylon (539 B.C.) and would bring welcome relief to all those under the tyranny of the Babylonians.  It’s awesome to realize that God had prophesied through Isaiah years earlier (150 years) that God would raise up Cyrus to help bring His people back (vs. 2-4).  Though there were an estimated two million Jews living near Babylon, only 49,000 would be willing to go.  King Cyrus would graciously give the articles of the house of the Lord that had been taken by Nebuchadnezzar (vs. 7).  He would give the articles to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah (vs. 8-11).  Some scholars believe this was actually Zerubbablel, while others say he was a political appointee of Cyrus not recognized by the Jews.  The journey to Jerusalem would take anywhere from 3 – 5 months of traveling.

Regarding application…Sovereignty of God.  Vs. 2, “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.”  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.  God’s hand of sovereignty is unmistakable!  This is one of the overarching themes throughout the book.  It’s always surprising to be reminded that God even uses unbelieving leaders of the world to be a part in fulfilling His will.  Question: How should God’s sovereignty affect us today?  It gives a whole new meaning to everything that we do.  Your secular jobs and everyday activities suddenly fall under the umbrella of God’s control.  It gives our lives purpose when it doesn’t seem like it relates to the big picture.  Take solace in knowing that God can use anyone to bring about His will, even unbelieving people.  I remember a former boss of mine gave me a weekend off because I wanted to have a church retreat.  Though she was far from a believer, she saw the evidence of my faith and granted me this time off.  Though she credited herself for the compassion, I also was thanking God for I knew He was the one that moved her heart.

Ezra Map

II Chronicles 36

Vs. 21, “The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.”  The chronicler wraps up the history of how God’s people were disciplined through the Babylonian exile.  The last four kings of Judah didn’t bode well as Jehoahaz was exiled to Egypt, while Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah all were exiled to Babylon (vs. 1-14.)   It’s also notable how the evilness of the kings rubbed off on the leaders of the priest and the people (vs. 14).  The prophet Jeremiah had warned Judah of this day, but they would not listen (Jeremiah 25-27).  The chronicler assumes the people knew most of the details from II Kings 25 of the Babylonian invasion (vs. 15-21).

Regarding application…Second Chance.  Vs. 23, “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you—may the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up.’”  It was the LORD who had prompted Cyrus king of Persia through the prophecies Jeremiah &  Isaiah (Isaiah 44:28) to help restore His people.  The LORD gave His people a second chance (numerous at that) and He also extends that to us.  As the aftermath of Easter looms over us, this is our opportunity to remember the grace of our Lord Jesus in our lives.  Just as He give us second chances and forgives, we are to extend the same to others.  “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13.

II Chronicles 28

***Holy Week suggested additional reading, Matthew 22***

Vs. 1, “Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord.”  The extent of evil that King Ahaz committed during his reign is shocking!  His evil ways (vs. 2-4) not only mimicked Israel’s wayward kings, but he followed in the practices of the Canaanite’s by sacrificing his own children.  Consequences would come upon Judah as the Arameans and even Israel would successfully invade (vs. 5-15).  But God would send the prophet Oded to rebuke Israel for their actions in taking prisoners of war.  Fortunately, unlike Judah, Israel and its leaders repent of their action in this situation and obey the LORD.  In the midst of border battles, Ahaz would not trust the council of the prophet Isaiah and would align himself with the Assyrians (vs. 16-21).  Instead of trusting in the LORD, the Assyrians would turn on him.  Question: How would Ahaz respond?  He would do the unthinkable and strays even further (vs. 22-25).

Regarding application…Worldly Thinking.  Vs. 23, “He offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus, who had defeated him; for he thought, “Since the gods of the kings of Aram have helped them, I will sacrifice to them so they will help me.” But they were his downfall and the downfall of all Israel.”  Question: What was the downfall of Ahaz?  His assumption that Aram’s success was because of the god’s they served.  Just because something seemingly works doesn’t mean it is the right way.  King Ahaz put his trust in the world he could see rather than God’s words and promises.  Following the footsteps of another person’s success may bring us temporary success.  But if we are not following the footsteps of the LORD, we will inevitably fail.  Worldly thinking is a more dangerous downfall than we realize.  Let’s put our mind on things above (Colossians 3:2).

II Kings 19

Vs. 34, “I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.”  After Sennacherib’s threat, King Hezekiah does the only thing he could do; turns to the LORD (vs. 1-19).  We should be impressed with such a reaction.  Rather than fight fire with fire, Hezekiah realized he could not defeat the enemy on his own.  Hezekiah’s dependence on the Lord is shown through turning to God’s prophet Isaiah and praying in the temple to the LORD.  The LORD speaks through Isaiah as he writes this poetic response to the judgment that will come upon the Assyrians (vs. 20-34).  There is a sense of a mocking tone towards the overconfident Sennacherib.  It is humbling reality to be reminded that God knows everything!  Our passage ends in dramatic fashion as the LORD Himself smites 185,000 Assyrian soldiers to protect Jerusalem (vs. 35-37).  We also see Isaiah’s prophecy come true as Sennacherib meets his timely death.

Regarding application…You Shall Not Pass.  Vs. 33, “By the way that he came he will return; he will not enter this city, declares the LORD.”  It is a dangerous thing to be threats against the LORD Almighty!  Sennacherib did not realize whom he was messing with.  Losing 185,000 of your troops will certainly cause anyone to retreat.  The LORD works in mysterious ways beyond our understanding.  He uses ungodly people to carry out His will (vs. 25), yet the LORD will not stand for such a brazen attitude in Sennacherib.  There are times in my life where I have patiently allowed others to walk all over me.  However, if my wife or family is threatened, it’s game over!  If we have the “backs” of our loved ones, how much more does our God for us?

II Kings 16

Vs. 3, “He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites.”  We don’t have to imagine how evil King Ahaz of Judah was; to sacrifice your own son at a pagan alter is horrible thing to do!  It was King Ahaz that Isaiah would share the prophesy of virgin who would give birth to Immanuel (Isaiah 7).  But Ahaz would not listen to the council of God’s prophets and aligned himself with the evil Assyrians.  He even sent all the riches of the temple (vs. 8) as a bribe to the Assyrian King (Tiglath Pileser).  He even commanded Uriah the priest to make an Assyrian alter and place it in temple in Jerusalem (vs. 10-18).

Regarding application…Following Our Own Ways.   Vs. 2, “Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD his God.”  King Ahaz was a direct descendant of King David, but this did not guarantee his spiritual success.  Ever since Adam and Eve we have had a conundrum.  Cain and Abel had the same parents and lineage, yet one had a good heart and one had an evil heart.  Question: How can this be?  Ahaz came from the line of Judah and David, yet his heart was evil.  In the end, we all have our own choice to follow the Lord’s way or our own way.  King Ahaz was given chances to turn and trust in the Lord.  Likewise, God is giving you a chance today to turn the page of your life and follow Him!

John 12

Vs. 27, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.”  In this chapter, we see Jesus being obedient to the Father by coming to Jerusalem one last time.  Before Jesus would enter Jerusalem, we see a most beautiful picture of love and sacrifice by Mary with the expensive perfume (vs. 1-11).  The anointing of Jesus would symbolize preparation of His death.  The raising of Lazarus and Passover would bring Jesus to entering Jerusalem triumphantly on a donkey (vs. 12-19).  All four Gospels record this one-time where Jesus allowed a public demonstration dedicated for Him as He fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy (Zechariah 9:9).  The palm branches symbolized peace and the Israelites were hoping that Jesus would bring peace to their people.  The donkey was an animal a king would ride on bringing peace to his people.  The next section of our chapter involves Jesus’ interaction with the Greeks (Gentiles) who came to also worship the LORD (vs. 20-36).  Jesus takes the time to meet with them and shares with them the hour has come (vs. 23).  Like Jesus’ obedience, we too must follow God’s will and call in our lives.   It’s a fitting passage for John’s Gospel reminds us that the Good New is for all!  Sadly, there were still many who would not put their faith in Jesus (vs. 37-50).

Regarding application…What Matters Most?  Vs. 43, “for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.”  It’s an easy thought to quickly frown upon such behavior by leaders who feared the wrath of the Pharisees.  Have a little backbone and courage!  But receiving love from the world is far more powerful than we realize.  Living in a socially connected society, it is naïve to think that we are not affected.  Think about all the things we do to receive the praises of men; academics, college, careers, clothes, makeup, hairstyles, possessions, etc.  God is not impressed by such standards, nor should we.  Take time brothers and sisters to consider what matters most to you!  Let’s live a life that brings glory to God first and foremost!

Luke 4

Vs. 14, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.”  After being led by the Spirit for forty days in the desert (vs. 1-13), Jesus begins His ministry.  Unlike Adam in the garden, Jesus is able to overcome temptation.  The enemy played into Jesus’ hands and this helped reveal some of his tactics.  Satan tried to question God’s love & provision in the first temptation.  And the next two deal with the desires of the flesh and the things we see.  Jesus display’s His love and devotion to the Father’s will and His power over the enemy.  Luke gives us a wonderful brief look into Jesus’ visit to His hometown Nazareth (vs. 14-23).  Jesus reveals that He is the fulfillment of Scripture (vs. 21), not just for the Jew but also the Gentile (vs. 24-30).  Certainly, this enraged the Jewish audience who became an unrepentant and exclusive-minded people.   Jesus leaves the town He grew up in and travels to Capernaum where this would be temporary headquarters during the Galilean ministry.  Though Jesus defeated Satan in the battle of temptation, the enemy and his cohorts were and still are battling.  Luke gives us a vivid picture of the reality of spiritual warfare (vs. 31-44) as Jesus heals and drives out demons.  Question: Why does Jesus rebuke the demons to be quiet about His identity?  Because, Jesus does not need the testimony of the enemy to legitimizGe His ministry.

Regarding application…Temptation’s Test.  Vs. 13, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.”  It’s important to note that temptation did not stop with Jesus in the desert, nor does it stop for us.  When we are tempted, this is not sin.  It’s when we give into the temptation’s test.  It’s important to note that God is sovereignly in control of the enemy’s tactics.  Like Jesus in the desert and Job in the Old Testament, there are times when temptation can be allowed by God to test us.  Question: What temptation test’s are in our life these days?  When I was moving up the corporate ladder in the bank a few years ago, I found myself quite tempted at the allurement of making a name for myself.  It was the temptation of pride and independence that began to entice me.  Fortunately, the Lord worked in this prideful heart of mine and in my weakness, I became stronger in Him.  Take time allow the Holy Spirit to convict your heart to lay down anything that is hindering your faith in the Lord.

Luke 3

Vs. 4, “As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”  Luke now takes us forward to the beginning ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus.  Luke gives us some insightful information into the ministry of John (vs. 1-20).  Question: What was the purpose of John’s ministry?  Part of preparing the way (vs. 4) and fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy was to begin softening the hearts of the people.  That is why John preached a message of repentance (vs. 8).  John’s ministry was a beautiful example of how we must give all credit to the Lord (vs. 16).   And in a short synopsis, Luke records Jesus’ baptism by John (vs. 21-22).  The latter half of our chapter is the genealogy of Jesus (vs. 23-38).  Certainly, we notice that Luke’s genealogy is not at the start of His gospel like Matthew’s.  Question: Why record Jesus’ genealogy?  Genealogies were a big part of a person’s identity and the Bible is presenting the facts that Jesus is the Son of God.  Luke’s genealogy goes backwards (present to past) while Matthew goes forward (past to present).  It’s also notable that Luke records Jesus’ genealogy all the way to Matthew.

Regarding application…Produce Fruit.  Vs. 9, “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”  The ministry I serve in is called “Roots.”  Certainly, it pictures our church and members rooted in the foundation of Jesus.  However, there is a danger in that we are so focused on being rooted on the word, prayer, and attending church, we then forget to do the other half of our Christian life.  We are also exhorted to bear fruit, which is best described as the living evidence of God’s love in our life.  Question: Are you bearing fruit?  Our church has their VBS this week.  It is wonderful to see volunteers doing whatever they can to help produce fruit and love our children.  Find a way to bear fruit in a specific way this week!

Matthew 17

Vs. 2, “There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.”  We open our chapter with Jesus revealing His glory to inner three (Peter, James & John) on the mount of Transfiguration (vs. 1-13).  Question: What is the Transfiguration?  It comes from the Greek language that gives us our modern day word: Metamorphosis.  All three Synoptic Gospels record this event.  The Transfiguration is a special glimpse into the glory of the Lord as Jesus reveals His true identity.  The presence of Moses (law) & Elijah (prophets) come to bear witness of Jesus’ identity and mission.  Once again, Jesus admonishes them not to reveal what they have seen (vs. 9); at least until He has done His work on the cross. Jesus reminds them the prophecy of Malachi (Malachi 4:5-6) concerning Elijah coming first is fulfilled through John the Baptist (Luke 1:17).  When they come down the mountain they encounter a failed exorcism (vs. 14-23).  Jesus uses this as an opportunity to give us a fresh understanding of what true faith looks like (vs. 20-21).  Sadly, we are reminded that Jesus’ death will come about because of betrayal of the worst kind; betrayal of their own in Judas Iscariot (vs. 22-23).  The Temple tax incident (vs. 24-27) teaches us that though Jesus being the Son of God (vs. 25) does not have to pay it, He does so to prevent the stumbling of others.

Regarding application…Father’s Approval.  Vs. 5, “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”  These words from the Father were identical to His affirmation when Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:17).  The caveat is, “Listen to him!”  As children, we sought so hard to find the approval of our parents.  Sometimes they were disappointed, other time we were disappointed.  But deep down inside, we want to hear the praises and approval of our parents.  Jesus was obedient; even obedient to death on the cross (Philippians 2:8).  For my leisure reading, I am reading Peter Criss’ biography (the drummer of the rockband Kiss).  He shares a story when they finally performed in MSG (Madison Square Garden) and he had his parents and family attend.  As they performed he saw the tears and proud looks of his parents and it brought this 30 plus year old successful man to tears as he played the drums that night.  No matter how old we are, we want to make our loved ones proud of us.  Just as the Father approves His son Jesus, He also does for us.  Question: Why?  Because we listened to His son and put our faith in Him.  Jesus’ blood brings the approval of our Father in Heaven.  Thank you Father for loving us so much!

Matthew 16

Vs. 1, “The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.”  Though the Pharisees and Sadducees did not often get along, they would join together for the purpose of being threatened by Jesus and His followers (vs. 1-4).  They challenged Jesus to show them a sign, but signs never saved a person.  Jesus was the Son of God in flesh and they still did not believe.  The next section about comparing the religious leaders to yeast is almost comical (vs. 5-12).  The disciples keep thinking Jesus is speaking literally about bread.  It’s a good lesson for us to understand the context of the Bible less we interpret incorrectly.  When Jesus and the disciples come to the region of Caesarea Philippi (a place known for many pagan worship), Jesus uses this background to ask them a very important question (vs. 13-16).  Peter eloquently declares the identity of Jesus being the Christ (Anointed One) and the Son of the Living God (vs. 16).  It is here that Jesus uses the opportunity to exhort Peter as the leader to help build the church (vs. 17-20).  It is Jesus who is the foundation of the church and Peter is used to help build it.  And lastly, the road to the cross has commenced as Jesus’ Galilean ministry comes to a close (vs. 21-28).  While Jesus predicts His death, the disciples do not understand.  Peter allows his emotions to get the best of him as he rudely tries to speak against Jesus (vs. 22).  Jesus declares Peter does not have the mind of God and therefore rebukes Satan (vs. 23).  We are either for God or against God.

Regarding application…Carrying the Cross.  Vs. 24, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Certainly, the meaning of the cross back in Jesus’ time was not a comforting thought.  The cross represented one of the cruelest means of capital punishment.  Question: What are you holding on to?  If we hold on to our own lives, we will lose it.  It is a paradox.  Question: How can we lose our life if we try to save it (vs. 25)?  Yet, the way to save our life is to carry the cross.  Brothers and sisters, Jesus set the example for us.  His death gives us life.  Our spiritual death from sin gives us eternal life!  I believe I’m slowly learning the burdens of walking with Jesus more and more.  The suffering of carrying the cross today is nothing compared to the joys of eternal life with our Savior!