December 6 - Ephesians 3, Ezekiel 8-9 and Isaiah 41

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Paul's Work for the Gentiles

Ephesians 3 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles, pray to God. 2Surely you have heard that God in his grace has given me this work to do for your good. 3God revealed his secret plan and made it known to me. (I have written briefly about this, 4and if you will read what I have written, you can learn about my understanding of the secret of Christ.) 5In past times human beings were not told this secret, but God has revealed it now by the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets. 6The secret is that by means of the gospel the Gentiles have a part with the Jews in God's blessings; they are members of the same body and share in the promise that God made through Christ Jesus.
7I was made a servant of the gospel by God's special gift, which he gave me through the working of his power. 8I am less than the least of all God's people; yet God gave me this privilege of taking to the Gentiles the Good News about the infinite riches of Christ, 9and of making all people see how God's secret plan is to be put into effect. God, who is the Creator of all things, kept his secret hidden through all the past ages, 10in order that at the present time, by means of the church, the angelic rulers and powers in the heavenly world might learn of his wisdom in all its different forms. 11God did this according to his eternal purpose, which he achieved through Christ Jesus our Lord. 12In union with Christ and through our faith in him we have the boldness to go into God's presence with all confidence. 13I beg you, then, not to be discouraged because I am suffering for you; it is all for your benefit.

The Love of Christ

14For this reason I fall on my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name. 16I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18so that you, together with all God's people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ's love. 19Yes, may you come to know his love--although it can never be fully known--and so be completely filled with the very nature of God.
20To him who by means of his power working in us is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of: 21to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time, forever and ever! Amen.


Idolatry in Jerusalem

Ezekiel 8 On the fifth day of the sixth month of the sixth year of our exile, the leaders of the exiles from Judah were sitting in my house with me. Suddenly the power of the Sovereign LORD came on me. 2I looked up and saw a vision of a fiery human form. From the waist down his body looked like fire, and from the waist up he was shining like polished bronze. 3He reached out what seemed to be a hand and grabbed me by the hair. Then in this vision God's spirit lifted me high in the air and took me to Jerusalem. He took me to the inner entrance of the north gate of the Temple, where there was an idol that was an outrage to God.
4There I saw the dazzling light that shows the presence of Israel's God, just as I had seen it when I was by the Chebar River. 5God said to me, "Mortal man, look toward the north." I looked, and there near the altar by the entrance of the gateway I saw the idol that was an outrage to God.
6God said to me, "Mortal man, do you see what is happening? Look at the disgusting things the people of Israel are doing here, driving me farther and farther away from my holy place. You will see even more disgraceful things than this."
7He took me to the entrance of the outer courtyard and showed me a hole in the wall. 8He said, "Mortal man, break through the wall here." I broke through it and found a door. 9He told me, "Go in and look at the evil, disgusting things they are doing there." 10So I went in and looked. The walls were covered with drawings of snakes and other unclean animals, and of the other things which the Israelites were worshiping. 11Seventy Israelite leaders were there, including Jaazaniah son of Shaphan. Each one was holding an incense burner, and smoke was rising from the incense. 12God asked me, "Mortal man, do you see what the Israelite leaders are doing in secret? They are all worshiping in a room full of images. Their excuse is: 'The LORD doesn't see us! He has abandoned the country.'"
13Then the LORD said to me, "You are going to see them do even more disgusting things than that." 14So he took me to the north gate of the Temple and showed me women weeping over the death of the god Tammuz.
15He asked, "Mortal man, do you see that? You will see even more disgusting things." 16So he took me to the inner courtyard of the Temple. There near the entrance of the sanctuary, between the altar and the porch, were about twenty-five men. They had turned their backs to the sanctuary and were bowing low toward the east, worshiping the rising sun.
17The LORD said to me, "Mortal man, do you see that? These people of Judah are not satisfied with merely doing all the disgusting things you have seen here and with spreading violence throughout the country. No, they must come and do them right here in the Temple and make me even more angry. Look how they insult me in the most offensive way possible! 18They will feel all the force of my anger. I will not spare them or show them any mercy. They will shout prayers to me as loud as they can, but I will not listen to them."

Jerusalem Is Punished

Ezekiel 9 Then I heard God shout, "Come here, you men who are going to punish the city. Bring your weapons with you." 2At once six men came from the outer north gate of the Temple, each one carrying a weapon. With them was a man dressed in linen clothes, carrying something to write with. They all came and stood by the bronze altar.
3Then the dazzling light of the presence of the God of Israel rose up from the winged creatures where it had been, and moved to the entrance of the Temple. The LORD called to the man dressed in linen, 4"Go through the whole city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the forehead of everyone who is distressed and troubled because of all the disgusting things being done in the city."
5And I heard God say to the other men, "Follow him through the city and kill. Spare no one; have mercy on no one. 6Kill the old men, young men, young women, mothers, and children. But don't touch anyone who has the mark on his forehead. Start here at my Temple." So they began with the leaders who were standing there at the Temple.
7God said to them, "Defile the Temple. Fill its courtyards with corpses. Get to work!" So they began to kill the people in the city.
8While the killing was going on, I was there alone. I threw myself face downward on the ground and shouted, "Sovereign LORD, are you so angry with Jerusalem that you are going to kill everyone left in Israel?"
9God answered, "The people of Israel and Judah are guilty of terrible sins. They have committed murder all over the land and have filled Jerusalem with crime. They say that I, the LORD, have abandoned their country and that I don't see them. 10But I will not have pity on them; I will do to them what they have done to others."
11Then the man wearing linen clothes returned and reported to the LORD, "I have carried out your orders."

God's Assurance to Israel

Isaiah 41 God says,
"Be silent and listen to me, you distant lands!
Get ready to present your case in court;
you will have your chance to speak.
Let us come together to decide who is right.

2"Who was it that brought the conqueror from the east
and makes him triumphant wherever he goes?
Who gives him victory over kings and nations?
His sword strikes them down as if they were dust.
His arrows scatter them like straw before the wind.
3He follows in pursuit and marches safely on,
so fast that he hardly touches the ground!
4Who was it that made this happen?
Who has determined the course of history?
I, the LORD, was there at the beginning,
and I, the LORD, will be there at the end.

5"The people of distant lands have seen what I have done;
they are frightened and tremble with fear.
So they all assemble and come.
6The skilled workers help and encourage each other.
7The carpenter says to the goldsmith, 'Well done!'
The one who beats the idol smooth
encourages the one who nails it together.
They say, 'The soldering is good'--
and they fasten the idol in place with nails.

8"But you, Israel my servant,
you are the people that I have chosen,
the descendants of Abraham, my friend.
9I brought you from the ends of the earth;
I called you from its farthest corners
and said to you, 'You are my servant.'
I did not reject you, but chose you.
10Do not be afraid--I am with you!
I am your God--let nothing terrify you!
I will make you strong and help you;
I will protect you and save you.

11"Those who are angry with you
will know the shame of defeat.
Those who fight against you will die
12 and will disappear from the earth.
13I am the LORD your God;
I strengthen you and tell you,
'Do not be afraid; I will help you.'"

14The LORD says,
"Small and weak as you are, Israel,
don't be afraid; I will help you.
I, the holy God of Israel, am the one who saves you.
15I will make you like a threshing board,
with spikes that are new and sharp.
You will thresh mountains and destroy them;
hills will crumble into dust.
16You will toss them in the air;
the wind will carry them off,
and they will be scattered by the storm.
Then you will be happy because I am your God;
you will praise me, the holy God of Israel.

17"When my people in their need look for water,
when their throats are dry with thirst,
then I, the LORD, will answer their prayer;
I, the God of Israel, will never abandon them.
18I will make rivers flow among barren hills
and springs of water run in the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water
and the dry land into flowing springs.
19I will make cedars grow in the desert,
and acacias and myrtles and olive trees.
Forests will grow in barren land,
forests of pine and juniper and cypress.
20People will see this and know
that I, the LORD, have done it.
They will come to understand
that Israel's holy God has made it happen."

The LORD's Challenge to False Gods

21The LORD, the king of Israel, has this to say:
"You gods of the nations, present your case.
Bring the best arguments you have!
22Come here and predict what will happen,
so that we will know it when it takes place.
Explain to the court the events of the past,
and tell us what they mean.
23Tell us what the future holds--
then we will know that you are gods!
Do something good or bring some disaster;
fill us with fear and awe!
24You and all you do are nothing;
those who worship you are disgusting!

25"I have chosen a man who lives in the east;
I will bring him to attack from the north.
He tramples on rulers as if they were mud,
like a potter trampling clay.
26Which of you predicted that this would happen,
so that we could say that you were right?
None of you said a word about it;
no one heard you say a thing!
27I, the LORD, was the first to tell Zion the news;
I sent a messenger to Jerusalem to say,
'Your people are coming! They are coming home!'
28When I looked among the gods,
none of them had a thing to say;
not one could answer the questions I asked.
29All these gods are useless;
they can do nothing at all--
these idols are weak and powerless."

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This reading is from The Holy Bible, Today's English Version, Second Edition copyright © American Bible Society, 1992;
Old Testament copyright © American Bible Society, 1976, 1992; New Testament © American Bible Society, 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992.

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