Daily Video

Daily devotionals are a good introduction, helping to explain the main of ideas of the text without getting overly technical. As devotionals, they aim to enrich our relationship with God rather than turn us into academics!

The Hope of Israel, pt 3: a New Heart (Ezekiel 36)

The Hope of Israel, pt 2: a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31)

The Hope of Israel, pt 1: Resurrection (Ezekiel 37)

Bible Reading

The Return from Exile

When the prophet Jeremiah announced that the people of Judah would be taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar and exiled to Babylon, he also announced that the exile would last for a period of 70 years (Jeremiah 25:8-12).  Quite remarkably, in 538BC King Cyrus of Babylon decreed that the people of Jerusalem could return and rebuild their temple. He even provided for some of the building materials required and returned some of the articles of the temple originally taken by Nebuchadnezzar! Ezra and Nehemiah led a partial reconstruction of the temple, but Jerusalem was not the same as before. The temple was something of a disappointment, the line of kings were powerless, and the land remained largely dry and barren.

It never resembled the blessed land promised to Abraham nor the high expectations of the prophets who announced the return. As readers, we begin to wonder whether the promises of God are somehow ‘on hold’ or delayed. This tension is increased as opposition to the rebuilding and restoration of Jerusalem comes from many sides— from local officials appointed by the Babylonians, from the descendants of the Jews who had avoided capture, and even from within the returning exiles.  

The people of God were in need of a new exodus, a new king and a new prophet like Elijah. However their experience of Exile and Return has exposed a deeper need: God’s people are spiritually dead and in need of a new life. They need more than a new exodus; Israel needs something as big as a new creation. Israel’s prophets see this as they look back on their story, and they begin to talk about their hope in these terms. In this period of Return from Exile the tension between the promises of God through his prophets and the historical reality of life Post-exilic Jerusalem becomes extreme.  And then, there is silence from God. After the prophet Malachi— perhaps as late as 420bc— it seemed there was no sure word from God. Only waiting.  

History

One of the challenges for anyone reading the bible is to connect the biblical history– reflected in the writings of the prophets and scholars– with the widely known history of the world embedded in classical primary sources, histories and archaeological discoveries. This period from the exile onwards, the biblical narrative is firmly embedded in the sequential rise and fall of the Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman empires familiar to all historians.

Many resources are available but here is a link to simple chronology of events relevant to the bible readings which follow.

Prayerful Expectation

Daniel 9:1-24

In the earlier chapters of the book bearing his name, we have been introduced to Daniel as a man of prayer. In this passage we get a in window into his life of prayer.  Following this prayer, the book of Daniel features a series of visions which relate to the times leading up to the coming of God’s promised Messiah.

For Reflection: ∙As you read Daniel’s prayer, can you identify particular sections or movements?  ∙What do you think the prayer reveals about Daniel?  ∙What might your prayers reveal about you?  ∙What might you learn from Daniel’s prayer?

Comfort my people

Isaiah 40

This chapter marks a significant turning point in the book of Isaiah. After 39 gruelling chapters of judgment and despair (with only an occasional glimpse of hope!), the tide turns As Israel waits in exile, in desperation, God offers comfort. Their sin has been paid for and God is on his way to rescue them. The surrounding nations and their gods cannot stand in his way, for he is the creator of everything, the Lord of the nations.

For Reflection: ∙Pick five words which best describe God as he is presented in this passage. ∙What impact might this vision of God have had upon the Exiles struggling in Babylon? ∙How might this vision of God respond to Israel’s greatest need?

The valley of dry bones

Ezekiel 37

Ezekiel‘s vision is a dramatic image of what God is going to do with his people. Out of the death of sin and exile, God‘s Spirit will fill Israel and resurrect them to new life. There is an echo of Genesis here, but the hope is now at a national level. Israel is to be resurrected as a new humanity. Ezekiel’s vision is full of vivid images and symbolic representations— although a careful reading of the chapter supplies most of the interpretive keys.  

For Reflection: ∙This vision creates great expectations for the Jewish Exiles in Babylon. Try to list the specific expectations that this vision might engender? ∙How does Ezekiel‘s vision respond to the story of Israel?

The return of the remnant

Ezra 1-3

The return to Jerusalem is a fascinating chapter in the story of the Bible. It begins with the surprise proclamation of a Gentile king, Cyrus. Once home, Israel begins to rebuild the temple. But as the work comes to completion and they thank God for his   faithfulness, some of the older Israelites who had seen the first temple in its glory weep at the disappointing sight of the second temple.

Consider: ∙What do you think the author is trying to tell us about Israel‘s return from exile?

The prophesied return from exile

Jeremiah 32

Even as the Babylonian army lays siege to Jerusalem, God commands Jeremiah to go and buy a field. The act is symbolic: God promises that although they will be taken away as slaves, one day Israel will return and land will again be bought and sold by the Israelites in Jerusalem. In the midst of despair, God speaks hope. What picture does the author present of Israel’s restoration?

The command to rebuild the temple

Haggai 1-2

After returning from exile, the people begin to rebuild Jerusalem and the altar. But the temple itself remains in ruins. Haggai calls the people to honour God by re-building the temple as a first step towards the healing of the land. The book of Haggai is partly a word of comfort to the Jews, reminding them that God is still present with them. But it is also a warning to not continue the sins of the past.  

What themes from earlier part of the story do you find repeated in Haggai?

The people repent and seal the covenant

Nehemiah 9-10

Just as they have done before, the people of God gather to repent; to start afresh and renew the covenant they have with God. As part of the covenant renewal ceremony, the history of God’s people is retold for the benefit of the people. What do you notice about the way the Levites retell the story? What might be the significance of this?

The new covenant

Jeremiah 31; Isaiah 55: 1-7

Israel has always struggled to keep their covenant with God. After the exile, the prophets look ahead to a new covenant, available not just to Israel but the whole world.

God‘s Holy Spirit is poured out

Joel 2

In the past, God spirit anointed only kings and prophets. Joel sees a day coming when all of the people of God will be filled with his Spirit.

Israel complains, again

Malachi 1-2

The Israelites are back in their land, but the book of Malachi is a warning that they may not have learned from the exile: the old ways of life are starting to repeat. What are God’s complaints against Israel? What do they reveal about his desire for them?

God returns

Malachi 3-4

In Israel’s rebellion, God‘s presence departed from the temple. After the exile he did not return to the rebuilt temple. Malachi is written to the remnant Israelites who have returned to Jerusalem promising them God will come again.

Bible in a year

Growth Exercises

Growth Exercises are practical exercises we can try to help us grow as disciples of Christ. They are split into exercises to focus on for the coming week.

Celebration

Have you ever noticed God celebrating? In the bible we read several accounts indication God’s delight in the events of his creation. When God himself enters the world in Jesus Christ, the angel announces, “I bring you good news of great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” And then choirs of angels burst forth in song, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” (Luke 2:10-14)

At Jesus’ baptism, God the Father voices his pleasure in his son, ““You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22) Again, while Jesus is in prayer with his disciples atop the mountain, the proud Father says from heaven, ““This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7) Evidently, within God the Father there is joy expressed in celebrating the Son. Jesus also intended this kind of joy to be shared with his disciples.

As he prayed shortly before his crucifixion, he prayed to his Father for his disciples, “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them” (John 17:13).  When Jesus departed this earth and ascended to heaven, his disciples, “…worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God” (Luke 24:52-53). The news of a loving God who is redeeming the world is news worth celebrating, which is why we read in the Bible of people laughing and singing and dancing! (eg Ps 30:11; 33:3; 95:1; Isa 44:23; Jer 31:11-14)

But strangely Christians are not always known for their joy.  For some of us our reluctance to celebrate God and his goodness has probably been shaped by a tradition of ‘sensible’ behaviour modelled by a sanctimonious church leadership. In these settings, the kinds of lively celebration that might have been described in the bible have been viewed as self-indulgent or, at best, frivolous— “seriousness is close to godliness.” We quickly forget the celebrations of the angels over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:7,10). Celebration is also culture-bound. We all grew up in families, in traditions, and communities with their own patterns and norms for celebration. The Anglo-Australian culture I grew up in was well practiced at celebrating, but not always in an extravagant way.

Family celebrations were patterned and traditional, with much warmth and the inclusion of relatives whom we only ever saw at Christmas. However, other, more extravagant, celebrations, relied heavily on alcohol to ‘get the party going’— leading to lots of noise but little meaningful relationship. Lots of noise was usually followed by a very quiet hazy headache the next morning. The cultures we grew up in may or may not teach us to celebrate well.  

The reasons for Christian celebration are many— all rooted in the gospel of our salvation. And celebrating these is good for us! To begin, it combats the tendency many of us have to take ourselves too seriously. Celebration helps us put things in perspective, to laugh at ourselves, and remember that the Good News is exactly that – good news. Celebration is a way of declaring the truth about our world: that even though there is pain, injustice, suffering, in the end these things aren’t the truest things. God, and his love for us in the world, are deeper realities.  I wonder if we remember that joy is evidence of the inner working of God— part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22). God’s work in our lives is rightfully expressed with joy, delight, dancing, a maybe even fist-pumping exultation.

Conversely, a dour and grumpy demeanour would seem to deny any evidence of the Spirit’s work. The Psalms of celebration we find in the Bible are making this very point. Lament is not the end of the story. Instead, very many Psalms call to us:  “…let all who take refuge in you be glad;​let them ever sing for joy.” (Psalm 5:11) Liberty and energy are the by products of celebration which often overflow into many of the other activities and practices of life. Joyful celebration is contagious and continues on to touch other lives as well. A life shaped faithfully by the story of the Bible will include regular practices of celebration; not just as a way of letting off steam, but as a way of declaring to the world [and reminding ourselves] of the truth of the gospel.  So, this month– working on a different exercise each week– we aim to learn the joyous art of celebrating well – and pass it on!

Week 1: Celebrate

Our reasons for celebrating may vary widely. Some celebrations carry greater weight than others. Celebrating today’s sunshine feels good, but perhaps not the same as celebrating the declaration of peace at the end of a war. Celebrating my child’s birth sure beats celebrating my own birthday, which just feels like a reminder of my advancing years. Celebrating my Saviour’s birth feels much more significant than my team winning a game. Those celebrations of greater significance sometimes warrant some thoughtful reflection, rather than simply firing up some ‘whoops’ and high fives.

Sometimes Western Christians aren’t very good at stopping and celebrating. But the Israelites did this intentionally and often, with a series of feasts built into their annual calendar: Passover (celebrating God’s deliverance from Egypt), Tabernacles (celebrating God’s provision in the wilderness), Purim (celebrating God’s protection in exile), to name but a few. Each occasion was marked not only by Godward gratitude but also by communal gathering, feasting and gratitude.  

This weekend, plan a celebration with family and/or friends. Whether it’s a birthday, an anniversary, a new job, an old job, or even just the end of the week— purposefully delight yourselves in an aspect of God’s goodness to you. The key is to name and articulate exactly what it is that you are celebrating. Then, with purpose, hit the pause button and practice savouring the moment with others.  

Week 2: Inclusion

Celebrations in the bible are always communal events. Everyone is invited and everyone gets included, from the greatest to the least. Even that most basic of celebrations— the Sabbath— required that all members of the Jewish household, whether slave or free, whether travelling sojourner or family member, cease work and enjoy the goodness of God-initiated rest.

This week, plan another celebration, as you did last week, but this time make sure you include some people who would ordinarily be overlooked or ‘forgotten’. Perhaps you will invite some of the fringe people at your church. Perhaps you will include some from a different demographic or cultural group: take special notice of the single, the widowed, the awkward and the less popular.  Note: I suggest that you do not try explain your guest list to your company— just enjoy the fruits of diversity!

Week 3: Celebrating Obedience

True celebration isn’t just about laughing, eating and dancing. We are free to do all of those things because something incredible has happened: God‘s grace has touched our lives. And yet, true celebration delights in active faith and obedience to God. Without these, our celebrating carries a hollow sound. Set aside some times this week to prayerfully give thanks to God for his work in your life; for those situations where your faith has been put into practice, when you have been enabled to obey God— even at personal cost or through a challenging circumstances.

The fact that you are still ‘standing’ — your spiritual perseverance– deserves thanksgiving. Perhaps your faith has had to endure the challenges of spiritual isolation, of “online church”, of being kept apart through the pandemic. And yet, by the grace of God, we have persevered through this trial. We are grateful to God. Many have learned to obey God in the big ticket items, but are there areas of the ordinary fabric of your daily living where you notice ‘fresh green shoots’ of obedience? Celebrate these wins with God in grateful prayer.

Week 4: Initiate a Festival

Characteristic of Israel’s annual cycle of celebration was the remembering of key events with food and stories. Passover, Pentecost and Purim were all celebratory festivals, remembering respectively: God’s salvation in the exodus; harvest and the giving of the Torah at Sinai; and, God’s rescue during the exile. The eating of the meal was accompanied with the re-telling of stories and the reading of relevant scripture.

This week, think of some ways in which God has provided goodness, salvation or rescue in the life of your community. Is there anything in particular that lends itself to a pre-meditated festival celebration? The anniversary of a sick friend who became   well? The arrival of a new friend? The completion of unit of work? The salvation testimony of someone in your church community? Christmas in July? Share your idea with close friends and family. Start planning a festival in remembrance of one of those things. Discover the anticipation of an event where a close group can get together around a specific occasion to celebrate God‘s goodness and each other.

Prayer Project

During the month of July we will be praying for, and getting to know, the ministry of the Bush Church Aid. Download their quarterly prayer guide by clicking on this link.

Bush Church Aid Learn more about Bush Church Aid and how to pray for their ministry across Australia by clicking on this link.