December 5 - Ephesians 2, Ezekiel 6-7 and Isaiah 40

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From Death to Life

Ephesians 2 In the past you were dead because you sinned and fought against God. 2You followed the ways of this world and obeyed the devil. He rules the world, and his spirit has power over everyone who doesn't obey God. 3Once we were also ruled by the selfish desires of our bodies and minds. We had made God angry, and we were going to be punished like everyone else.
4-5But God was merciful! We were dead because of our sins, but God loved us so much that he made us alive with Christ, and God's wonderful kindness is what saves you. 6God raised us from death to life with Christ Jesus, and he has given us a place beside Christ in heaven. 7God did this so that in the future world he could show how truly good and kind he is to us because of what Christ Jesus has done. 8You were saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve. This is God's gift to you, and not anything you have done on your own. 9It isn't something you have earned, so there is nothing you can brag about. 10God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted us to live. That's why he sent Christ to make us what we are.

United by Christ

11Don't forget that you are Gentiles. In fact, you used to be called "uncircumcised" by those who take pride in being circumcised. 12At that time you did not know about Christ. You were foreigners to the people of Israel, and you had no part in the promises that God had made to them. You were living in this world without hope and without God, 13and you were far from God. But Christ offered his life's blood as a sacrifice and brought you near God.
14Christ has made peace between Jews and Gentiles, and he has united us by breaking down the wall of hatred that separated us. Christ gave his own body 15to destroy the Law of Moses with all its rules and commands. He even brought Jews and Gentiles together as though we were only one person, when he united us in peace. 16On the cross Christ did away with our hatred for each other. He also made peace between us and God by uniting Jews and Gentiles in one body. 17Christ came and preached peace to you Gentiles, who were far from God, and peace to us Jews, who were near God. 18And because of Christ, all of us can come to the Father by the same Spirit.
19You Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens with everyone else who belongs to the family of God. 20You are like a building with the apostles and prophets as the foundation and with Christ as the most important stone. 21Christ is the one who holds the building together and makes it grow into a holy temple for the Lord. 22And you are part of that building Christ has built as a place for God's own Spirit to live.

Israel Is Doomed

Ezekiel 6 The LORD God said:
2Ezekiel, son of man, face the hills of Israel and tell them:
3Listen, you mountains and hills, and every valley and gorge! I, the LORD, am about to turn against you and crush all the places where foreign gods are worshiped. 4Every altar will be smashed, and in front of the idols I will put to death the people who worship them. 5Dead bodies and bones will be lying around the idols and the altars. 6Every town in Israel will be destroyed to make sure that each shrine, idol, and altar is smashed--everything the Israelites made will be a pile of ruins. 7All over the country, your people will die. And those who survive will know that I, the LORD, did these things. 8I will let some of the people live through this punishment, but I will scatter them among the nations, 9where they will be prisoners. And when they think of me, they will realize that they disgraced me by rebelling and by worshiping idols. They will hate themselves for the evil things they did, 10and they will know that I am the LORD and that my warnings must be taken seriously.

11The LORD God then said:
Ezekiel, beat your fists together and stomp your feet in despair! Moan in sorrow, because the people of Israel have done disgusting things and now will be killed by enemy troops, or they will die from starvation and disease. 12Those who live far away will be struck with deadly diseases. Those who live nearby will be killed in war. And the ones who are left will starve to death. I will let loose my anger on them! 13These people used to offer incense to idols at altars built on hills and mountaintops and in the shade of large oak trees. But when they see dead bodies lying around those altars, they will know that I am the LORD. 14I will make their country a barren wasteland, from the Southern Desert to the town of Diblah in the north. Then they will know that I, the LORD, have done these things.

Disaster Is Near

Ezekiel 7 The LORD God said:
2Ezekiel, son of man, tell the people of Israel that I am saying:
Israel will soon come to an end! Your whole country is about to be destroyed 3as punishment for your disgusting sins. I, the LORD, am so angry 4that I will show no pity. I will punish you for the evil you've done, and you will know that I am the LORD.
5There's never been anything like the coming disaster. 6And when it comes, your life will be over. 7You people of Israel are doomed! Soon there will be panic on the mountaintops instead of celebration. 8I will let loose my anger and punish you for the evil things you've done. You'll get what you deserve. 9Your sins are so terrible, that you'll get no mercy from me. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have punished you.
10Disaster is near! Injustice and arrogance are everywhere, 11and violent criminals run free. None of you will survive the disaster, and everything you own and value will be shattered. 12The time is coming when everyone will be ruined. Buying and selling will stop, 13and people who sell property will never get it back, because all of you must be punished for your sins. And I won't change my mind!
14A signal has been blown on the trumpet, and weapons are prepared for battle. But no one goes to war, because in my anger I will strike down everyone in Israel.

Israel Is Surrounded

The LORD said to the people of Israel:
15War, disease, and starvation are everywhere! People who live in the countryside will be killed in battle, and those who live in towns will die from starvation or deadly diseases. 16Anyone who survives will escape into the hills, like doves who leave the valleys to find safety.
All of you will moan because of your sins. 17Your hands will tremble, and your knees will go limp. 18You will put on sackcloth to show your sorrow, but terror will overpower you. Shame will be written all over your faces, and you will shave your heads in despair. 19Your silver and gold will be thrown into the streets like garbage, because those are the two things that led you into sin, and now they cannot save you from my anger. They are not even worth enough to buy food. 20You took great pride in using your beautiful jewelry to make disgusting idols of foreign gods. So I will make your jewelry worthless.
21Wicked foreigners will rob and disgrace you. 22They will break into my temple and leave it unfit as a place to worship me, but I will look away and let it happen.
23Your whole country is in confusion! Murder and violence are everywhere in Israel, 24so I will tell the most wicked nations to come and take over your homes. They will put an end to the pride you have in your strong army, and they will make your places of worship unfit to use. 25You will be terrified and will desperately look for peace--but there will be no peace. 26One tragedy will follow another, and you'll hear only bad news. People will beg prophets to give them a message from me. Priests will stop teaching my Law, and wise leaders won't be able to give advice. 27Even your king and his officials will lose hope and cry in despair. Your hands will tremble with fear.
I will punish you for your sins and treat you the same way you have treated others. Then you will know that I am the LORD.

Encourage God's People

Isaiah 40 Our God has said:
"Encourage my people! Give them comfort.
2Speak kindly to Jerusalem and announce:
Your slavery is past; your punishment is over.
I, the LORD, made you pay double for your sins."

3Someone is shouting:
"Clear a path in the desert! Make a straight road
for the LORD our God.
4Fill in the valleys; flatten every hill and mountain.
Level the rough and rugged ground.
5Then the glory of the LORD will appear for all to see.
The LORD has promised this!"

6Someone told me to shout, and I asked,
"What should I shout?"
We humans are merely grass,
and we last no longer than wild flowers.
7At the LORD's command, flowers and grass disappear,
and so do we.
8Flowers and grass fade away,
but what our God has said will never change.

Your God Is Here!

9There is good news for the city of Zion.
Shout it as loud as you can from the highest mountain.
Don't be afraid to shout to the towns of Judah,
"Your God is here!"
10Look! The powerful LORD God is coming
to rule with his mighty arm.
He brings with him what he has taken in war,
and he rewards his people.
11The LORD cares for his nation,
just as shepherds care for their flocks.
He carries the lambs in his arms,
while gently leading the mother sheep.

Who Compares with God?

12Did any of you measure the ocean by yourself
or stretch out the sky with your own hands?
Did you put the soil of the earth in a bucket
or weigh the hills and mountains on balance scales?

13Has anyone told the LORD what he must do
or given him advice?
14Did the LORD ask anyone to teach him wisdom and justice?
Who gave him knowledge and understanding?
15To the LORD, all nations are merely a drop in a bucket
or dust on balance scales;
all of the islands are but a handful of sand.
16The cattle on Lebanon's mountains would not be enough
to offer as a sacrifice to God,
and the trees would not be enough for the fire.
17God thinks of the nations as far less than nothing.

18Who compares with God? Is anything like him?
19Is an idol at all like God?
It is made of bronze with a thin layer of gold,
and decorated with silver.
20Or special wood may be chosen because it doesn't rot--
then skilled hands take care to make an idol
that won't fall on its face.

God Rules the Whole Earth

21Don't you know? Haven't you heard?
Isn't it clear that God created the world?
22God is the one who rules the whole earth,
and we that live here are merely insects.
He spread out the heavens
like a curtain or an open tent.

23God brings down rulers and turns them into nothing.
24They are like flowers freshly sprung up
and starting to grow.
But when God blows on them, they wilt
and are carried off like straw in a storm.

25The holy God asks, "Who compares with me?
Is anyone my equal?"

26Look at the evening sky! Who created the stars?
Who gave them each a name?
Who leads them like an army?
The LORD is so powerful that none of the stars
are ever missing.

The LORD Gives Strength

27You people of Israel, say, "God pays no attention to us!
He doesn't care if we are treated unjustly."

But how can you say that?
28Don't you know? Haven't you heard?
The LORD is the eternal God, Creator of the earth.
He never gets weary or tired;
his wisdom cannot be measured.

29The LORD gives strength to those who are weary.
30Even young people get tired, then stumble and fall.
31But those who trust the LORD will find new strength.
They will be strong like eagles soaring upward on wings;
they will walk and run without getting tired.

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This reading is from The Holy Bible, Contemporary English Version, copyright © American Bible Society, 1995.

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