Monday, December 8, 2014

"A people holy to the Lord, our God … "

Day #346:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - December 9th

Scripture Reading:  Nehemiah 10 - 13 …

In our nation the distinction between those who claim to be Christians and those who follow other "religions" grows more blurry with each passing year.  Some, perhaps most, consider this a good thing. After all, we need to live together and seek peace among the various peoples, races and religions … so they think, so they believe, so they say.  Yet God makes it clear that it is HIS desire to have a people who are "holy," "sanctified," "purified," "set apart" …  This is not some kind of religious "snobbishness," but rather the will and plan of God that He set in motion before He created the world.  It is God's perfect will and intention to gather a people that would be HIS people, out of all the peoples of the world.  Failure to understand this, to believe this and to BE one of His people by faith in Jesus Christ leaves billions of people "without God and without hope in the world" (Ephesians 2:12).

Having returned from exile in Babylon a remnant of the people of Judah, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, had returned to Jerusalem, rebuilt the walls and the temple, and were now about to fulfill God's plan in preparing for the coming of the Savior God had promised to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the One who would be the "Seed of the woman,"  the "Seed of Abraham," the "Son of David," the KING from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10).  But for that to happen these people must be "holy to the LORD their God."  Ezra the priest, and Nehemiah, the governor, had both declared the law of God to the people, that they must not intermarry with the peoples around them.  They must keep the commands of God and purify themselves through the offering of sacrifices and the giving of their tithes and offerings.

They gathered together and wrote a covenant, committing themselves to doing what God had told them to do.  "We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons" (10:30).  They promised to keep the Sabbath day holy and to bring their offerings to the temple.  "We also assume responsibility for bringing to the house of the LORD each year the first fruits of our crops and of every fruit tree" (10:35).  "We will bring a tithe of our crops to the Levites … We will not neglect the house of our God" (10:37, 39).  These were the commitments the remnant made to God.  Think of their lives, having returned from exile … building their homes, building the walls, planting their crops, living life!!  But their life was found in GOD!! HE was at the center of their life as a community.  The first fruits were to go to Him to remind them that He was their God and they were His people.

This is a picture of what the Church is to be today!  As these people were called to be the people of God in the midst of the nations of the world, so we who believe in Jesus, the Christ, the promised ruler, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, are called to be the people of God and to be separate from the world.  This is a common theme throughout the Bible and yet one that is ignored by countless thousands throughout Christianity.  God did not want them marrying those who worshiped other gods, for as Nehemiah writes about Solomon:  "Among the many nations there was no king like him.  He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even HE was led into sin by foreign women" (13:26).  Idolatry is spiritual adultery!  We who believe are united to Christ and this is an exclusive relationship.  Jesus said that no one can serve two gods!!  You and I can't worship God AND anything else at the same time.

As the walls of Jerusalem were dedicated Nehemiah and the people celebrated what God had done.  "The Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres" (12:27).  What a celebration it was!  There were two choirs positioned on the walls themselves and in the temple, "and on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy.  The women and children also rejoiced.  The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away" (12:40, 43).  God loves the heartfelt celebrations and thanksgiving that is offered by His people! David writes in Psalm 100:1-5:

"Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.  Worship the LORD with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs.  Know that the LORD is God.  It is He who made us, and we are His; we are HIS people, the sheep of His pasture.  Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.  For the LORD is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations."

Who knows that except those who know God!  "When the priests and Levites had purified themselves ceremonially, they purified the people, the gates and the wall …"  God had instructed the priests and Levites that they must be ceremonially "pure" to approach Him.  But who is pure before a holy God?  No one!  If you or I or anyone else attempts to approach God we cannot stand in His presence for even a moment.  The writer of Hebrews states that all these ceremonial laws given to Israel were "only a shadow of the good things that are coming - not the realities themselves.  For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship" (Hebrews 10:1).  But there is a better way!!

"When Christ came as High Priest of the good things that are already here, He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made … He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption … How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God" (Hebrews 9:11-14).

Paul writes in Titus 2:11-14:  "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say, 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope -  the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good."

And John writes in I John 3:2-3:  "We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.  Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as HE is pure."  Through the ceremonial laws of purification given to Moses, which the remnant was now being called to perform through Ezra and Nehemiah, God was revealing again the need to be purified, to be holy, set apart, sanctified as His holy people.  They were not to intermarry, they were to bring their tithes and offerings to the Levites and they were to offer sacrifices to God.  They were to honor the Sabbath and show themselves to be a special people, a holy people, a people belonging to GOD!!  But even if they kept all of these laws, only GOD could make them holy!  Only God can make US holy ...

Nehemiah returned for some time to Babylon, as he had promised the king he would do, but then he  came back to Judah only to find that the people had begun to intermarry again and had neglected the house of God.  He called them to account once again, reminding them that this was why God's wrath had fallen upon their fathers.  Once again the people listened, and for a brief time obeyed God's commands, but it wouldn't last.  They would be unfaithful again and God's judgment would eventually come.  But for those who, like Nehemiah, desire obedience and work to glorify God, believing His promise and answering His call, God performs within them what only He can do:  He makes them holy!!

Nehemiah's requests to God reveal his heart: he asked God to remember him for his faithful service to His house.  "Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its service" (13:14).  "Remember me for this also, O my God, and show mercy to me according to Your great love" (13:22).  "Remember me with favor, O my God" (13:31).  Those who know God's grace and who love Him will desire what God desires and will seek His favor above that of the world around us.  Devotion to God reveals a heart set on Him and His glory.

Oh, that you and I would be so concerned for the glory of God that we ask God to remember us … not for what we have done that others might give us praise, but for that which we have done in thanksgiving and praise to Him, our God, our Savior, our King!  God is building His kingdom today through His people and He has purified us, set us apart and made us holy through HIS offering - the gift of His own Son Jesus.  He has made us His people and now nothing can separate us from His love in Christ.  Rejoice in Him and celebrate with offerings of thanksgiving - bringing yourself as an offering of praise!!

"LORD God Almighty, in knowing You and serving You there is joy and hope for today and for the future.  What I could not do, You have done, for You have made me holy in Your sight through the blood of Jesus, shed once for all on the cross.  Give me strength, O Lord, to serve You with passion and zeal and to be faithful to You, my God and my King, in Jesus' name, Amen"

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