Why so harsh, man?

This morning, we were reading Matthew 10 as part of our team’s regular Bible study. Jesus sends out his disciples to the Israelite towns, but spends most of his time giving them a warning that persecution, beatings, and even death await them because they are his disciples and because of what he is sending them to do.

But why?

Hasn’t Jesus been teaching love and good ways to live? Yes, he has.

Hasn’t he been performing miracles to heal people, curing them from their sicknesses? Yes, he has.

So it is a fair question, then, to ask… why all of this consternation? Why should the disciples be expecting persecution, beatings, and even death?

I believe that the answer is related to the message that Jesus gives the disciples. He tells them:

As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’

Matthew 10:7

This is Jesus’s primary message. From his first thing that Jesus preaches until the last thing that he says until he enters again into heaven, Jesus speaks about the kingdom of God.

So why would this be such a dangerous message? And why would it be so important to Jesus that this would be the message to announce, and the message that he is now giving his disciples to proclaim in the villages where they are going?

The answer is this: Jesus is claiming kingship. If you have a kingdom, you, by definition, will also have a king. And a king does not share loyalty. You can’t be in one kingdom and also in another kingdom. You can’t demonstrate loyalty to one king and also to another.

Jesus has called his disciples, and now through those disciples, all of the people in the towns where he is sending the disciples. As heralds, Jesus sends them to tell of a new kingdom that has come near, but that demands their complete loyalty. 100%.

But that demand isn’t a demand for loyalty at gunpoint, or at the tip of a sword, as the Roman empire did in Jesus’s time. Instead, it is a demand for loyalty out of love. Jesus as king has entered into the world of his people to call and save to bring them into the kingdom of God. As he does this, though, he calls his people both to salvation as well as to submission to his kingship.

But as people, we are prone to creating our own empires, to building our own kingdoms. In the case of the Israelites, they had rejected God as their king and asked him instead for a human king, just like all of the nations around them. Even though they weren’t still living in this condition, and instead had been scattered among the nations, this was still the Jewish peoples’ desire. To see *their* kingdom restored to them. Not the kingdom of God, but the kingdom of Israel.

And in addition, we see the Romans had conquered Palestine and the Israelite people. They were the empire that was ruling over the people. They had their own systems, their own government, their own deities and values, their own king.

This is the environment that Jesus was born into and the environment in which he begins to preach about the kingdom of God. And so this is the reason why Jesus is saying that his disciples should expect persecution. Kingdom is coming against kingdom. Loyalties will be questioned. Are you not a Roman citizen? Are you not a Jew? You are part of these kingdoms, not part of this kingdom of God with this new guy Jesus who claims to be the Messiah, the coming king from God, right?

These are the same questions that we are asked today. Sure, we are citizens of countries from a political perspective. Maybe in the USA or in Italy, or somewhere else in the world. But where do our allegiances actually lie? If we call ourselves believers… if we call ourselves followers of Jesus… if we call ourselves Christians, do we live with complete loyalty to Jesus as king, doing what he wants us to do? Do we live as he has commanded us? Or do we continue to adopt the values of the world? Or the political kingdoms where we live?

Jesus is still calling us to allegiance today. It isn’t enough to say that you are “saved”. We must know what we have been saved from, and what we are saved into because the truth is that we have been bought at a great price by the king himself and citizenship in his kingdom means that we renounce every other allegiance.


Praise, Exalt, and Glorify

In our daily reading plan, we’ve now switched into the book of Daniel. There is so much to say, but today, as we’ve read Daniel 3 and 4, we can see a process that has been underway as God has revealed himself to Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. Here are some things that I see:

First, at God’s direction, Nebuchadnezzar has conquered Jerusalem, bringing punishment to the Jewish people because they would no longer obey him. This conquering had been prophesied by several prophets, including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and others, and now it came to pass.

At Nebuchadnezzar’s direction, the kingdom of Babylon brought many people from Judah and Jerusalem into his kingdom and to the city of Babylon to serve him as slaves. By doing this, God brings himself into the presence of the nations through his people who serve him.

So we see that Daniel remains faithful to God, including his eating in the way that God had commanded him, despite being in this foreign land. When the king had a dream, Daniel prayed to God, and with revelation from God, was able to both recount and interpret the dream, the result of which was King Nebuchadnezzar giving praise and worship to God.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery. ”

Daniel 2:46-47

From there, we see the famous story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who were through into a fiery furnace because they wouldn’t bow down to the golden statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up to be worshipped. God saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the furnace, apparently even by showing up himself in the furnace to save them. This also causes King Nebuchadnezzar to worship God:

Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.

Daniel 3:28

But God wasn’t yet done with King Nebuchadnezzar. Despite his praise of God in the individual situations, the king had still not fully acknowledged God as the true King over all kings. Nebuchadnezzar still saw himself as the true king over all himself.

But God will not give up his position as the sovereign ruler over all of the earth. He will not give up his glory to another, and so Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that prophesied his downfall and was then, in reality, driven off of his throne and out of his kingdom for a time, until he was eventually sought out by his advisers and nobles to become, once again, the king over the kingdom of Babylon.

But now, Nebuchadnezzar was ready to give praise, honor, and glory to God, the ruler over all kingdoms, the true King of kings:

At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.

His dominion is an eternal dominion;
his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: “What have you done?”

At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

Daniel 4:34-37

So this is our lesson as well. Even if we aren’t kings over a kingdom as Nebuchadnezzar was, we each have a choice of to whom we will exalt. We can choose ourselves, glorifying ourselves, honoring ourselves, living for ourselves…or we can choose to praise, exalt, and glorify God for what he has done in our lives.

This becomes very practical as we begin to truly look at our lives. Who do we really believe has accomplished the good in our lives? Who do we really believe will lead us out of trouble when it comes to us? Who do we really believe will be our salvation? If we are honest, even if we say that we give honor and glory to God, we frequently find ourselves managing our problems through our own strength and our own wisdom instead of depending upon God for his strength, his dominion. Therefore, we look for glory for ourselves instead of exalting and giving glory to God. This is our task – to focus our minds and hearts upon remaining dependent upon God for all that we are, all that we have, and all that we will need.


Once Beautiful

God tells Ezekiel to “take up a lament” for Tyre, the city that rejoiced at Jerusalem’s downfall because it would benefit from an economic perspective as a result of the destruction of Jerusalem.

But Tyre would also fall and now Ezekiel is writing out and listing what was once considered beautiful about this city, because of its arrogance and pride, would become ugly and broken.

At one time, Tyre traded with all of the cities around it. At one time, it had a port that would be a gateway to the rest of the world. At one time, they had ships that would cover the seas. And all of this brought great prosperity and great prestige to their city.

But they were proud and they would also be destroyed by God’s judgment as he stirred up the king of Babylon against them.

Very frequently, we can think that we have obtained, by ourselves, our prestige and wealth, our beauty or our fame, and we can imagine that this a result of our own great intelligence or how well we have done in our lives because of our skill. But we routinely forget that God has made us and is guiding our paths. We allow our arrogance and pride to blind us and make us think that we are great.

But the truth is that we become like Tyre if we do this, and we risk destruction as a result of our pride. We haven’t done simply done these things. We are only unable or unwilling to see, and we are setting ourselves up for our own downfall, for someone to one day give a lament over the same story that continues to repeat itself through the ages. Only by humility and acknowledgement of God’s work in our lives can we avoid this end.


Directed Events

In Ezekiel 26, he says:

For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: From the north I am going to bring against Tyre Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses and chariots, with horsemen and a great army.

Ezekiel 26:7

Tyre was a city in modern-day Lebanon that, in times past, had been friendly with Israel, but now that Jerusalem has been destroyed, Tyre is rejoicing because they will profit materially from its destruction.

As a result of this, though, we see that God is moving upon the king of Babylon to bring him against Tyre.

So what is the significance of this? Throughout the prophecies, we see God primarily speaking to Israel, to his people. He calls them to repentance, back to himself, which is right given that he has made a covenant with them. God is their God and they are his people.

But God’s reach goes beyond that of the people of Israel. God is the God of the entire world. The one true, and only, God. He is able to direct events throughout the entire world, moving the kings and the peoples to affect history, to raise up nations and bring them down. As the creator of the entire world, we see that God is also sovereignly moving to direct its path.

So if that is true, then God is sovereign over all things, and he is the one who is able to bring change, just as we see him doing here is this situation with the kingdom of Babylon and the nation of Tyre.

And yet he also calls upon us to participate with him. He wants us to ask him for change, for his kingdom to come. He wants us to participate with him in giving his message of redemption and reconciliation from him to others. So we are invited to work alongside of the one and only sovereign God who has the power to change world events.

As his people, we are called to call upon God for change. We need to look and see where the kingdom of God has not yet come and ask God to move. Instead of standing idly by thinking that there are things we cannot change, we must engage, asking God to make a change, asking him to bring all of his resources to the situation so that he can reign within and over that situation. May we be a people that continuously call upon him to move throughout the world in those situations where he is not currently called upon as Lord.



There are probably as many different ideas about God and his relationship with his people as there are people on the earth. However, there is really only one who can tell us the truth about God and that is God himself.

In Ezekiel 24, God paints a terrible picture of his judgment and punishment for the unfaithfulness of his people. He has found Israel and Judah guilty and now they will be punished. Specifically in this case, Judah will be punished as Babylon lays siege to Jerusalem. The picture that God uses as he describes the scene to Ezekiel is that of a pot that is cooking over a fire. It is cooking the meat of the flock.

It is a terrible picture because the flock here represents the Israelites who are there in Jerusalem. God has stirred up the Babylonians against the Israelites and they are now the fire that is bringing the punishment against the Israelites. Want a picture of what God and his character for those that are unfaithful? This is about as bad as it gets.

Tell this rebellious people a parable and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says:

“‘Put on the cooking pot; put it on
and pour water into it.
Put into it the pieces of meat,
all the choice pieces—the leg and the shoulder.
Fill it with the best of these bones;
take the pick of the flock.
Pile wood beneath it for the bones;
bring it to a boil
and cook the bones in it.

Ezekiel 24:3-5

This should be a warning to each of us. We like to speak of God’s love and mercy and grace and faithfulness to each of us. And that is all true. God is amazingly patient and merciful. In fact, he was patient for century after century with the Israelites. And he is even with us today.

But not forever. God also executes his judgement and brings a terrible punishment upon those who will not remain faithful to him. It is too terrible to even imagine, so we *must* find the way. We must stay on it, live in it, and truly live as His people. Not because we are afraid, but because we are in love. In love with the one that loved us so much that he gave us himself instead of putting the punishment upon us…if only we would humble ourselves and daily accept the gift that he has given to us!


Two Sisters, Two Prostitutes

God speaks to Ezekiel again and compares the two kingdoms of Israel (Samaria in the story, the capital of the kingdom of Israel) and Judah (Jerusalem in the story, the capital of the kingdom of Judah) to two sisters. However, these sisters are described as young virgins who wish to have their breasts fondled and enjoyed by the men (the nations) around them. In the case of Judah, the nation of Egypt and eventually also Assyria, and in the case of Israel, the nation of Assyria.

These ladies are described as prostitutes because they have gone to other lovers. They have looked to other gods. They have depended upon their own wisdom. But in the end it does them no good at all. These other nations do not want what is good for them. Instead, they leave them stripped naked, bruised and battered, and their nakedness and shame will be exposed to everyone.

As we run to other things aside from the one true God… as we go on to put our trust and dependency in these things… we are going in the same direction that Israel and Judah went. They wanted to run their lives their way, and so do we. They wanted to find their own solutions, and so do we.

But they also found out the true consequences to their actions, and if we do as they did, so will we.

But it is worse than that. God, as our original “lover”, just as he was with the Israelites, won’t stand by idly. He sees what is happening and will call out our actions. See what God says through Ezekiel:

The LORD said to me: “Son of man, will you judge Oholah and Oholibah? Then confront them with their detestable practices, for they have committed adultery and blood is on their hands. They committed adultery with their idols; they even sacrificed their children, whom they bore to me, as food for them.

Ezekiel 23:36-37

God knows what is happening. He knew with the Israelites and he knows with us. And he will declare judgement. He is jealous and wants us for himself. He wants us to give glory and worship to him, not to other so-called gods. He wants us to run to him, not to other things for our safety and security. Not just loyalty, but fidelity. Completely in love, completely sold out to him.


For the Sake of My Name

Through Ezekiel, God gives us some hints on how he sees his relationship with his people. He recounts and explains what he has done for his people and also discusses why.

For example, in Ezekiel 20, he recounts the Exodus, the time that God moved to bring the Israelites out of the land of Egypt. Even though they were still worshipping idols and rebelling against him, God still brought the people out of Egypt. Why? Here is the scripture:

But for the sake of my name, I brought them out of Egypt. I did it to keep my name from being profaned in the eyes of the nations among whom they lived and in whose sight I had revealed myself to the Israelites.

Ezekiel 20:9

God doesn’t just have grace and mercy on the Israelites because he loves them and wants to be their God. Even though they are worshipping idols and foreign gods, God is making sure that his name will not be profaned. He has brought them out of Egypt, out of slavery, and now he will carry them through his plan, even though they are rebelling against him. He does this because his name will be glorified. Despite the rebellion of the Israelites, the nations will give glory to the God of Israel because he is a powerful God, a mighty God, and clearly also a merciful God. He has done all of this in the sight of the nations so that they will glorify him. They, the nations, are his eventual aim, the people that he desires to reach. They must know his power and love for his people, and so it is for this reason that he will show this power and love in the sight of the nations.

We can relate this also to our times today. We should ask ourselves this question, I think: Why would God send Jesus to pursue us, to save us? Haven’t we been too much trouble? Every time he tries to pursue us, we rebel against him, we sin against him, running to other “gods”, other solutions. We are just like the Israelites!

I’ve heard many people say that God loves us. That is why he came for us.

Or that God is a God who wants to be in relationship. Look at the Trinity – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is a God who lives and works in relationship, so he must save us, his creation, so that he will be in relationship with us and we will be in relationship with him.

Those explanations may be correct. I wouldn’t say that they are incorrect, but at the least, I think we can say that they are incomplete. God came for us so that he would be glorified. It isn’t just about how valuable I am, or we are. It is more about how valuable God is and that he should be recognized for his worth and his value.

Jesus came to save us, despite our sin and rebellion, for the sake of the name of the Father. Take a look at this interaction between the Son and the Father just before Jesus is ready to head to the cross:

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

John 12:27-28

The very reason that Jesus is approaching this “hour” where he will be horribly killed by crucifixion is to bring glory to the name of the Father. And this is exactly God’s intention. He has brought glory to his name and intends to continue to do so.

We, therefore, must live to give glory to God. Our lives must be wrapped up in this plan. God intends to give glory to God. We must live for him, not for us, and do the same.


Repent and Live

Ezekiel goes into a long explanation of how someone who commits sin will die for what they have done. In short, he is saying that the penalty of sin is death.

In fact, he goes further to say that a righteous person who turns to sin will, themselves, die. So if you think that you will be able to look back to your previous days and depend upon them for your justification…think again!

On the other hand, he does say that there is a way out. Someone who is living a sinful life but who will repent and turn back to God, away from his old life, will be allowed to live. This is the type of person that God wants. Someone who will, with humility, realizing that they have done what is wrong, turn away from their past and come to God.

Ezekiel wraps up this section by saying:

For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!

Ezekiel 18:32

Ezekiel pre-dates God coming to earth as a human being in the form of Jesus, but Jesus had a similar message. In fact, it was the first message that he preached:

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Mark 1:15

The first step to enter into the kingdom of God is that of repentance. When we realize that we have been wrong and done wrong, we must lay down our pride – something that is very difficult for must of us to do! – and instead humbly come to God in repentance. Only in this way can we come into the kingdom of God and live!


Idols in Their Hearts

I’ve spent a fairly significant amount of time lately thinking about what Jesus said when he talked about the kingdom of God being like a man who found a treasure in a field and then sold everything he owned so that he could buy the field to be able to obtain the treasure.

Or in the parable immediately after that as the merchant of pearls found a very precious pearl and so, in the same way, goes to sell everything that he has to be able to return and buy the pearl.

I think this teaches us that obtaining, or we might say accessing or entering, the kingdom of God is worth everything. There is nothing that we have in this life that is worth anything more than being able to enter into the kingdom.

Of course, this has profound implications for us. If nothing is worth more, I should be willing to sell it all or give it all up: My home and all of my possessions, my relationships, my interests, hobbies, passions. Everything. Jesus says that it is worth it all to enter into the kingdom of God.

This morning, I read Ezekiel 13 and 14 and saw something similar in what I read there. Here is one of the verses that highlights the problem that God had with the people of Israel:

Therefore speak to them and tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: When any of the Israelites set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet, I the LORD will answer them myself in keeping with their great idolatry.

Ezekiel 14:4

Some of the elders of Israel had come to Ezekiel to inquire of God and to hear from him. But they had other things, even idols, that they placed before their relationship with God. God was a connection that they had “bolted on”, let’s say, to their lives. They weren’t committed to God. They didn’t truly believe that he had all of the answers. They looked, instead, to other gods and other things in their lives.

Ezekiel continues later in chapter 14 by talking about how God says that he will destroy the land because of the people’s unfaithfulness to him. It is crucial that we understand this. God wants our complete fidelity, our whole lives, our minds, our hearts, our souls, and our strength. He wants it all and won’t accept anything less.

I think this is directly connected to what Jesus taught as he spoke of the people who would sell everything to “obtain”, or enter into the kingdom of God. He wants every part of us and so this is how we must dedicate our day today, to give it all to him!


Then You Will Know That I Am the Lord

I was reading through Ezekiel 11 and 12 today, according to the Bible reading plan that our team is using. The instructions for our time say that we should pick out the verse that speaks the most to us.

But today, instead of thinking about this, I was trying to think about what God was saying the most through these two chapters.

There is a famous section in Ezekiel 11 about God turning the peoples’ heart of stone into a heart of flesh, so I considered picking this, but I actually don’t think that this is the main message that God is trying to get across in these couple of chapters.

Instead, I think that the message that I see coming through Ezekiel is that the people of Israel have been disobedient and God will punish them. But even that declaration of punishment isn’t the main message.

In chapter 12, God says this:

The inhabited towns will be laid waste and the land will be desolate. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’

Ezekiel 12:20

God wants his people to recognize him for who he truly is. He is the Lord. He is the one who brought them out of Egypt. The one who sustained them in the desert, who brought them into the promised land. He has been faithful to them, even when they haven’t been faithful to him. The people of Israel have gone and served other gods. They have not recognized God for who he is and what he has done for them.

So this is the reason for God’s punishment of the Israelite people. God wants them to know him for who he is. To glorify him for who he is, just as he intended from the beginning and wants them to do even now.

God wants his people to know that he is God and glorify him for who he is. And that is what I believe God wants to tell us even today. He wants us to recognize him for who he is and what he has done for us. And without this, in the same way that God punished the Israelite people, we can expect a similar wrath to come upon us. God has been patient and kind, and will continue to be, but he expects that we will acknowledge him for who he is: the God of the universe, the King above all kings, the One who loves us, who pursued us and even sacrificed himself for us. And he is the one who deserves the glory.