Special Year End RMM RoundUp
2 Chronicles 36
Today will be a day of endings. Each of the 4 chapters we read today brings a certain scene in God’s redemptive story to a close. The scene that is concluded in 2 Chronicles 36 might be titled “The Kingdom Lost”. As we have been talking about over the course of our series “After Darkness Light” the kingdom of Israel reached its high water mark under the reigns of David and Solomon. David defeated all the enemies of God’s people and Solomon built the temple and established the worship of God. For a moment it seemed almost as if the kingdom of God had been realized on the earth. The Queen of Sheba saw enough of the glory of God in the reign of Solomon that she travelled from the ends of the earth to hear his wisdom and to receive blessing from his hand. But it was all downhill from there.
After foreign women turned Solomon’s heart away from the Lord Israel and Judah split into two countries and they travelled parallel roads into idolatry, debauchery and ruin. The northern kingdom of Israel was sent into exile by Assyria, here in 2 Chronicles 36 we observe the destruction of the southern kingdom by Egypt and Babylon. Having abandoned God, he abandons them to the power of their enemies. They are ground into the dust, their kings enslaved, their temple destroyed and their people scattered into Babylon. Israel, for all intents and purposes, is dead.
Or so it seems. 2 Chronicles 36 ends with a note of hope. It ends where Ezra 1 begins. In our English Bibles these books lie helpfully side by side (they do not in Hebrew Bibles). If you have an English Bible in front of you open it to the last chapter of 2 Chronicles. Look at the last paragraph. It reads as follows:
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: 23 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the LORD his God be with him. Let him go up.’” (2 Chronicles 36:22–23 ESV)
Compare that to the first chapter of Ezra on the very next page:
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:
2 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1–3 ESV)
This is an obvious hinge in the storyline. The exile, which we thought was the end, is not the end. It was a time of punishment and chastisement but God has not given up on his people. He will begin again with a remnant. A shoot will grow up out of the fallen oak and become the people of God. God has led his people into the dark, but now, he promises them light. More on that later.
If you’d like to read how this new scene plays out be sure to follow along with us as we follow the 2 year RMM reading plan with the new Into The Word podcast beginning tomorrow on January 1st. We’ll be talking about Ezra 1 and Acts 1. Hope to have you with us!
Revelation 22 is the last chapter in the Bible and not surprisingly it looks an awful lot like the first chapter in the Bible. The Biblical storyline is somewhat circular. In the end, as at the beginning, we see a good world with good people in it, serving God and enjoying his presence forever. We also see the River of Life and the Tree of Life. These are both symbols of immortality and blessedness. In the end, the curse of death is lifted and we are again the people we were meant to be.
Not everything in Revelation 22 is mere repetition of the themes introduced in Genesis 1-2, there is also development. The Garden, for example, has become a city. This suggests that the new heavens and the new earth are not simply a return to Eden, rather, they are a return to the trajectory we were created to travel on. Eden was a nursery - the eternal kingdom is our “adult home”.
The Bible ends with a stark and urgent contrast:
Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. (Revelation 22:14–15 ESV)
The message is remarkably straightforward: if you want to be inside the eternal kingdom then you must “wash your robes” in the blood of Christ. This means to confess your sins and to put faith in his saving work. If you do not do this, then you will be outside, in the dark, with the rebels, away from God forever.
Fittingly, this stark contrast is followed by an appeal:
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. (Revelation 22:17 ESV)
Because of Christ the way is open, the field is clear and you can come home. Come. Come unto Jesus and be saved!
This is the closing note of the Bible; this is the Gospel and this is the Word of the Lord, thanks be to God!
Malachi served at the same time as Ezra- in fact some scholars think that he was Ezra, or that Ezra was Malachi. The name “Malachi” just means “my messenger” and so it may be that when Ezra the priest and scribe had a prophetic oracle he released it under the name Malachi. However, it is just as likely that they were different people working at the same time and singing from the same song sheet. Either way, Malachi has to be understood in the context of the reforms being attempted by Ezra the Scribe. In general, the people of God at this time were ignorant, apathetic and culturally compromised. They had neglected God’s Word and had begun to live like pagans. In chapter 3 Malachi calls on them to repent. Repent means to turn around and go back. In the Bible, back is the forward, just as down is the way up. Only when we repent of our wandering and return to God in humility are we ready to receive grace and healing.
In chapter 4 Malachi prophesies a coming Day of the Lord. In essence he says that a day will come when God will act decisively in human history to set things to right, but today is not that day. It lies in the unknowable future. While we cannot know when that day will come, we do know how to prepare. Malachi tells us what to do:
“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. (Malachi 4:4 ESV)
Rediscover God’s Word! When God does come it will be too late to crack open the Bible in order to discover how you were supposed to be living - do it now!
Malachi also says that before the coming of Messiah God will send a forerunner:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4:5–6 ESV)
Jesus identifies John the Baptist as the fulfillment of this prophecy, but he adds an important caveat:
This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’
11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 11:10–15 ESV)
If you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. That is an unusual phrase. It seems to mean something like “John is the doorman of the kingdom of God if you have faith to see what God is doing”. John is not the door - Jesus is the door - but for those who listen to John and who see the Jesus that he points to, he is in that sense, the forerunner of the Kingdom of God.
Malachi’s message represents the closing note of the Old Testament. There will be 400 years of silence now before the events he foretold would begin to unfold upon the earth. That is the darkness into which Jesus breaks forth as light - thanks be to God!
I remember hearing several sermons as a young boy that went into great length concerning the different Greek words that lie behind Jesus’ questions to Peter: “Do you love me more than these” and “do you love me”. Scholars now agree that the words in the dialogue are essentially interchangeable and that there is nothing to be discerned from their interchange. Just like how we tend to avoid using the same word over and over again in a sentence or paragraph, so too Peter and Jesus seem to have employed overlapping terms throughout their discourse. The point of the conversation, happily, has little to do with the secret meaning of Greek words and is perfectly accessible to the person reading it in the English translation. Jesus is very gently restoring Peter after his very embarrassing and public failure. Before Peter was filled with the Spirit his life was marked by misunderstanding and weakness. But afterwards, on the other side of the resurrection and Pentecost, Peter will be the rock that Jesus always knew he would be. That should encourage us. We are not now, in Christ, who we once were. Neither are we yet what we will be. But if we are his and filled with his Spirit, we will become what he has made us and saved us to be. Thanks be to God!
It is also interesting to note how Jesus describes the pastoral ministry.
“Feed my lambs”.
“Tend my sheep”.
“Feed my sheep”.
Those are overlapping imperatives. In sum they seem to communicate that the job of the pastor is to feed God’s people the Word with a concern for new believers (lambs) and mature saints (sheep). He should also give attention to flock management and overall health (tend my sheep). A wise pastor pays attention to the full range of those instructions.
It is worth noting that Jesus here assumes that Christians will need instruction and oversight. We live in an era of rebellion and distrust towards all institutions so it might be helpful to recall that this particular institution (the church) was instituted by Jesus Christ for our good and his eternal glory. It is not optional. It is helpful. Necessary. And good.
There is no such thing as believing without belonging in Christianity. Jesus put us together. This was his idea. And it is good.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name! You are faithful, you are wise and you are good. You have ordered all things for our salvation and for your glory and we give you thanks. Thank you for another year of life and for another year of growth and change. In 2017 we ask that you would show us more of your glory in the face of Jesus Christ as we study your Word and submit to the operation of your Spirit. Change us and shape us, mould us and make us, equip us and send us we ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Pastor Paul Carter
This concludes the life cycle of the RMM RoundUp resource. Starting tomorrow on January 1st 2017 we will be switching to a combined format of podcasts and Daily Reflections. The podcasts will be released on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the Daily Reflections will cover the days in between - God willing. We will be following the 2 year plan and we will be starting on year 2 of that plan, meaning that on January 1st we will be reading Ezra 1 and Acts 1. All of the resources will be posted at www.intotheword.ca Please check it out!