Esther 1-2, Hebrews 13

God’s Perfect Timing.

Esther 1-2, Hebrews 13

The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me. Hebrews 13:6 ESV

Meanwhile, back in Babylon. While Nehemiah and the Jews had returned to Judah and were busy rebuilding the walls of the city and recommitting themselves to remain faithful to God, there were still Jews who had chosen to remain in exile in Babylon. The story of Esther takes place during the reign of King Ahasuerus and covers the same period of time. The King Xerxes of Nehemiah is the same person as King Ahasuerus of the book of Esther. Xerxes was his Greek name. So in the book of Esther we get a glimpse of what was taking place back in Babylon to the Jews who were still living as exiles in a foreign land. While it is obvious from reading the book of Nehemiah that God had been with the Jews who returned to the Promised Land, He had not forgotten or forsaken those who remained. And while God is not mentioned anywhere in the book of Esther, His presence can be felt throughout the book. It is the story of a young Jewish girl who found herself surprisingly and suddenly thrust into a very unexpected role. She went from the obscurity of life as a poor peasant girl to the throne room of the king of Persia. Through a series of seemingly random events, she became the next queen. Her rapid and unexpected rise to prominence reminds me of the story of Joseph. Like Joseph, Esther would experience some very unwanted trouble early in life. She lost both her parents at a young age and ended up being raised by her cousin, Mordecai. She later found herself included in a special “beauty pageant” that had been designed to find the next queen of Persia. Again, like Joseph, Esther found favor with the man who was placed in charge of caring for these young women. Out of all the girls brought in to compete for the king’s favor, Esther stood out. We read that, “he [Hegai] advanced her and her young women to the best place in the harem” (Esther 2:9 ESV). Later we read that “Esther was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her” (Esther 2:15 ESV). And finally, we’re told, “the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti” (Esther 2:17 ESV).   

What does this passage reveal about God?

While the name of God is not mentioned in the book of Esther, He is inferred all throughout the story. The original audience for this book would have been the people of God living long after the events recorded in the book had taken place. It was intended as a reminder of God’s sovereignty and providence. The Jewish readers of this book would have clearly seen the hand of God in the circumstances recorded on its pages. They would have recognized that Esther’s rapid rise to fame was totally the work of God. He had been behind the scenes, orchestrating every single circumstance – from Queen Vashti’s refusal to obey the king and Esther’s unparalleled beauty to the favor she found all along the way. You also see God’s sovereign hand in the seeming good luck of Mordecai to be in the right place at just the right time so he could help foil a plot on the king’s life. Every single aspect of this story speaks of God’s involvement in the lives of men and the history of mankind.   

What does this passage reveal about man?

But the story of Esther is also the story of human responsibility. While God could prepare the path and order the events surrounding this young woman, the day came when she had to step out in faith and do her part. She was going to have to recognize that God had placed her right where she was for a reason. She had a part to play in God’s divine plan for the people of Israel. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16 ESV). He even asked for prayer from his readers, saying, “for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things” (Hebrews 13:18 ESV). Esther was going to have to do good and share what she had – her influence over the king. She was going to have to take full advantage of the role in which God had placed her and act honorably in all things. The temptation would have been to protect herself by playing it safe. She would find it easy to justify self-preservation and ignore the difficulties of those around her. But the story of Esther is the story of human responsibility in light of God’s overwhelming sovereignty. This young girl had been crowned queen for a reason. And the ramifications of her seeming good luck went far beyond her solitary life. God had placed her in that unique spot for a very specific reason. But would she obey? And what would have happened had she not obeyed? 

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The story of Esther is also the story of the ongoing reality of both human and spiritual opposition. While God is not mentioned in the story, neither is Satan, but his handiwork will be evident throughout. There is far more going on in this story than the life of a single young Jewish girl who finds herself the recipient of some remarkable good karma. What we have here is a vivid glimpse into the spiritual warfare that Paul so aptly describes: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). There is an epic battle recorded in this little book that pits the ruler of this world against the God of the universe. And what we learn is that “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4 ESV). Every day, God is raising up an Esther. He is putting in place a particular person to accomplish His divine plan by living in submission to His revealed will. Which is why the writer of Hebrews says, “Now may the God of peace—who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood— may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21 ESV). God places us right where He wants us. Then He equips us with all that we need to do what He has called us to do. We may find the role intimidating and overwhelming. We may feel that we are not up to the task. But we must always remember that God doesn’t place us without empowering us. Esther would find the inner resolve to do what God had called her to do. She would find the strength to face her fears, stand up to the enemy and watch God use her life for the good of man and His own glory.

Father, there is no such thing as luck for us as believers. You are at work in and around our lives each and every day. You are orchestrating events and placing us in situations and circumstances so that You might reveal Your power in us and through us. May we truly approach life with the mindset of Esther. Help us to see You at work and recognize Your sovereign will placing us where we need to be and equipping us with what we need to succeed. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

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Nehemiah 13, Hebrews 12

Remain Faithful.

Nehemiah 13, Hebrews 12

As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. Hebrews 12:7, 10 NLT

Nehemiah had served as governor of Judah for 12 years; then, as he had promised the king, he had returned to Susa. He would remain in Babylon for a period of 3 years before returning to Judah again. And when he arrived he found things had deteriorated once again. The people had violated the covenant they had made with God. They still had not separated themselves from the Ammonites and Moabites. They had continued to marry outsiders and make alliances with their enemies. Eliashib, the high priest, had allowed Tobiah the Ammonite to marry into his family. Not only that, he had provided Tobiah, a proven enemy of Judah, with his own private quarters inside the temple itself. This was in direct violation of God’s word found in Deuteronomy 23:3-4. The high priest had put friendship with the world ahead of obedience to God and had desecrated the temple in the meantime. But there was more. The people had not paid the temple tax or provided for the Levites, leading Nehemiah to accuse them of forsaking the house of God. They were violating the Sabbath by buying and selling goods on the holy day. Things seemed to be about as bad as they had ever been. But Nehemiah took action. Rather than walk away in disgust and return to his life in Babylon, he once again took it upon himself to make a difference.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God was going to use Nehemiah yet again to bring repentance and revival among His people. God is always looking for a man that He can use to speak His truth and call His people to repentance. Over in the book of Ezekiel we find these sobering words: “I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn’t have to destroy the land, but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22:30 NLT). God isn’t looking for extraordinary men. He isn’t looking for perfect men. He is simply looking for obedient men like Nehemiah. Men who are willing to rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. And God’s search is not relegated to men. He is looking for men and women who, in spite of their flaws, will remain faithful to Him and stand in the gap on behalf of His people.  

What does this passage reveal about man?

We live in a day much like that of Nehemiah’s. The spiritual walls are in need of repair. The people of God are in a weakened, vulnerable state. God is looking for men and women who will be difference-makers. The apostle Paul warned Timothy of days like this: “You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!” (2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT). In the book of Isaiah, we read about God’s assessment of the people of Israel and it is NOT a pretty picture. “Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast. Shout aloud! Don’t be timid. Tell my people Israel of their sins! Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me” (Isaiah 58:1-2 NLT). There comes a time when someone has to step up and speak out, so God raises up a Nehemiah. to say the difficult things that need to be said and do the hard things that no one else wants to do. 

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God loves His people. But He will not allow them to live in ongoing sin and open rebellion to His Word. He will bring discipline. But He will also at time bring an individual along who will act as His instrument to bring healing to His people. Over in Isaiah 58 we read these encouraging words: “Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes” (Isaiah 58:12 NLT). As bad as things may get, there is always hope that God will bring about His loving discipline and correction. There is also the assurance that He will use men and women like us to bring it about. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to “lay aside every, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1 ESV). We have work to do. It may be that God wants to use us to bring about healing and restoration to His people. The question is whether or not we will be ready and willing when that time comes. So the writer of Hebrews challenges us, “So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong” (Hebrews 12:12 NLT).

Father, help me remain faithful and ready so that I can be used by You when the time comes. And help me recognize the need when necessary and be ready to step into it boldly and confidently, knowing that You will be with me. I want to be a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes. Let me be the Nehemiah of my day. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Nehemiah 11-12, Hebrews 11

By Faith…

Nehemiah 11-12, Hebrews 11

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Hebrews 11:39-40 ESV

It took a lot of faith for Nehemiah to leave his safe and secure job as a civil servant working for the king of Persia. It took faith for him to go before the king and risk his anger by asking for permission to return to his native land and rebuild the walls. It took faith for him to ask the Jews living in exile to make the long journey back to Judah and take on the formidable task of doing construction work on walls that had been destroyed 70 years earlier. It took faith for him to face the unceasing attacks of his enemies and continue to build in the face of opposition and the mounting discouragement of the people. It took faith for him to call the people to renew their covenant with God and give up their foreign wives and the children they had born. All Nehemiah had to go on was the word of God. He couldn’t see the outcome of his efforts. He had no guarantee as to how things were going to turn out. And there is no doubt that Nehemiah had second thoughts along the way. He got discouraged. He had misgivings. He questioned himself and his calling. But he kept trusting and building. The writer of Hebrews provides us with a wonderful definition of faith: “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1 NLT). The apostle Paul gives us similar sentiment: “…for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 ESV). In this life, we can’t always see the outcome. We aren’t always given a crystal clear image of how things are going to turn out. We simply receive a word from God and are expected to trust Him – sight unseen. That is the essence of faith. Like Nehemiah, we must learn to trust God, not the circumstances. While everything around us may point to a less-than-satisfactory conclusion, we must keep our eyes focused on God and His unwavering character. We must trust in His power and His uncanny ability to always keep His promises.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Chapter 11 of Hebrews is often called the Hall of Faith. It contains a list of Old Testament characters whose lives, like Nehemiah’s, demonstrated what it means to live by faith. We read of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and the rest of the patriarchs. There’s the familiar story of Moses. And yet, the central character of the chapter is God. At the end of the day, it is He in whom they are placing their trust and basing their faith. Abraham left his hometown on nothing more than the word of God. He traveled a long distance to get to a land that God had said He would give him, then spent his entire life living in tents and never really occupying the land that had been promised. He waited years to have a son through whom God said He would make a great nation. But then God asked Abraham to sacrifice him. And we read that, “ It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac” (Hebrews 11:17 NLT). Abraham had to trust God. He couldn’t let reason take over. Nothing about what God was asking him to do made sense. But “Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again” (Hebrews 11:19 NLT). His faith was in God. Abraham would not live long enough to see the promises of God fulfilled. He would never have a permanent home or see his descendants proliferate and spread throughout the land of Canaan. But he kept trusting. Over and over again we read those two powerful words, “by faith.” Each of these Old Testament saints lived by faith in God. Even Rahab the prostitute and a non-Jew, placed her faith in the God of Abraham, choosing to trust that He was able to defeat the gods of her own people. She took a huge risk and protected the Hebrew spies, asking them to spare her life when they conquered the city. With no guarantee of success, she trusted God. And time and time again, we see that God proved Himself trustworthy. 

What does this passage reveal about man?

We are wired to live by sight. We demand proof. We want guarantees. But the life of the believer is based on faith. It “is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1 NLT). So the daily test for each of us is whether we will trust God and place our faith in Him. Will we do what He tells us to do or go with our gut? Had Nehemiah listened to his own inner voice, he would never have returned to Judah, never have attempted to rebuild the wall, and never experienced the joy and elation of celebrating its dedication a mere 59 days after having started. But even Nehemiah didn’t get to see all his hopes fulfilled. The city would remain in a state of disrepair and virtually empty for years to come. He would leave and return to find so many of his reforms and renovations having fallen by the wayside. And yet he would keep on believing and building. One of the main roadblocks to our faith is our tendency to be shortsighted in our perspective. We have a short-term mindset that tempts us to expect everything in the here-and-now. We expect immediate results. But the writer of Hebrews reminds us that those great saints of the Old Testament “all died in faith, not having received the things promised” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV). They somehow knew that there was more than meets the eye. They had an eternal perspective, “having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV). Somehow they understood that God had something far greater prepared for them than just the immediate gratification of their hopes and dreams. “But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:17 NLT).  

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Living by faith does not mean that everything always turns out for the better. It is not a guarantee of the easy life. In fact, chapter 11 of Hebrews tells us of those who “were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground” (Hebrews 11:35-38 NLT). The apostles themselves fit into this category. Most of them died martyr’s deaths. They didn’t live to see the return of Christ. But they never stopped believing that His promises were true and that God would accomplish all that He had said. They had an assurance about things they could not see – based on their understanding of the character of God. To live by faith is to live with an eternal, not a temporal perspective. It is to understand that what will be is not limited by what I can see. God’s plan is not hindered by my eyesight. The best is yet to come. God is not done yet. I must learn to place my confidence in my unseen, yet unfailing God.

Father, You are trustworthy. You are faithful. You are all powerful and completely in control of all things. I can place my faith in You. Forgive me for the many times I attempt to live by sight. I still find it so easy to focus on my circumstances and judge Your goodness based on what I can see. But we are to live by believing, not be seeing. I won’t always understand what is going on. I want always like what I am going through. But I can trust You. I must always remember that Your best is out ahead of me – “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4 ESV). Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Nehemiah 9-10, Hebrews 10

Our Gracious and Merciful God.

Nehemiah 9-10, Hebrews 10

Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God. Nehemiah 9:31 ESV

Chapter nine of Nehemiah contains one of the most profound prayers found in the entire Bible. It spans almost the entire chapter and it contains a tremendous understanding of the character of God and the sinfulness of mankind. In this prayer, we have an overview of the relationship between God and His people since the day He chose Abram. It provides a glimpse into the character of God and the nature of man. It juxtaposes God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness. It contrasts God’s mercy and grace and man’s unfaithfulness and rebellion. For generations, God had shown His undeserved faithfulness to His people. He had rescued, led, fed, guided, provided, spoken, and even appeared to them. And yet they had repeatedly rejected, disobeyed, and forsaken Him. But this prayer expresses a remarkable awareness of just who God really is. “But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them” (Nehemiah 9:17b ESV). Even after their ancestors had made the golden calf and attributed to it the glory due to God alone, God had remained faithful – “…you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness” (Nehemiah 9:19 ESV). God continued to keep His covenant promise made to Abraham. “You multiplied their children as the stars of heaven” (Nehemiah 9:23 ESV). “And they captured fortified cities and rich land, and took possession of houses full of all good things, cisterns already hewn, vineyards, olive orchards, and fruit trees in abundance” (Nehemiah 9:25 ESV). God had given them the land – not because they deserved it, but because He had promised it. And yet, they continued to live in unfaithfulness and disobedience. Their history is one in which the cycles of sin, rebellion, God’s punishment and ultimate deliverance can be seen over and over again. Through it all, God had remained faithful. “Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God” (Nehemiah 9:31 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

This prayer reflects an understanding that God was righteous and just, merciful and gracious. It contains a clear admission of guilt and a remarkable awareness of God’s holiness and righteousness in His dealings with the people of Israel. “Yet you have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly” (Nehemiah 9:33 ESV). The people of Nehemiah’s day knew full well that their current situation was due to their own sins and the sins of their ancestors. They were living back in the land, and while they had completed the restoration of the Temple and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, they were still surrounded by enemies. They were still weak and powerless, without a king or a standing army. They were also guilty of having disobeyed God’s laws and neglected His commands to keep the Sabbath and His yearly festivals. God was entirely free from any wrong doing in His dealings with the people of Israel and Judah. Any pain and suffering they may have experienced, while brought upon them by God, was due to their own sin. God was simply keeping His word and visiting upon them the curses He had promised should they disobey His commands. The most incredible aspect of this prayer is its portrait of God’s faithfulness, holiness, righteousness and love. He is rightfully referred to as “our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love” (Nehemiah 9:32 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

God had been loving, faithful, gracious, and merciful – over and over again. And yet, the people had proven themselves incapable of remaining faithful to Him. Their sin and rebellion in the face of God’s mercy and grace should not surprise or shock us, because it is the story of our own lives. Even those of us who have received the incredible gift of God’s grace made available through the death of His own Son, find ourselves wrestling with the daily task of trying to stay faithful and true. We battle with the desire to rebel and do things our own way. We forget His mercies and neglect His calls to obedience and faithfulness. And in some ways, our guilt is even greater than that of the Israelites, because what we have received from God is even greater than what they had experienced. We have been offered complete forgiveness of sins – once for all. No more need for repetitive, ongoing sacrifices. We aren’t obligated to try and keep the law in order to remain in a right standing with God. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship” (Hebrews 10:1 NLT). There was a certain sense of hopelessness attached to the sacrificial system. It was always intended to be impartial and incomplete. “But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christ came into the world” (Hebrews 10:3-5 NLT). Jesus Christ is the ultimate and final expression of God’s marvelous grace. He came to do the will of His Father and to accomplish what the sacrificial system could only allude to, but never truly provide. “For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time” (Hebrews 10:10 NLT). While the priests had to offer repeatedly the same sacrifices for sin, Jesus offered “for all time a single sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:11 ESV). 

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

As a result of Jesus Christ has done, there is no longer any offering required for our sins. God has promised to remember our sins and our lawless deeds no more. He has provided us with complete forgiveness for our sins – past, present and future. We stand before Him as righteous because He views us through the blood of His Son. As a result, we can “go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22 NLT). That incredible reality should dramatically change the way we live. It should motivate us to live differently and distinctively, with an understanding that our behavior does not earn us favor with God, but simply reflects our love and appreciation for all He has done for us. “So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised” (Hebrews 10:35-36 NLT). Our final reward is yet to come. This life is not all there is. God has promised us something far greater than what we can experience in this world. We are to keep our sights set on the hope to come. Eternity is our destiny. Heaven is our home. “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25 NLT).

Father, You are so incredibly faithful, loving, kind, merciful and gracious. You have done for me what I could have never done for myself. You have provided complete forgiveness for my sins and have promised me an eternity in Your presence, free from guilt or any form of condemnation. Help me to realize the magnitude of what I have received. Give me the strength to live with my eyes focused on the promise yet to come, instead of living in the fear of the present. I want to hold tightly without waving to the hope we affirm. May my actions be always based on Your character and faithfulness. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Nehemiah 7-8, Hebrews 9

God’s Provision.

Nehemiah 7-8, Hebrews 9

And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:16 ESV

The walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt – in just 52 days. The temple had already been restored under the leadership of Ezra. But the city was a virtual ghost town. The majority of the people who had returned to the land were living in the towns outside the walls of the city. But Nehemiah knew that his work was incomplete. While he had done what he had set out to do, the rebuilding of the walls, he chose not to return to Susa. He stayed because he knew that rebuilt walls did not make a city. It had to be repopulated. And the people who would repopulate that city would have to be made right with God. So he assembled the congregation of Judah and arranged for Ezra to read from the book of the law. This could have been the entire Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, or it could have been just the book of Deuteronomy along with portions of Leviticus. But whatever it was that Ezra read, it took hours for him to do so, and the people stood the entire time. The law was read and it was explained in detail so that the people could understand it. And the result was that the people were convicted of their sins. They wept and mourned as they heard how they had violated the commands of God. But Nehemiah told them, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep” (Nehemiah 8:9 ESV). He encouraged them focus their attention on God. While the law had reminded them of their sin, he wanted them to remember their gracious, merciful God. It was time to celebrate because God was their strength. He had provided a means for them to receive forgiveness for their sins. All of this would have taken place in the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. Part of what was read to them out of the law was the command to keep the festivals of God. They were to celebrate the Feast of Trumpets, the Feast of Booths and the Day of Atonement. These festivals were designed to remind them of all that God had done for them in the past. And they were to culminate with the once-a-year sacrifice made on their behalf by the high priest, when he entered into the Holy of Holies and made atonement for the unintentional sins they had committed that year. This was to be a celebration. While they stood guilty before God, He had provided a means of receiving forgiveness and pardon.

What does this passage reveal about God?

When God had given the people of Israel His plans for the tabernacle and His commands for observing the sacrificial system, it was all a foreshadowing of things to come. It was an earthly picture of a heavenly reality. It was designed to be temporary and incomplete. The author of Hebrews says, “They serve as a copy and shadow of heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5 ESV). The law, associated with the Old Covenant, was not intended to be lasting. It was not a permanent fix to man’s persistent sin problem. “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second” (Hebrews 8:7 ESV). God had told the people of Israel, “Behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Hebrews 8:8 ESV). He had a plan for a new and improved covenant that would be permanent and complete. Everything that the people of Israel had done in association with the tabernacle and later, with the temple, had been intended to point toward something greater to come. One of the key elements involved in man’s atonement under the law was the shedding of blood. “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). Every year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest had to offer a sacrifice for his own sins before he could intercede for the people. Why? Because he was a sinner just like to whom he ministered. Then he had to offer a sacrifice and take the blood, mixed with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkle it on the book of the law and the people, declaring, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you” (Hebrews 9:20 ESV). At that moment, the covenant between God and His people was ratified and renewed. But again, it was just a foreshadowing of things to come. Because that event had to take place every single year, because their atonement was only temporary. It was incomplete. In the next chapter, we will read, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 ESV). Complete, permanent forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of bulls and goats could never happen. But God had a better solution.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Our sin is an ever-present reality. It follows us wherever we go. It is a permanent part of our experience as we live on this planet. When we read God’s Word, we are reminded of our sin. It convicts us of sin and reveals to us our unfaithfulness and consistent rebellion against a faithful, loving God. But rather than weep and mourn over our sin, we must learn to rejoice in our Savior. God has provided a solution to our sin problem. And this solution is far better than the one the Israelites had. “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Hebrews 9:24 ESV). Christ didn’t enter into an earthly tabernacle or temple. As our high priest, He took His sacrifice right into the presence of God the Father. And the sacrifice he made was once and for all. “But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrew 9:26 ESV). He gave His life as a sacrifice for our sins and, unlike the animal sacrifices under the Old Covenant, His sacrifice was a permanent solution to man’s sin problem. His death provided complete atonement for man’s sins – past, present and future. He has secured an “eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

So what should our reaction be to this news? We should rejoice and celebrate. We should recognize that the joy of the Lord is our strength. He has provided for our salvation. He has made a way for us to be restored to a right relationship with Him that is not based on human effort. God has done for us what we could never have done for ourselves. “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him” (1 John 4:9 NLT). “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). That is cause for celebration. That is reason for rejoicing. Our God is great. His love is unimaginable and His grace is immeasurable. Yes, our sin is real. But so is our salvation. Those of us who have placed our faith and hope in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross can celebrate because our redemption is eternal, our atonement is complete. And the truly great news is, “so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28 NLT). Now that’s cause for celebration.

Father, never let me lose sight of the staggering implications of the salvation that You have provided through Your Son. Rather than wallow in my sins, let me rejoice in the fact that my sins are forgiven, my future is secure, and Your Son is some day coming back for me. Thank You for the new covenant made available through the death, burial and resurrection of Your Son. He died, but He rose again. He left, but He is coming again. I have plenty to rejoice about. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Nehemiah 5-6, Hebrews 8

Our Great High Priest.

Nehemiah 5-6, Hebrews 8

Here is the main point: We have a High Priest who sat down in the place of honor beside the throne of the majestic God in heaven. There he ministers in the heavenly Tabernacle, the true place of worship that was built by the Lord and not by human hands.  Hebrews 8:1-2 NLT

It is amazing to think that God had restored the people of Judah to the land – in spite of their ongoing disobedience and unfaithfulness. He had delivered them from their captivity in Babylon and miraculous arranged for a pagan king to orchestrate and underwrite the entire venture. And when they arrived back in the land, while they found a city that was still in ruins and the constant presence of their enemies, they also were able to witness the ongoing presence and provision of God. And yet, they continued to be unfaithful. It came to Nehemiah’s attention that there were serious inequities and injustices going on among the people of God. Their greatest threat was not from without, but from within. According to the Mosaic Law, the Israelites were to care for their own. In fact, God had told them, “But if there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them. Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need. Do not be mean-spirited and refuse someone a loan because the year for canceling debts is close at hand. If you refuse to make the loan and the needy person cries out to the Lord, you will be considered guilty of sin. Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do. There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need” (Deuteronomy 15:7-11 NLT). God had made it clear that the Israelites were to treat the poor with dignity and respect. In fact, while God had made it perfectly okay for one Jew to lend to another, He had arranged that every seven years those debts would be wiped clean. Whatever had not been paid was to be completely voided from the books. If a fellow Jew was forced to sell himself as a slave because of a debt, the one who bought him was to set him free every seventh year. The picture was one of mutual care and concern. But in Nehemiah’s day, the people were taking advantage of one another’s difficult circumstances. Their were few paying jobs and a famine in the land. So the more well-to-do Jews were buying as slaves the children of those who were in desperate need. They were charging high interest on loans made to those who could barely make ends meet. And Nehemiah became incensed.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God’s standards had never changed. While the circumstances were quite different than when He had given Moses the Law, the expectations remained the same. He wanted His people to treat one another with love and mutual respect. He wanted them to care for their own and live with a sense of community and mutual responsibility. God’s intention had always been that “there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess” (Deuteronomy 15:4 NLT). Even all these years later, God still intended for His people to care and provide for one another. No one should go hungry. No one should go without. God’s blessing would be great enough for all to benefit, not just some. The abundance of a few was intended to be shared with the many. God would give so that others might receive. It reminds me of the scene that took place in the early days of the Church recorded in the book of Acts. “And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need” (Acts 2:44-45 NLT). No one lacked anything, because they shared all in common. That was what God had intended to be the case even in the days of Nehemiah.       

What does this passage reveal about man?

It’s interesting to note that Nehemiah “brought charges against the nobles and officials” (Nehemiah 5:7 ESV). He accused them of exacting interest. He sarcastically accused them of enslaving and oppressing those whom God had just set from the slavery and oppression of Babylon. Evidently, some of the worst offenders were the leaders of the people of Judah. The most influential were the most guilty. So Nehemiah charged them, “Ought you not to walk in the feat of our God?” (Nehemiah 5:9 ESV). Their actions exhibited a disregard for God’s law and a flippancy toward God’s justice. They had no fear of God’s retribution. And yet Nehemiah was a living example of what God had expected. He feared God. He showed it by his actions. Rather than live off the salary made available to him as governor, he paid his own way. Not only that, he fed and provided for 150 people – out of his own money. And as governor, he didn’t sit in his palace overseeing the work of rebuilding the wall. He got his hands dirty. He worked right alongside the people. He had to put up with the daily threats of his enemies. He had to deny their vicious rumors and continue to encourage the people to remain strong and faithful to their God-given task. And his efforts proved successful. The wall was completed in only 52 days.

But while Nehemiah was faithful, there were others who were compromising and caving in to the constant temptations to trust the world rather than God. One of the more glaring examples was Shecaniah, who according to chapter 12 was a member of the priestly order and was possibly a Levite. This man had allowed his daughter to marry Tobiah, an Ammonite and one of the most vocal enemies of Nehemiah. Later on, in chapter 13, we will find out about another priest named Eliashib, who had also married into the family of Tobiah and had even provided this non-Hebrew with his own apartment in the Temple of God. It seems that even the very men who had been set aside by God to act as His mediators had compromised their convictions and sold out to the enemy.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

But the good news is that God has always had a plan for man’s persistent problem of unfaithfulness. He knew that His people would prove to be unfaithful. He knew His priests would prove to be incapable of remaining pure and dedicated to acting on His behalf. Which is why He provided a sacrificial system that would cleanse them from sin so they could effectively stand before God on behalf of the people. But in Hebrews we read about an even better plan God had in mind. It involved His own Son. From before the foundations of the world, God had planned to send His Son as the answer to man’s persistent problem of sin and unfaithfulness. In essence, Jesus became our High Priest, our mediator before God, who offered an acceptable sacrifice for our sin. It just so happened that the sacrifice He offered was His own sinless life. The writer of Hebrews described Jesus as “a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man” (Hebrews 8:1-2 ESV). Jesus’ offering didn’t take place in some man-made Temple, but in the inner recesses of heaven itself. And because His sacrifice was acceptable to God, Jesus now sits on a throne in heaven seated right next to His heavenly Father. He accomplished what no earthly priest could have ever done. He lived a completely faithful, sinless life; then offered that life as a sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. And some day, Jesus is going to accomplish for the people of Israel what they were totally unsuccessful at doing. In spite of their unfaithfulness, God has promised them, “I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Hebrews 8:10 NLT). This will be accomplished through the work of Jesus Christ. The great High Priest will restore the people of God to a right relationship with God – once and for all. Unlike the priests in Nehemiah’s day, Jesus Christ will accomplish the will of His Father and fulfill the promises of the God of Israel.

Father, Your Son is the faithful, righteous, totally obedient High Priest who has offered the once-for-all sacrifice for my sins. He has done what no man could have ever done. He has satisfied Your holiness and paid the price due for my sins. He offered the sacrifice that was beyond value – His own sinless life on my behalf. And one day He is going to fulfill Your promise to the people of Israel, because You are a faithful God and Your Son is a faithful High Priest. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Nehemiah 3-4, Hebrews 7

Our Great Intercessor.

Nehemiah 3-4, Hebrews 7

Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.  Hebrews 7:25 NLT

God has always provided a way out for His people. While they may have found themselves facing times of difficulty and despair, God was always nearby, ready to intercede on their behalf. As Nehemiah and the people began the task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, they not only faced a formidable task, they encountered opposition. Any time the people of God attempt to do the work and the will of God, they will find themselves confronted by the enemies of God. As the people worked side by side repairing and restoring the walls, their enemies mocked, jeered and threatened them. The enemies of God will always attempt to undermine the efforts of His people. “What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a single day by just offering a few sacrifices? Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?” (Nehemiah 4:2 NLT). God’s enemies will always try to feed the doubts and fears lingering in the minds of God’s people. Satan has an uncanny knack of getting us to question our own ability to carry out what God has called us to do. ““That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!” (Nehemiah 8:3 NLT). But the remedy to the taunts and jeers of the enemy is prayer. We must always turn to the One who can provide a way out. Which is exactly what Nehemiah did.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Nehemiah took their need to the very One who could do something about it. He turned to God. He begged God to intervene and hold their enemies responsible for their constant threats and their unceasing efforts to undermine the work of God. Nehemiah knew that those who stood against him and the work on the wall were really standing against God. As long as the people of God were doing the work of God, they could count on His protection and provision. Nehemiah was able to encourage the people to trust in God, despite what they might hear or see. “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!” (Nehemiah 4:14 NLT). But isn’t it interesting that while Nehemiah reminds the people to remember God, he also tells them to be prepared to fight. God would do His part, but they must also be ready to do theirs. We see in this passage a timeless principle that mixes prayer with preparation. Right after Nehemiah’s prayer recorded in chapter four, we read, “So we built the wall” (Nehemiah 4:6 ESV). Nehemiah knew that they had a job to do – a job given to them directly from God. He also knew that they must be prepared and vigilant. While the battle was ultimately the Lord’s, that did not mean there would be no role for them to play. So they prayed AND took practical steps to prepare to defend their families, their nation and their work. “But we prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves” (Nehemiah 4:9 NLT).      

What does this passage reveal about man?

God has work for His people to do. Just as He had called the people of Israel and set them apart to be a holy nation, He has called believers to live lives that are distinctly different and wholly dedicated to His Kingdom. We exist for His glory, not our own. We are here to serve as His ambassadors, acting as salt and light in the world, and conduits of His grace to a lost and dying generation. And as we do His will, we will face opposition. His enemies will become our enemies. They will taunt, threaten, and even attack us. And when they do, we must turn to the One who always stands ready to provide protection and provision. We have a great High Priest in Jesus Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father, and the writer of Hebrews tells us, “He lives forever to intercede with God” on our behalf (Hebrews 7:25 ESV). In Jesus, we have found an advocate and representative who ministers on our behalf. He stands ready to aid and assist us every step along the way as we attempt to faithfully do God’s will in the face of ongoing opposition. The people of Judah should have been very grateful that they had someone like Nehemiah to stand in the gap for them and take their problems to God. But as believers in Jesus Christ, we don’t have to rely on a fallible man, we have Jesus Christ, “who has been made perfect forever” (Hebrews 7:28 ESV). “He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven” (Hebrews 7:26 NLT). And we can turn to Him at any time to help us with any need we may have.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

This life can at times be difficult. As the people of God we will always be surrounded by the enemies of God. When we attempt to do God’s will and accomplish the work He has given us, we can count on facing opposition. We will even encounter our own sin natures along the way. We are told that we will face the world, the flesh and the enemy. All three will do their best to undermine our efforts and cause us to doubt and despair. But we must remember that we have an advocate with the Father. We have an intercessor who stands ready to step in and provide us with all we need to fight the good fight to the finish. As we do God’s will, we must never forget that we have God’s Son on our side. He has already won the battle. He has already conquered sin and death through His selfless sacrifice on the cross. His resurrection turned defeat into victory and should turn our despair into hope. I am reminded of the words of Paul recorded in Romans 8:31-39:

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”)  No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Father, You never told us that this life would be easy or without struggle. But You did tell us that You would be here for us. You even sent Your Son to provide us with a way to have constant, unhindered access into Your presence. Now He sits at Your right hand, interceding on our behalf. We can face the condemnation and threats of the enemy because of what He has done. We can live victoriously in this life because He is with us. At the end of the day, we can rest in the knowledge that we are loved by You. And nothing can ever separate us from that love. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Nehemiah 1-2, Hebrews 6

Standing On the Promises.

Nehemiah 1-2, Hebrews 6

Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, “If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.”  Nehemiah 1:8-9 ESV

Nehemiah was living in captivity in Susa, the winter capital of Artaxerses, the king of Persia. He was part of a group of Hebrews who were living in exile as a result of their sins against God. Nehemiah was an employee of the king, serving as his cup-bearer. He was well-acclimated to conditions in Persia, but still had a heart for his native Judah, When he received news of just how bad things were back home, he was devastated. The images of the broken down walls of Jerusalem and the burned gates were too much for him to bear. He recognized that his home town, the city of God, remained in a state of disrepair and the remnant who had returned under the direction of Ezra had failed in their efforts to rebuild. As a result, they remained easy prey for their enemies. But rather than allow this bad news to demoralize him, Nehemiah took action, and he began with prayer. He took the need before God. He confessed their sin, recognizing that the entire situation, including their exile and the broken down walls of Jerusalem, were the result of disobedience and God’s punishment. They had gotten what they deserved. But he appealed to God’s love and covenant faithfulness. He reminded God that He had promised to restore them to the land if they would return to Him and keep His commandments. Nehemiah puts his hope in the character of God. He knew that God was a promise-keeping god who never goes back on His word.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Nehemiah was very familiar with God. He refers to Him as the “God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments” (Nehemiah 1:5 ESV). He knew that God heard the prayers of His people. In fact, he counted on it. He knew that God kept His promises, regardless of how things might look at the present time. He knew that God was powerful and had a track record of rescuing His people from their self-inflicted problems. He knew that any hope they had would be found in God alone. So he prayed.

The writer of Hebrews also knew a great deal about God. He recognized that, when God made His promise to Abraham, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you” (Hebrews 6:14 ESV), God had guaranteed that promise by swearing on Himself. In other words, God bound His word to His own character. The promise being referred to in this passage is the one God had made regarding Isaac. He had promised to bless Abraham through Isaac and make of him a great nation. But God had also asked Abraham to sacrifice this same son on an altar. And Abraham had been willing to obey because he trusted in the promise of God. He believed that God could still fulfill His promise even if Isaac had been killed. God could have restored Isaac to life. God’s promise was greater than Abraham’s predicament. Nehemiah believed the same thing. As bad as things appeared back in Jerusalem, God was greater. The problem was formidable, but God’s promises were more reliable and dependable.      

What does this passage reveal about man?

The context in chapter six of Hebrews is the danger of believers “falling away” from the faith. The reality of the day was that there was real pressure on Jewish converts to Christianity. They were under constant pressure to reject their faith in Christ. These were real believers facing real persecution. And the possibility of them giving in to that pressure and persecution was just as real. There had already been those who had denied Christ or had turned to a compromised version of the truth. They were not in danger of losing their salvation, but of becoming incapable of repentance and restoration. The writer is addressing those who find themselves hardened by sin and living unrepentant lives. “Take care, brothers lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12 ESV). He reminds his readers that they, like Abraham, must stand on the promises of God. God has promised them eternal life. He has promised to keep them and protect them through this lifetime, and fulfill His promise to give them a place in His eternal home. So the writer of Hebrews uses God’s promise to their own ancestors as a reminder to keep trusting, even when things are hard. “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:17-18 ESV). The two unchangeable things are God’s promise and His oath. God has promised us future blessings. And He has sworn to keep that promise based on His own character. Rather than fall away, we need to stand on His promises. Rather than cave in to the pressures of this world, we need to stand firm on what we know of God and His unchanging character.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order or Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19-20 ESV). When Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, He went where we could not go. But He did so as an assurance that He will one day return to take us to be with Him. His presence with the Father is a reminder that the promises of God are true and reliable. Just before His death, Jesus told His disciples, ““Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3 ESV). Where I am you may be also. That’s a promise. We can stand on it. We must place our hope and trust in it. In this life, we will face trials, troubles and tribulations of all kinds. But we must stand on the promises of God. We must stand firm on the character of God. Jesus Himself told us, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV).

Father, Your promises are totally reliable because they are based on Your character. You are a holy and wholly trustworthy God. You do not like You never go back on Your Word. You never fail to keep Your promises. Help me to focus on that fact. Don’t let me be overcome by the pressures of this world, but let me focus on the promises found in Your Word. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org