December 16 - Philippians 3, Ezekiel 23 and Isaiah 51

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The True Righteousness

Philippians 3 In conclusion, my friends, be joyful in your union with the Lord. I don't mind repeating what I have written before, and you will be safer if I do so. 2Watch out for those who do evil things, those dogs, those who insist on cutting the body. 3It is we, not they, who have received the true circumcision, for we worship God by means of his Spirit and rejoice in our life in union with Christ Jesus. We do not put any trust in external ceremonies. 4I could, of course, put my trust in such things. If any of you think you can trust in external ceremonies, I have even more reason to feel that way. 5I was circumcised when I was a week old. I am an Israelite by birth, of the tribe of Benjamin, a pure-blooded Hebrew. As far as keeping the Jewish Law is concerned, I was a Pharisee, 6and I was so zealous that I persecuted the church. As far as a person can be righteous by obeying the commands of the Law, I was without fault. 7But all those things that I might count as profit I now reckon as loss for Christ's sake. 8Not only those things; I reckon everything as complete loss for the sake of what is so much more valuable, the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have thrown everything away; I consider it all as mere garbage, so that I may gain Christ 9and be completely united with him. I no longer have a righteousness of my own, the kind that is gained by obeying the Law. I now have the righteousness that is given through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God and is based on faith. 10All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death, 11in the hope that I myself will be raised from death to life.

Running toward the Goal

12I do not claim that I have already succeeded or have already become perfect. I keep striving to win the prize for which Christ Jesus has already won me to himself. 13Of course, my friends, I really do not think that I have already won it; the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead. 14So I run straight toward the goal in order to win the prize, which is God's call through Christ Jesus to the life above.
15All of us who are spiritually mature should have this same attitude. But if some of you have a different attitude, God will make this clear to you. 16However that may be, let us go forward according to the same rules we have followed until now.
17Keep on imitating me, my friends. Pay attention to those who follow the right example that we have set for you. 18I have told you this many times before, and now I repeat it with tears: there are many whose lives make them enemies of Christ's death on the cross. 19They are going to end up in hell, because their god is their bodily desires. They are proud of what they should be ashamed of, and they think only of things that belong to this world. 20We, however, are citizens of heaven, and we eagerly wait for our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, to come from heaven. 21He will change our weak mortal bodies and make them like his own glorious body, using that power by which he is able to bring all things under his rule.

The Sinful Sisters

Ezekiel 23 The LORD spoke to me. 2"Mortal man," he said, "there were once two sisters. 3When they were young, living in Egypt, they lost their virginity and became prostitutes. 4The older one was named Oholah (she represents Samaria), and the younger one was named Oholibah (she represents Jerusalem). I married both of them, and they bore me children. 5Although she was mine, Oholah continued to be a prostitute and was full of lust for her lovers from Assyria. 6They were soldiers in uniforms of purple, noblemen and high-ranking officers; all of them were handsome young cavalry officers. 7She was the whore for all the Assyrian officers, and her lust led her to defile herself by worshiping Assyrian idols. 8She continued what she had begun as a prostitute in Egypt, where she lost her virginity. From the time she was a young woman, men slept with her and treated her like a prostitute. 9So I handed her over to her Assyrian lovers whom she wanted so much. 10They stripped her naked, seized her sons and daughters, and then killed her with a sword. Women everywhere gossiped about her fate.
11"Even though her sister Oholibah saw this, she was wilder and more of a prostitute than Oholah had ever been. 12She too was full of lust for the Assyrian noblemen and officers--soldiers in bright uniforms--and for the cavalry officers, all of those handsome young men. 13I saw that she was completely immoral, that the second sister was as bad as the first.
14-15"She sank deeper and deeper in her immorality. She was attracted by the images of high Babylonian officials carved into the wall and painted bright red, with sashes around their waists and fancy turbans on their heads. 16As soon as she saw them, she was filled with lust and sent messengers to them in Babylonia. 17The Babylonians came to have sex with her. They used her and defiled her so much that finally she became disgusted with them. 18She exposed herself publicly and let everyone know she was a whore. I was as disgusted with her as I had been with her sister. 19She became more of a prostitute than ever, acting the way she did as a young woman, when she was a prostitute in Egypt. 20She was filled with lust for oversexed men who had all the lustfulness of donkeys or stallions." ( 21Oholibah, you wanted to repeat the immorality you were guilty of as a young woman in Egypt, where men played with your breasts and you lost your virginity.)

God's Judgment on the Younger Sister

22"Now then, Oholibah, this is what I, the Sovereign LORD, am saying to you. You are tired of those lovers, but I will make them angry with you and bring them to surround you. 23I will bring all the Babylonians and Chaldeans, men from Pekod, Shoa, and Koa, and all the Assyrians. I will gather all those handsome young noblemen and officers, all those important officials and high-ranking cavalry officers. 24They will attack you from the north, bringing a large army with chariots and supply wagons. Protected by shields and helmets, they will surround you. I will hand you over to them, and they will judge you by their own laws. 25Because I am angry with you, I will let them deal with you in their anger. They will cut off your nose and your ears and kill your children. Yes, they will take your sons and daughters from you and burn them alive. 26They will tear off your clothes and take your jewels. 27I will put a stop to your lust and to the obscenities you have committed ever since you were in Egypt. You won't look at any more idols or think about Egypt any more."
28This is what the Sovereign LORD says: "I will hand you over to people you hate and are disgusted with. 29And because they hate you, they will take away everything you have worked for and leave you stripped naked, exposed like a prostitute. Your lust and your prostitution 30have brought this on you. You were a prostitute for the nations and defiled yourself with their idols. 31You followed in your sister's footsteps, and so I will give you the same cup of punishment to drink."
32The Sovereign LORD says,
"You will drink from your sister's cup;
it is large and deep.
Everyone will scorn and mock you;
the cup is full.
33It will make you miserable and drunk,
that cup of fear and ruin,
your sister Samaria's cup.
34You will drink and drain it dry,
and with its broken pieces
tear your breast.
I, the Sovereign LORD, have spoken."
35Now this is what the Sovereign LORD is saying: "Because you forgot me and turned your back on me, you will suffer for your lust and your prostitution."

God's Judgment on Both Sisters

36The LORD said to me, "Mortal man, are you ready to judge Oholah and Oholibah? Accuse them of the disgusting things they have done. 37They have committed adultery and murder--adultery with idols and murder of the children they bore me. They sacrificed my children to their idols. 38And that is not all they did. They profaned my Temple and broke the Sabbath, which I had established. 39The very day that they killed my children as sacrifices to idols, they came to my Temple and profaned it!
40"Again and again they sent messengers to invite men to come from a great distance, and the men came. The two sisters would bathe and put on eye shadow and jewelry. 41They would sit on a beautiful couch, and in front of them they would have a table covered with good things, including the incense and the olive oil that I had given them. 42The sound of a carefree crowd could be heard, a group of men brought in from the desert. They put bracelets on the women's arms and beautiful crowns on their heads. 43And I said to myself that they were using as a prostitute a woman worn out by adultery. 44They went back to these prostitutes again and again. They went back to Oholah and Oholibah, those immoral women. 45Righteous men will condemn them on the charge of adultery and murder, because they practice adultery and their hands are stained with blood."
46This is what the Sovereign LORD says: "Bring a mob to terrorize them and rob them. 47Let the mob stone them and attack them with swords, kill their children, and burn down their houses. 48Throughout the land I will put a stop to immorality, as a warning to every woman not to commit adultery as they did. 49And you two sisters--I will punish you for your immorality and your sin of worshiping idols. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD."

Words of Comfort to Jerusalem

Isaiah 51 The LORD says,
"Listen to me, you that want to be saved,
you that come to me for help.
Think of the rock from which you came,
the quarry from which you were cut.
2Think of your ancestor, Abraham,
and of Sarah, from whom you are descended.
When I called Abraham, he was childless,
but I blessed him and gave him children;
I made his descendants numerous.

3"I will show compassion to Jerusalem,
to all who live in her ruins.
Though her land is a desert, I will make it a garden,
like the garden I planted in Eden.
Joy and gladness will be there,
and songs of praise and thanks to me.

4"Listen to me, my people,
listen to what I say:
I give my teaching to the nations;
my laws will bring them light.
5I will come quickly and save them;
the time of my victory is near.
I myself will rule over the nations.
Distant lands wait for me to come;
they wait with hope for me to save them.
6Look up at the heavens; look at the earth!
The heavens will disappear like smoke;
the earth will wear out like old clothing,
and all its people will die like flies.
But the deliverance I bring will last forever;
my victory will be final.

7"Listen to me, you that know what is right,
who have my teaching fixed in your hearts.
Do not be afraid when people taunt and insult you;
8 they will vanish like moth-eaten clothing!
But the deliverance I bring will last forever;
my victory will endure for all time."

9Wake up, LORD, and help us!
Use your power and save us;
use it as you did in ancient times.
It was you that cut the sea monster Rahab to pieces.
10It was you also who dried up the sea
and made a path through the water,
so that those you were saving could cross.
11Those whom you have rescued
will reach Jerusalem with gladness,
singing and shouting for joy.
They will be happy forever,
forever free from sorrow and grief.

12The LORD says,
"I am the one who strengthens you.
Why should you fear mortals,
who are no more enduring than grass?
13Have you forgotten the LORD who made you,
who stretched out the heavens
and laid the earth's foundations?
Why should you live in constant fear
of the fury of those who oppress you,
of those who are ready to destroy you?
Their fury can no longer touch you.
14Those who are prisoners will soon be set free;
they will live a long life
and have all the food they need.

15"I am the LORD your God;
I stir up the sea
and make its waves roar.
My name is the LORD Almighty!
16I stretched out the heavens
and laid the earth's foundations;
I say to Jerusalem, 'You are my people!
I have given you my teaching,
and I protect you with my hand.'"

The End of Jerusalem's Suffering

17Jerusalem, wake up!
Rouse yourself and get up!
You have drunk the cup of punishment
that the LORD in his anger gave you to drink;
you drank it down, and it made you stagger.
18There is no one to lead you,
no one among your people
to take you by the hand.

19A double disaster has fallen on you:
your land has been devastated by war,
and your people have starved.
There is no one to show you sympathy.
20At the corner of every street
your people collapse from weakness;
they are like deer caught in a hunter's net.
They have felt the force of God's anger.

21You suffering people of Jerusalem,
you that stagger as though you were drunk,
22the LORD your God defends you and says,
"I am taking away the cup
that I gave you in my anger.
You will no longer have to drink
the wine that makes you stagger.
23I will give it to those who oppressed you,
to those who made you lie down in the streets
and trampled on you as if you were dirt."

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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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