The Exodus and The Return

Scripture Focus: Ezra 7.21-23

Now I, King Artaxerxes, decree that all the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates are to provide with diligence whatever Ezra the priest, the teacher of the Law of the God of heaven, may ask of you—up to a hundred talents of silver, a hundred cors of wheat, a hundred baths of wine, a hundred baths of olive oil, and salt without limit. Whatever the God of heaven has prescribed, let it be done with diligence for the temple of the God of heaven. Why should his wrath fall on the realm of the king and of his sons?

Reflection: The Exodus and The Return

By John Tillman

There are two different examples in scripture of God setting his people free from oppressive captivity and parallels in the New Testament to go along with them.

In the Exodus narrative, freedom comes by rebellion, resistance, and cataclysmic confrontation. The people engage in deceitful (Exodus 1.15-21 and Exodus 5.3) resistance to the empire of Egypt that is their oppressor. In this narrative, the government is the enemy of God and the people triumph over and defeat the government oppressors in a violent confrontation in which God fights for them.

The New Testament version of this is the return of Christ described in Revelation and other prophetic writings. In this appearing, or second Advent, Christ comes as a liberating force, suddenly overthrowing the governments of the world which oppose Christ’s kingdom. Christ, the warrior on the white horse will, with his words, set us all free in a moment.

In the return from Babylon, freedom comes slowly over generations and is accomplished by faithful obedience. The people never engage in resistance or deceit. Others, working against them, use deceit and subterfuge but they never succeed. The empires act as their ally and protector.* 

*It is a mistake to assume the governments Ezra dealt with (or any government) is operating out of sincere belief as we would define it. The empires and kings Ezra references are operating in self-interest, honoring Yahweh as one of many gods in a pantheistic stew. It is only because of  Israel’s sinfulness and rebellion that it needed a foreign, idol-worshiping king to help it rebuild. When the church needs the power of government to help it change the world, it is a marker not of God’s favor, but of the church’s sinfulness and failure.

In the New Testament, we see a similar kind of growth in the way the early church proceeds to live under the corrupt rule of both the religious rulers and the brutal empire of Rome. This is the mode of freedom in Christ that we are still operating under today.

As we live under corrupt governments we must remember to live wisely and prudently. (Matthew 10.16) Those who are not against us are for us. (Mark 9.38-40) But we must also not abandon our integrity to fawn for the support of any king. For those who are not with us are against us. (Luke 11.23) The testimony of Ezra tells us that kings come and go, but it is the Lord who is our only hope and protector.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. — Psalm 118.28

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Read more about Light Shines in the Darkness
The Temple Solomon built was destroyed by God because it lost sight of holiness. The second Temple Ezra built would be condemned by Christ for losing sight of mercy.

Read more about The Mingled Prayers of Exiles
Lord, we pray today as the exiles prayed, with mingled sorrow and joy.


Light Shines in the Darkness :: Epiphany

Scripture Focus: Acts 6.7
So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. 

1 Peter 2.9-10
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Reflection: Light Shines in the Darkness :: Epiphany
By John Tillman

On Christmas, the Advent candles fill our homes and hearts with joy and light. In Epiphany, we set that light on a lampstand for the world to see the light of Christ.

Epiphany’s purpose is to draw attention to the expanding and inclusive nature of the gospel. It is good news of great joy that will be for all people. The light has come to everyone—Gentiles included. No one is to be left in the dark.

The Temple Ezra rebuilt had always been intended to be a light to the nations, demonstrating God’s holiness and love. Just as the priests, stood between the people and God, confessing sin and administering pardon, so too was the nation of Israel intended to be a priest for the nations. It is this function to which Peter is referring when he describes the church as a “holy priesthood.” (1 Peter 2.9–10) Israel struggled to maintain the tension, however, between being holy and being a light to the other nations. We do too. 

Holiness and mercy seem to be consistently difficult for communities of faith to balance. In some communities, the emphasis on holiness is an impenetrable cultural barrier. Sinners don’t dare approach, even if the community would allow them to. In some communities, there is little in the way of holiness, for mercy has come to be interpreted as the non-existence of sin, rather than forgiveness offered for sin.

The Temple Solomon built was destroyed by God because it lost sight of holiness. The second Temple Ezra built would be condemned by Christ for losing sight of mercy and for preventing those of other nations from seeking the God of Israel. 

God would make us holy not so that we will be absent, abandoning the world, but so that we can be present, serving the world to demonstrate God’s love for them. It should be light which dispels darkness, not the other way around. 

Pray to be a light:
Jesus, Light of the world, help us to have a holiness that is not off-putting. May holiness be a light that comforts and reveals love, rather than condemnation. May the light of your holiness and love be a beacon in us, calling others to repentance and the renovation of their souls.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will confess you among the peoples, O Lord; I will sing praise to you among the nations.
For your loving-kindness is greater than the heavens, and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. — Psalm 57.9-10

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Ezra 6 (Listen -4:24) 
Acts 6 (Listen -2:35)

Read more about Radical Outreach to Outcasts :: Epiphany
If we listen long enough, Jesus will ask us to allow someone in, whom we would prefer to keep out…share our blessings with people who do not deserve them.

Read more about Setting a New Standard
Jesus rejected the morally compromised thinking of his culture, while at the same time welcoming into his fellowship those in clear violation of what he taught.

The Mingled Prayers of Exiles :: Epiphany

Scripture Focus: Ezra 3.11-13
And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away. 

Reflection: The Mingled Prayers of Exiles :: Epiphany
By John Tillman

To begin anything rightly, we must begin in prayer. 

As we approach the first Sunday of the new year and the culmination of Epiphany on Monday, we humbly join in prayer that our hearts will be moved to return to the Lord and serve him this year. 

Joy and Sorrow Mingled in A Prayer for Exiles
Lord, your servant Ezra tells us that as the assembly of exiles gathered, reestablishing worship and devotion toward you, there were whoops and shouts of excitement mixed with weeping and wailing. 

Lord, we pray today as the exiles prayed, with mingled sorrow and joy.

We weep for losses, sins, error, and struggle. 
We shout for mercy, comfort, redemption, and aid.
The entwined sounds of joy and weeping are the sounds of the gospel. 

We confess the pain and loss of the past and the joy and grace revealed and manifested to us in the Holy Spirit, our comforter and advocate sent by the power of Christ’s prayer on our behalf. (John 14.26)

The exiles prayed, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever.” (Ezra 3.11)

As they did they were echoing this repeated theme from many psalms of prayer and worship. We echo those psalms today…

We thank you, Lord, that your anger lasts only a moment and that, though we may weep through the night, the morning is coming when we will rejoice. (Psalm 30.5)

We thank you for the blessing of telling our redemption story—of being homeless, hungry, and hopeless—until you delivered us from our distress. (Psalm 107.1-6)

We thank you for bringing us into a spacious place in your presence.
Mortal harm and danger may come upon us, but no suffering removes your presence from us.
We abandon hope in princes, kings, or human power, taking refuge only in you, Lord. (Psalm 118.1-9)

You, oh Lord, look kindly on the lowly and distance yourself from the lofty in spirit.
As we humble ourselves, draw close to us.
May we, in danger and trouble, sense your preserving and comforting right hand, Jesus, the arm of the Lord which is not too short to save us. (Psalm 138.6-8)

May we establish today, as the exiles did, a foundation of faith built only on the rock of Christ Jesus.
May our cries of mingled joy and sorrow ring out far into our world, telling our culture the story of the gospel and revealing to them the glorious grace of Christ.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call; have mercy on me and answer me.
You speak in my heart ans say, “Seek my face.” Your face, Lord, will I seek.
Hide not your face from me, nor turn away your servant in displeasure. — Psalm 27.10-12

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Ezra 3 (Listen -3:01) 
Acts 3 (Listen -3:33)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ezra 4 (Listen -4:27) Acts 4 (Listen -5:15)
Ezra 5 (Listen -3:02) Acts 5 (Listen -6:49)

Read more about A Different Kind of Exile
In this world, we are cast out. In the renewed world we will be brought in. May that day come soon. And may we bring many following behind us.

Read more about In Denial in Exile
For the sake of God’s name they were exiled. But also for the sake of God’s name, he promised to restore them.

Hearts God Moves :: Epiphany

Scripture Focus: Ezra 1.5
…Everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem

Reflection: Hearts God Moves :: Epiphany
By John Tillman

In our reading plan, Ezra and Acts fill the early days of our even years. These accounts show what it looks like when God starts something new and renews what has been destroyed.

In both books we will see what it looks like when God begins to move in the hearts of people.
In both books we will watch as God’s relationship with his people is restored.
In both books we will see God build a community of worshipers, followed by a place of worship.

Ezra’s account concerns the Temple of Jerusalem. The Temple was the place that the Lord loved, in the city that the Lord chose to bear his name. The Temple was the place that God said would never be without his presence and where he would always hear the prayers of anyone who sought him. It was defiled, abused, and ultimately destroyed by human sin and human actions. It was robbed, reviled, and ripped apart stone by stone. 

In Ezra we will see God’s work to, stone by stone, reconstruct the Temple of Jerusalem to bear his name.  

Luke’s account in Acts concerns the church—called by Paul the body of Christ and by Peter a Temple of living stones. Jesus was God’s beloved Son, upon whom the Spirit was given without limit. In perfect unity with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, he demonstrated God’s love for his people. Innocent and righteous, Christ became for us human sin and was killed by human actions. He was betrayed, reviled, and crucified having his bones pulled apart joint by joint. 

In Acts we will see, God’s Holy Spirit coming to dwell not in a Temple built by human hands, but in individual human hearts. We will see these people become the living stones of a new Temple, God’s Church, the members of the Body of Christ. Stone by stone, part by part, we will see God construct a place from which his Spirit will never depart and to which all people are called to worship Jesus Christ.

During Epiphany, we celebrate the light of Christ being revealed to the nations. One of the gifts of Christ is that we become a part of Epiphany—Christ’s manifestation—as we fulfill our role in the body of Christ and take our place as living stones in his Temple.

May God move in our hearts, as in the hearts of the returning exiles, making his dwelling place with us and shining brightly through us in the coming year.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations and his wonders among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; he is more to be feared than all gods. — Psalm 96.2-4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Ezra 2 (Listen -5:25) 
Acts 2 (Listen -6:35)

Thank You, Donors, for your 2019 support!
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Spread the Word
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Read more about Sight for the Blind :: Epiphany
To appreciate the Epiphany of Christ—literally the manifestation or appearing—we must be healed of our blindness.

Read more about The Radical Procedure of the Gospel
May our hearts be made sensitive enough to feel his breath, hear his voice, and move as he directs.

The Curse Reversed :: Epiphany

Scripture Focus: Revelation 22.3, 17
No longer will there be any curse….The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

Reflection: The Curse Reversed :: Epiphany
By John Tillman

In Eden, humanity hid from God because of sin and fear and from each other because of shame and blame. This carries on into our interactions today. We both hide from God and hide God from ourselves, pushing him away to make room for gods of our choosing and making. We take the power and dominion God gave as a blessing and curse ourselves with it. 

God spoke the curse of Eden but, in many ways, we wrote it. And Christ reversed it. 

Even as he speaks the curse of Eden, God purposes and promises to break it. Scripture describes a God constantly working to reverse the curse and speaking repetitions of the theme of the final paragraphs of the Bible, “Come.”

In Eden, God says, “Where are you?” 
At Sinai, God says, “Follow me.”
In Galilee, Christ says, “Here I am.”
In the wilderness, Christ says, “Return to me.”
In Samaria, Christ says, “Ask me for water.”
In his teaching, Christ says, “Abide with me.”
At the table, Christ says, “Remember me.”
In the garden, Christ begs, “Be with me.”
At the beginning of John’s vision, Christ says, “Come up here.”
And here, at the end of God’s vision for the world and for us, God says, “Come.”

In the curse of Eden, God commits himself to a course of intervention on our behalf. The curse is made to be broken.

Epiphany is the revealing of Christ to the nations. It is God breaking through all of our concealments, coming out of hiding, breaking the curse of
banishment, and openly saying, “Come.” 

The visions of Revelation can be intimidating, but we must remember the character of the God we serve, perfectly revealed to us in Jesus Christ. He is the same in the throne room as he was in the manger, as he was in the upper room washing our feet, as he was on the cross, as he was pressing the fingers of doubters into his hands, and as he is now, tenderly reaching out to all humanity.

As we enter the new year, may we remember, we do not cower before a punitively petulant God who from his pedestal pronounces our doom.
We kneel before a compassionately caring creator, who kneels lower than us, so that he may lift our face to look in his eyes.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
I will call upon God, and the Lord will deliver me.
In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday, I will complain and lament, and he will hear my voice.
He will bring me safely back…God, who is enthroned of old, will hear me. — Psalm 55.17

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 36 (Listen -4:26) 
Revelation 22 (Listen -3:59)

Tomorrow’s Readings (Happy New Year!)
Ezra 1 (Listen -2:03) 
Acts 1 (Listen -3:58)

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Spread the Word
If you are not able to support us financially, another simple action that tangibly helps our ministry is to share about The Park Forum. Liking or commenting on our social media posts (but especially sharing them) helps more people to see them. This type of exposure is far better than when we spend money on ads to promote our posts. 

Forwarding our emails or sending links to our website to friends is another way to spread the gospel and to encourage Bible Literacy in your community of believers. Share a post with others to help them subscribe to our emails.

Read more about Supporting our Work
We are thankful for our donors’ gifts because they show the work of God in our donors’ hearts and their willingness to contribute to improving the spiritual discipleship of readers around the globe.

Read more about His Blessings, Our Curse :: A Guided Prayer
Jesus Christ became a curse for us…died to release the curse’s hold on us, then he rose to bring to us the full blessings of life that overflows with good things.

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