Brandon's Notepad

December 29, 2011

E100 Challenge 2011-2012

Filed under: Christianity — Brandon @ 6:00 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Home > My Research > Christianity > Sacred Scripture > E100 Challenge


An Evangelical Christian friend of mine invited me to take The Essential One-Hundred Bible Reading Plan, also known as the E100 Challenge. If for no other reason, I accepted to show that Catholics embrace the Bible too. I’ve already noticed a few noteworthy things about this program, and I thought it would be neat to compose a “nutshell” narrative based on the selected passages. This particular challenge is running between December 2011 and May 2012.


Observations

  • I received a reading plan from my friend that listed all of the readings. I tried to find a copy online, but apparently they are only available in the E100 store. The 136-page guide costs about $10, and the daily planner is only availble in packs of 25 for just under $13 (all prices as of 12/29/2011). So as not to deprive the company of revenue, I will not directly reproduce the list here.
  • The plan did contain a shortened version of The Scripture Union Bible Reading Method (SUBRM). This method is almost identical to Lectio Divina, which was developed over time (primarily) between the 4th and 12th centuries (sources vary as to events that attribute to this development, the details of which are irrelevant here).

My Narrative

The SUBRM involves reflecting upon the Scriptures, asking questions. This correlates to the Lectio Divina practice of meditatio. It recommends writing the answers in a journal or notebook. This narrative is my E100 journal. One caveat: in my experience, Lectio Divina is usually applied to much smaller passages, not one or two whole chapters at one time, so I will focus on key points each day.

OLD TESTAMENT

1. God created the world and man in it. All of creation was pleasing to God, man included. He lovingly provided all that is necessary to sustain us. The whole man includes both body (dust) and soul (breath). We were made to be like God and to be with God. God asked only for us to trust in him and not in ourselves. The garden, God’s care, was given freely to man.

2. But man chose to disobey God. The result was death: not an immediate physical death, but a spiritual one. No longer a friend of God, man had forfeited God’s gifts. The protection of the garden was gone. God foreshadows that man will struggle with this choice for generations, but that an offspring of the woman will eventually conquer it.

3. As time progressed, man became so wicked that God decided to destroy his creation because of them. Only one man found favor with God on account of his righteousness. Noah obeyed God in every detail. His obedience saved not only him, but his family and other creatures from destruction. The flood waters came, and only the passengers of the ark were left behind.

4. When the flood waters subsided and the earth had been cleansed, Noah made an acceptable sacrifice to God. Acknowledging that it is man’s fallen nature that causes him to sin, God then made a covenant with the earth, promising that he would never again destroy creation with a devastating flood.

5. Several generations passed, and man plotted to reach heaven by building a large tower. (Jewish tradition tells us that Noah’s great-grandson, Nimrod, desired vengeance on God for the destruction of their forefathers.) Remembering his promise, God simply confused their language, preventing the completion of this ambitious and prideful project.

6. God decided to set a people apart for himself in a land of their own, beginning with a man named Abram. A special blessing is ever to be made upon the members of this people and a curse upon their enemies. The latter proved to be true when the Egyptian Pharaoh attempted to take Abram’s wife for his own.

7. God assured Abram through a covenant promise that his blessing was to be bestowed on his own offspring upon his death. The covenant ceremony required an animal sacrifice, signifying the fate of the one who breaks it.

8. The blessing of Abram (now called Abraham) was to be inherited by his son Isaac, despite that Abraham had an older son by a servant girl. This was God’s choice that the blessing be passed on to the son born of his wife, Sarah. God then tested Abraham’s faithfulness by telling him to sacrifice Isaac, an order that Abraham followed obediently until he was stopped by God and was given an alternate victim.

9. From Isaac, the blessing was to fall on his son, Esau; however, his younger son, Jacob, deceived Isaac and received his blessing instead. Again, this was God’s will, confirmed by the Lord himself to Jacob in a dream. Once the blessing is given, it cannot be revoked and cannot be replaced with a curse. Esau vowed vengence.

10. After some time had passed, Jacob and Esau were reconciled, though Jacob had been expecting a confrontation for he knew that Esau had murderous intentions toward him in the past. While Esau was still far off, Jacob had sent gifts as a peace-offering, but these were initially dismissed by Esau. The real confrontation had actually been with a mysterious stranger the night before his meeting with Esau. Though the stranger lost the fight, he blessed Jacob, and changed Jacob’s name to Israel, “he who has contended with divinity”. God often changed the names of men after they had reached a point of transformation in their lives.

11. Israel favored his son, Joseph, who had been born of him in his old age. Joseph was blest by God with the ability to interpret dreams. His older brothers were jealous of Israel’s favor toward Joseph and sold him into slavery. The brothers convinced Israel that his son had been killed by a wild animal.

12. Joseph fared well under God’s protection. He was placed in charge of his master’s house. His master’s wife desired him, but when he refused her on the grounds that she was tempting him to sin, she accused him of rape. He was jailed, but there too, he found favor with with the jailor and was given responsibilities. While in prison, he interpreted dreams. He predicted one prisoner’s release and asked him to appeal to the Pharaoh for his own release. When Joseph satisfactorily interpreted the Pharaoh’s dreams, he was released and put in charge of the land of Egypt.

13. Ten of Joesph’s brothers were sent to Egypt to purchase food during a famine. Benjamin was not with them. Joseph recognized them, and sold them the food they required, but he also imprisoned one of the brothers, Simeon, and made his release conditional upon the presence of all eleven brothers in Egypt. The money they paid for the food was also placed secretly in their bags, so that when they returned home, they discovered that they had not paid for the goods.

14. When the food ran out, they prepared for another journey to Egypt, taking with them Benjamin, gifts for the man in charge of the food, and enough money to pay for more food as well as the food they had taken. Simeon was released and they dined on portions from Joseph’s table, still not recognizing him. As they prepared for the journey home, Joseph planted their money amongst their things once again, as well as a silver goblet in Benjamin’s bag, and had them stopped on their way to be arrested for theft. His brother Judah made a plea on Benjamin’s behalf so that the favored son may go back to his father, Israel.

15. Joseph revealed his true identity to his brothers and, with assistance from the Pharaoh, sent them back to gather his father and their people and to bring them back to settle in Egypt, where he could be near them and provide for them. So, the people if Israel came to Egypt to live, and they became a numerous people.

16. A new Pharaoh eventually came into power who did not know (or did not recognize) Joseph’s contributions to Egypt. In fear of their numbers, he oppressed the Israelites, making them slaves and ordering the deaths of their newborn boys. An Israelite boy was born and, because his mother faithfully placed him in the hands of God to protect him from infanticide, he was delivered by the water into the arms of Pharaoh’s daughter who loved him and adopted him. She was his advocate to Pharaoh, pleaing on his behalf and thereby saving him from death. She named him Moses. When Moses was grown, he killed an Egyptian for treating his Hebrew kin cruelly. He fled to a foreign land, settled there and was married.

17. God heard the cry of the Israelites. He came to Moses in a vision and called Moses to go to Egypt and lead the Israelites into the land he promised to Abraham. He showed Moses the signs he would work to show them that he was with Moses. He also sent Moses’ brother, Aaron, as a spokesman.

18. The might of God was displayed in a series of plagues imposed upon Egypt. At first, the Pharaoh’s magicians could replicate these miracles (or at least claimed to be able to do so), but when they (admittedly) could no longer do the things that God was doing through Moses, Pharaoh recognized that these were the works of God. God not only proved his identity, but also his dominion over man and nature. Moreover, by some of his wonders, God set his people apart from the Egyptians. Nonetheless, Pharaoh remained obstinate.

19. Before the Israelites were delivered out of Egypt, so that they might prepare, God marked the head of their calendar and established and mandated an annual memorial sacrifice. The victim had to be an unblemished lamb, its blood used to signify the sanctity of the place of sacrifice, and its meat eaten as part of a meal along with bread and herbs. The meat was to be consumed in the first day, but the partaking of the bread was to continue for seven. This time was reserved for sacred assemblies and the preparation of the needed food. Anyone who disobeyed in the celebration of this custom thus separated himself from the people of Israel. Indeed, the Israelites performed the sacrifice as perscribed and they who did not suffered the loss of the firstborn in the household, including the Egyptians. This loss was too great, and Pharaoh granted permission for the Israelites to leave Egypt.

20. After the Israelites left Egypt, Pharaoh changed his mind and pursued them into the desert. Through Moses, God delivered the Israelites across the Red Sea by parting its waters that they may walk across on dry land. When the Egyptians followed, God covered them with the sea, killing them all. His people were blessed, their foes cursed, just as God had promised Abraham.

21. Having delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, he made a covenant bond with them: the people of Israel would be God’s most precious treasure on Earth if they obey him completely. They would be a “kingdom of priests”, a consecrated people set apart for God, making a sacrifice of themselves in dedication to him. He then told Moses to prepare the people for his coming down to the mountain. They were to sanctify themselves and wait for the confirmation of their new relationship with God signified in the sounding of a trumpet. The people were not to approach the holy, but remain faithful to their earthly spiritual leader through whom God chose to reveal himself. Indeed, through Moses he gave them ten words, rules by which they were to live their lives. After witnessing the events on the mountain, God speaking to Moses in lightning and thunder, they accepted Moses as their mediator to the divine.

22. Moses spoke with God for some time on the mountain, and the people forgot about their promise of obedience. They made a statue that they idolized as an image of God (Aaron built an altar in front of it and procalimed the next day to be a feast day of the Lord). This angered God and he wished to destroy them, but Moses interceded on their behalf, reminding God of his great love toward them and their fathers. The sin of the people did not go unpunished however. Due to their zeal, the tribe of Levi was chosen and consecrated to perform ritual services for the Lord. Their first task, by which they were ordained, was to put to death many of the idolators. Moses set up a tent from which he conversed with God. No person could see God, for he hid himself in a column of cloud; but when the cloud stood outside of Moses’ tent, the people revered his presence with solemn bows. Because Moses had found favor with him, God agreed to go before the people on their journey to the land promised to Abraham and his descendants. God gave to Moses the ten words again and emphasized that the prescribed feasts were to be kept. Because he spoke with God, Moses’ face shone.

23. Moses was succeeded by his aide, Joshua. God promised to be with Joshua and urged him to observe the law he had given them, reciting it day and night. Joshua commanded his officers to prepare the people to occupy the land on the other side of the Jordan river from where they were camped. The two tribes that were already in the land apportioned for them pledged to aid their brethren in the occupation effort, and to obey Joshua as they had obeyed Moses.

24. The tablets that bore the ten words of God had been placed in a container called an “ark” which the Levite priests would carry ahead of the people. Just as God had done through Moses at the Red Sea, the water of the Jordan river ceased to flow when the feet of the priests touched it, allowing the people to cross on dry ground. At God’s command, Joshua had representatives from the twelve tribes mark the spot of the crossing with stones from the riverbed.

25. Jericho was the first city to be conquered. Joshua was approached by a warrior who made himself known as the commander of the Lord’s army. The Israelites had besieged Jericho and God instructed them to march around the city with the ark of the covenant for seven days. When they had completed the marches on the seventh day, and had blown ram horns and had made much noise, the walls of Jericho collapsed. The city was taken and all living creatures within were put to death (save a family spared for the help they had provided). Articles made of precious metals were collected for the Lord’s treasury, but the Israelites were not to covet the possessions of the citizens of Jericho. Joshua cursed the city, that it may never be rebuilt.

26. Once the promised land had been delivered to the Israelites, the people served God and that generation that had seen his great works passed away. Over time, they fell away from God and worshiped other gods. Their infidelity angered God and caused him to turn against them, and in their weakness they fell to their enemies. They were given judges by God as guides who were men of God who would intercede on their behalf. So long as a judge lived, the anger of God subsided, but once he had died, the people turned from God and he became angry once again.

27. One such judge was the Prophet Deborah. The Israelites were being oppressed by a Canaanite king. Deborah revealed God’s plan for their military victory over their oppressors and it came to be. The Canaanite general fled, taking refuge in the tent of a women he trusted, where he fell asleep from exhaustion. The woman struck his head, thereby delivering the people into freedom. Deborah sang a canticle, foremost giving thanks to God, then praising the deeds of the some of the tribes of Israel while chiding others for not coming to their aid, and finally, extolling the woman who had secured the victory, calling her the “most blessed of women”.

28. Another judge was named Gideon, who was called as a boy by God to save Israel from their oppressor, Midian. Gideon made two altars and made sacrifices to God, the first as a sign that he found favor with God, and the second prescribed by God to replace his father’s altar which had been built to honor another god named Baal. The erection of the latter provoked the people, but his father told them to let Baal avenge himself. When Gideon was to lead the Israelites to victory, he once again asked for a sign of God’s favor (the sign of the dew and the fleece), and it was given. He did not doubt God, but wanted confirmation that God was still with him. God told Gideon that he had too many soldiers, that they may boast that the victory was theirs and not God’s. Those who were afraid were dismissed and God selected the ones who would fight by a test. This army, a mere three-hundred soldiers, was emboldened by visions in dreams. In one vision, a tent (symbolizing the nomadic Midian people) was taken down by a single loaf of bread (the agricultural Israelites). Midian was driven out through fear and confusion and not head-to-head confrontation. The Israelites’ battle cry, “For the Lord and for Gideon”, united the soldiers in God’s power and the power given to his vicar.

29. A third judge to consider was Samson, who came to judge the Israelites when under the power of the Philistines. His is a story of revenge, though God remains with him even in his worst moments. He was born of a barren woman, and his birth was prophesied by an angel who instructed the woman to remain ritually clean, abstaining from wine, beer, and unclean foods. The boy was to be set apart for God (a Nazirite), his hair to remain uncut. Samson’s father made a sacrifice to God, only then realizing that the angel was a messenger of God. Samson grew, and fell in love with a Philistine woman. During the wedding feast, Samson gave a riddle and made a wager with thirty Philistine men present. The men extorted the answer from Samson’s wife, and she thus betrayed him. He paid the wager at the expense of the lives of thirty other men and then returned home to his parents alone. When he returned to find that his wife had been given to another man, Samson burned their crops in the field. The Philistines then killed his wife and her family, which Samson avenged with a great slaughter of many men. The men of Judah were ordered by the Philistines to capture Samson, but when they delivered him into their hands, Samson was freed by God and he killed a thousand Philistines on the spot. He judged Israel for twenty years. He then fell in love with another woman who betrayed him, not once, but four times, delivering him into the hands of his enemies. He was blinded and thrown into prison where he labored. In a feast, the Philistines decided to mock him in their temple. With God’s help, he brought the temple down upon himself and all of his enemies.

30. The story of Ruth bridges the time of judges and the time of monarchy for Israel. A woman named Naomi lost her husband and two sons to death and sought to return to her native people. She urged her two daughters-in-law to return to their peoples. One did, but the other, Ruth, did not. Instead, she pledged her steadfast loyalty to Naomi, her people, and to her God. Ruth went to work gathering the grain customarily left for the the marginalized by the farmers. It so happened that she sought permission to gather in the field of Boaz, a near relative of Naomi and one of their “redeemers” who had the responsibility to care for widowed kin. After a time, Naomi suggested that Ruth visit Boaz and seek to marry him, as would be his right as a redeemer. In accordance with custom, Boaz approached the only other redeemer who preceded him in the right of redemption and received from him the right to acquire the estates of Naomi’s husband and sons. The two were married and bore a son, Obed, the grandfather of the future king, David.

31. A figure quite pivotal in the transition to an Israelite monarchy was the prophet Samuel. His mother, Hanna, was the first wife of his father and could not have children. She prayed in the temple to God for a son, pledging him to the temple as a Nazirite (like Samson) should he be born. Eli, the priest, blessed her, telling her to go in peace and asking God to grant her request. She bore a son, and when he was three, she returned to the temple and gave him to Eli. Her prayer to God was one of thanksgiving for victory, for the raising up of the downtrodden. They left him there in the care of Eli, but would visit and bring gifts. The Lord rewarded Hanna with more children. Samuel grew and was loved by the people, but Eli’s sons, who served in the temple, were wicked, and they corrupted the sacrifices of the people and behaved promiscuously with the women (Jewish sources claim that they did not commit adultry directly, but delayed the bird sacrifices of women, thereby preventing them from returning home to their husbands and thus depriving the husbands; cf. Mitzvah of P’ru u’Revu; Yoma 9a(2), Shabbos 55b(9)). A messenger of God (Samuel’s father according to rabbinic tradition) told Eli that his son’s would die and that no one in his house would live long lives, for they despised God and are therefore cursed (recall God’s promise to Abraham). God also intended to find a faithful priest whose house would serve God forever. God revealed his plan for the House of Levi to Samuel in a vision, and Eli, upon hearing it, acknowledged God’s justice. Samuel became a trusted prophet and God spoke through him.

32. When Samuel was old, he too had two sons whom he appointed as judges over Israel; however, as with Eli’s sons, they were selfish and unjust. The elders requested that Samuel appoint a king to rule over them instead of judges, thereby rejecting the kingship of God. Samuel warned them that the king would become an oppressor, but they persisted. God instructed Samuel to give them what they requested. A handsome young Benjaminite named Saul was in search of his father’s lost herd of donkeys and he sought the prophet hoping to hear some news as to their whereabouts. This was by God’s design. He instructed Samuel to annoint Saul as the new king. Samuel invited Saul to eat in the meal of the sacrifice (usually reserved for priests), and proceeded to annoint him with oil. Before sending Saul back to his father, Samuel prophesied that he would meet three groups on his journey (one of which would have with them goats, bread, and wine), and that he would be transformed through his encounters with them. He told his father nothing of the kingship. After seven days, Samuel publicly chose Saul as king (via the Urim and Thummim?). Saul was found hiding amongst the baggage. The people loved him, though some despised him and did not pledge their loyalty to him.

33. Through his own fault, Saul was rejected as king by God. Under the pretenses of making sacrifice, Samuel was sent to Bethlehem to anoint a new king. The new king was not to be chosen based on appearance, because God judges the hearts of men. David, the youngest of eight sons, was chosen. God then took his spirit from Saul and allowed an evil spirit to torment him. David, having musical talent, was often summoned to please the king with song. Now, Israel became threatened by the Philistines, and their champion was named Goliath. David petitioned Saul for permission to meet Goliath in battle for God and the freedom of Israel. Unable to use the heavy armor of Saul, David confronted him with only a sling and five smooth stones. He defeated the champion and brought his head to the king. David became “blood brothers” with Saul’s son, Jonathan, and was very popular amongst the people. Saul became very jealous and even attempted to kill David with a spear out of rage. Eventually, Saul put David in charge of a thousand troops and David succeeded in all of his endeavors.

34. Saul decided to kill David while they were on an expedition, but David knew of his plot and evaded him, escaping into the wilderness. Saul pursued him, but could not find him. God’s favor was with David, and he even delivered Saul into his hands, but David chose to spare Saul. When Saul discovered that David had treated him with such great mercy, he relented, and accepted that David the righteous would succeed him as king of Israel.

35. After David was anointed as king, he conquered an enemy fortress that sat on Mount Zion and named it the City of David. A royal house was built for him, and David knew that he had been truly established by God as king. David already had several sons, all from different mothers, and when his city was established he begat even more. He was also attacked several times by the Philistines, but God protected Israel and delivered David’s enemies into his hands. He then ordered that the ark of the covenant (see Day 24) be brought to the new city. While in transit, the man leading the caravan touched the ark to steady it. This angered God and the man was struck dead immediately. Upon hearing the news, David cancelled the order to bring the ark to his city, but when he heard of the blessings bestowed on the people in the place where the ark rested, he went down to bring the ark himself with joy and sacrifice. David desired to build a house for the ark as royal as his own, but God, through the prophet Nathan, told David that no palace should be built but by one of his sons and not until after his death, for God had established an everlasting kingdom for David and his descendents.

36. Though God’s favor was with David, he was not without fault. He took another’s wife while the man was at war. When the woman discovered that she was pregnant and David’s plot to cover up his indiscretion failed, he ordered that the man be abandoned on the front line so that he would die. Though he married the woman, David had performed evil in God’s sight. Through a parable spoken by Nathan the prophet God judged David, his punishment to be the loss of his son begotten by him with the woman. David repented and Nathan declared God’s absolution of David’s sin, but the temporal punishmnet was not stayed and the child died from illness. After mourning the death, David and the woman begat Solomon whom God loved.

37. Before death, David appointed his son Solomon as his successor, advising him to keep the ways of God. Solomon erected a throne for his mother and she sat at his right side, as a queen. Solomon’s older brother (and rival for the throne) asked the Queen Mother to intercede on his behalf, that he might be given a particular girl from Solomon’s harem in marriage. Solomon promised to honor any request she brought to him; nonetheless, when she brought his brother’s petition, he saw it as a threat to his kingdom and without compassion had his brother executed. Solomon then exiled or executed others who had acted in opposition to his father, David, calling for the justice of God. Even one to whom he gave asylum he had executed when the man broke his oath not to leave, who had taken an oath not to leave the city. Thus, Solomon secured his kingdom by putting those who opposed him under his feet. Solomon loved God and offered great sacrifices. Pleased with him, God promised to give him whatever he wanted. Over all the things of the world, Solomon prayed for wisdom, to know good from evil. This pleased God even more, and wealth and glory were given to Solomon in excess of the wisdom for which he asked. The people of Israel were awestruck when he executed his judgments, showing wisdom that could only come from God.

38. When Israel enjoyed peace on all of its borders, Solomon set about building the house for the ark of the covenant, the Temple. It was made of fine wood, the interior covered completely in gold and was decorated with statues of angels. In some of the wood panels were carved images of angels, flowers, and palm trees. (The previous lines describe passages not included in the reading plan, but set the stage for the dedication of the Temple.) With all of the elders and tribal heads assembled, the ark was brought up to the city and it was placed in the most holy room of the Temple, and sacrifices were made to God. God come in a dark cloud and resided in the holy room. In a dedication speech, Solomon recounted the promise made to David that his own son would build the house of God; indeed, it had come to pass. In prayer, Solomon acknowledged that God could not be contained by the Temple, that God’s true dwelling is in Heaven, and he asked that God hear the supplications made there, judging justly, and forgiving those who sincerely repent there, both Israelites and foreigners who fear him. A great sacrifice of many animals were made and the celebration lasted seven days. Pleased with the Temple and its dedication, God promised to be there always, just as Solomon had prayed. He also promised to keep the throne and the house of David so long as Israel kept his ways; should they fail to follow God, he would cut them off from the land and destroy the Temple.

39. Israel divided (Israel and Judah) and saw many more kings. The most wicked king of Israel was Ahab, who married a foreign woman and worshiped her god. God told Ahab through Elijah the prophet that he would send no rain to the land. God then sent Elijah into hiding and provided food and water in this time of drought. When the river dried, God placed Elijah in the care of a poor widow. Miraculously, God provided oil and flour enough to sustain Elijah, the widow, and her household through the remainder of the drought. During his stay, Elijah healed the widow’s son who had fallen ill and died. With this sign, she knew that God was with Elijah. After three years had passed, Elijah presented himself to Ahab and challenged the prophets of the foreign gods to a test in the presence of the whole of Israel. The other prophets slaughtered and prepared a sacrifical bull and called on their gods to light the sacrifice with fire, but no answer came. When Elijah had done the same, having soaked the bull and the altar with water, God sent fire that consumed the sacrifice and all that surrounded it, even the stones and the water. The Israelites seized the other prophets and Elijah slaughtered them on the banks of a river. God then sent torrential rains. When Ahab’s wife had heard what Elijah had done, she sought his life. Elijah fled into the wilderness, taking refuge on a mountainside. There God commanded him to anoint the next king of Israel, as well as his successor as prophet. He also promised to spare those Israelites who had not turned away from him to worship the foreign gods.

40. The kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. The Temple was destroyed, the great city of Jerusalem was left in ruins, and the people exiled in Babylon. Defenseless, those who remained fled to Egypt. Only after a generation had passed did the conditions improve for the exiled Israelites.

41. As mentioned above, King David had a gift for song, and some songs (known as Psalms, from the Greek word Ψαλμοί (Psalmoi) which means ‘songs for the harp’) that have been written down are attributed to him. The twenty-third Psalm likens God to a shepherd who feeds and leads his flock. It emphasizes that God will provide for and protect those who follow him and do not stray. Jewish tradition and scripture hold that David was a shepherd boy.

42. The fifty-first Psalm, also attributed to David, is a song of repentence, a cry for mercy. The song describes the repentence of David for his adultery (see Day 36). All sin offends God, and in this song David prays that God cleanse him of his sin, that he be purified. David states correctly that God wants contrition above all things, the sorrow for sin that comes not from fear of punishment, but from the love of God and recognition of the offense against him. Sacrifice without contrition is meaningless, only the sacrifices of the just are acceptible to God.

43. The one-hundred-third Psalm is one of praise of God’s for his endless mercy. It reminds us that God’s salvation is for those of his children who remember to keep his ways.

44. Just as David was known for his songs, so Solomon was known for his wisdom. And, as with David’s songs, wisdom attributed to Solomon has been passed down through the ages as well. The “Proverbs of Solomon” was composed to train men in righteous living. Those who understand how to exercise wisdom can avoid evil, but it is so self-evident and objective that those who reject it will be mocked by it when they stumble. The words of the author call the reader to attentiveness to their behavior, for God always blesses those who keep his ways. For Israel, this blessing meant inclusion in the family of God’s people, which was manifestly evident by residence in the land promised to Abraham. The author expressly states that only those who walk in the way of good men and keep to the paths of the just will dwell in the land, and that the wicked will be cut off from the land and rooted out of it. He likened the way of the wicked as darkness and the way of the just as brilliant light. The very first bit of wisdom imparted by the author is to echo the love of God: refuse no one good when it is in your power to do it and do not plot evil against him.

45. The wisdom of the Proverbs is timeless and many have drawn from them even in recent times. The common saying “pride goeth before the fall” is a distillation of several Proverbs and “it is better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt”, a saying often attributed to Mark Twain, expresses the essence of a few others. “Man may make plans in his heart, but what the tongue utters is from the Lord” is not unlike “the best laid schemes of mice of men” that, according to Robert Burns’ 1785 poem, often go awry and prove foresight to be in vain. The Proverbs also reveal the nature of God, the author of all wisdom, and his justice. For example, one had best avoid self-righteousness, for to mock the poor is blasphemy towards God; likewise, condoning the actions of the wicked is to condemn those who act justly. They also speak of God’s mercy that we too should show to one another, for kindness and piety expiate guilt.

46. Even after the fall of Jerusalem, God continued to communicate with his people through the words of prophets. Isaiah was arguably the most important one. Through his words, God told his people to trust in him, recalling first the covenant he kept with Abraham, and then promising a swift and just judgment of the nations. He told them not to fear evil men for they die too. Only God is constant. Though Israel had felt the wrath of God for her infidelity made manifest in her tribulations, the cup of wrath (metaphorically speaking) was to pass to Israel’s enemies. Israel was to be purified and redeemed, reconciled with God. She had been humbled before, by Egypt (see Day 16) and Assyria, and again by the Babylonians, but she had not learned — she had not become wise (see Day 45) — and she had fallen out of obedience to God once more (see Day 22). In preparation for the coming reconciliation, Isaiah pleaded with Israel to return to obedience, to sanctify herself once more (see Day 21), and avoid that which is unclean. He called not for flight from her enemies, a reaction to fear, but for the endurance that comes from trust in God. How was this reconciliation to come about? Isaiah described a servant of God who would suffer on behalf of Israel, abused and killed as one who is wicked, but without having done wrong himself. By willingly accepting punishment for the wrongs of others he would justify them, making them right with God. Through the death of this man (a reparation sacrifice, a guilt offering) the reconciliation of Israel and the will of God would be fulfilled. So, Israel must await this holy one sent by God.

47. Jeremiah was a young prophet called by God in the time of the Babylonian defeat of Jerusalem and Israel’s exile. God told him not to fear his enemies, that he would be protected as he proclaimed infallibly the word of God. In Jeremiah’s prophecy, we are given the image of Israel as a bride, underscoring the offense of her infidelity. Through him, God foretold that Israel would be shamed for discarding God in favor of false gods, for crying out only in times of need and never in praise or thanksgiving, for rebelling against God and killing his prophets, for doing all of this and failing to repent.

48. In exile, an Israelite man named Daniel was given some authority in the king’s court for having interpreted a vision. This is reminiscent of how Joseph gained power in Egypt long before (see Day 12). With God’s help he excelled and those around him sought ways to disgrace him in the eyes of the king. They convinced the king to enact a new law that condemned anyone who made a petition to someone other than the king for a short period of time. Despite the law, Daniel remained obedient and continued his custom of giving thanks to God thrice daily. He was arrested and thrown into a den of lions to be eaten as the law prescribed. The king favored Daniel and was brokenhearted, so he spent the night fasting and hastened to learn of Daniel’s fate in the morning of the next day. Having found Daniel innocent, God had sent his angel to protect Daniel and he was not even harmed by the lions. The king then ordered Daniel’s accusers (and their families as well) to be cast to the lions instead, and they were killed and devoured by the beasts almost immediately. The king then decreed that all in the empire should revere the God of Daniel, for he is the true and everlasting God.

49. Whereas Daniel was obedient, another man, Jonah, was quite the opposite. God sent Jonah to Nineveh, a great city of Assyria — Israel’s ancient enemy — to preach against the people there for they had offended God greatly with their wickedness and God planned to destroy them. What reason would God have for sending Jonah if not to warn the Ninevites that they may repent? This was a kindness Jonah was unwilling to visit upon them. He fled by sea but God sent a storm, and when the sailors discovered that it was Jonah who had angered God, he requested that they throw him overboard. He was swallowed by a great fish that had also been sent by God, and he spent three days praying for mercy. Johah was vomited onto dry land where God urged him once again to preach against the Ninevites. He became obedient, but only preached to a third of the city; nonetheless, the Ninevites took Jonah’s message to heart, fasted and performed other works to express their true repentance, and they were spared. Jonah was very selfish and became angry when God spared Nineveh; he also became very angry when God took away his means of shelter in that land, concerned only with his own protection but failing to understand God’s concern for a multitude of his own creatures.

50. God’s people had become so far removed that he no longer accepted their sacrifices. For though God is supreme and derserves only the best, the priests offered to him blind and lame animals. They also violated the covenant God made with the tribe of Levi (see Day 22) by leading people astray in matters of the law. They wearied God by telling the people that even those who continue to disobey him and commit evil are good in his sight. The language of marriage was again used to describe Judah and Israel and their infidelity to God (see Day 47) . God then revealed through the prophet Malachi that the promised one (see Day 2) would soon be sent, preceded by a messenger, and after all have been purified, men will once again make sacrifical offerings in righteousness that will be acceptable to God.

NEW TESTAMENT

51. The one sent by God to reveal himself was not just a man, but truly God, present with God at the creation of the world, the light sent forth from God to overcome the darkness in the world. He came first to God’s chosen people, Israel, who rejected him and made way for others to become his children. God’s revealing Word was made man. His name was Jesus, and his coming was foretold by a man named John, the messenger in Malachi’s prophecy.

52. The births of Jesus and John were quite similar. An angel of God announced the conception of both to their parents, and gave them their names. The parents themselves had found favor with God, John’s parents by their righteousness, and Jesus’ mother, Mary, by God’s choice. Both had a mission, John as a prophet and Jesus as a king. Parents of both inquired of the angel how this was to happen, John’s father because his wife was too old to bare children and he did not believe it was possible, and Mary because she was not to have relations with a man and she desired to know God’s plan for her. It also happened that Mary and John’s mother, Elizabeth, were cousins. When Mary visited Elizabeth, John lept in her womb, and Elizabeth knew that Mary’s child was the promised one sent by God, the one for whom her own son was to prepare the way. “How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” she asked, mirroring the words of David with regard to the ark (see Day 35). Elizabeth exulted Mary, calling her “most blessed”, and Mary gave thanks to God, for he had kept his promise to Abraham and his people through her who would be called “blessed” by all generations to come.

53. Jesus was born in a stable as his earthly parents traveled to comply with a census mandate. Through his earthly step-father, Jesus was of the lineage of King David. He was also the firstborn by the Law; thus, he was consecrated to God. (c.f. Ex 13:1; Nm 3:12-13; Nm 18:15-19; Dt 21:15-17; Note: none of these is covered in this reading plan.) His parents fulfilled all of the requirements of the Law, binding him to the people of Israel through circumcision, naming him, and undergoing ritual purification required after the birth of a child. Others gave testimony that the Messiah had been sent by God. His birth was announced by angels to lowly shepherds, who praised God and spread the news. A holy man named Simeon and the prophetess Anna recognized him and thanked God as well.

54. As prophesied, John did preach that the people of God should prepare a way for his coming by turning their hearts toward God and away from their wicked ways. He told them to share with those in need, and to not cheat or extort others. He also warned them not to assume that God would find favor with them because they were members of the chosen people. No, only their actions, their very lives, would give true testimony to their repentance. As a sign, John cleansed penitents with water. He told the people that his message was a warning, but that one was to come that would cleanse them lest they be found useless and consumed by fire. John was imprisoned when he crossed the one of the local rulers.

55. Jesus came to John and requested to be cleansed (baptized). John recognized that Jesus was the one sent by God, and that he was in no need of cleansing. Jesus insisted, stating that it was important for him, as a man, to conform with God’s plan for salvation. God validated this action, sending the Holy Spirit upon Jesus, and proclaiming him as a son that pleases him. Jesus was then handed over to temptation, excelling three times in obedience to the will of his Father in accordance with the Scriptures. When Jesus discovered that John had been imprisoned, he continued spreading the message of repentance, claiming not that the Kingdom of Heaven was near, but that it was already at hand, that his reign had already begun.

56. Jesus taught many important lessons about our relationships with God and with one another. He taught that those who put God and others before themselves regardless of the consequences are happy (or “blessed”; Beatitudes) and will be granted heavenly rewards. He explained that the things that people of God do are a testimony to God himself (similes of salt/light); but warned them to act out of love and not out of self-righteousness (e.g. almsgiving, prayer, fasting). He said that those who disobey God and lead others to do likewise will not be regarded highly in Heaven, and that a man need not physically commit a wrong to be guilty of it in his heart (e.g. murder, adultery). He said that a man should love all others as purely as the one who loves perfectly, despite what they do.

57. Jesus also taught us how to pray: give praise and reverence to God, pledge obedience to God’s will, express a trust in God to provide for our needs, and ask forgiveness for wrongdoings and protection from the temptation to do wrong in times to come. He explained how our lives should be the response to this prayer. Knowing that God will provide for our needs, we need not concern ourselves with or trust in the things of the world, but store up heavenly treasure instead.

58. Many times, Jesus would teach using parables, because only those who were receptive to revelation with an open heart would understand them. For example, Jesus used the parable of seed sown in various types of soil to describe the effects of the Word on the souls of men — only those who accept God’s Word and cling to it to the end despite persecution and the woes and temptations of the world can put it into practice. In another parable concerning good wheat sown by a land owner and poisonous weeds sown my his enemy, Jesus described how God will only keep for himself the productive and useful souls at the end of the age, casting the remainder into an eternal fire. He repeated this message in a parable about fishermen catching fish of all kinds and keeping only the good ones. Other parables described the expansion of the Kingdom of God, and how they who hear and understand the Word sacrifice everything to obtain its promised rewards.

59. When questioned by a scholar of the Mosaic Law, Jesus explained how love surpasses the law using a parable about a man beaten by robbers. A priest and a Levite, representatives of the Law, pass him by, refusing to help the man because of his ritual uncleanliness; however, a third man, an enemy, turned his compassion into action, mercifully giving aid to the beaten man and providing for his recovery. Jesus instructed that we should do likewise.

60. When challenged by religious leaders about the company he kept, eating with the ritually-unclean in particular, Jesus taught three parables (lost sheep/coin/son) about importance of seeking those members of God’s chosen who have strayed from the ways of God and restoring them. The story of the lost son is also a story of forgiveness and profound love. The younger of two sons requests his inheritance early and leaves his father’s house (“You’re dead to me, dad!”), and spends all of his money foolishly. He recognizes the wrong he has committed, has a turn of heart (repentance), and returns to his father to confess his wrong and ask for forgiveness. His father sees him coming, is overjoyed, and forgives him before his confession even leaves his lips. When the elder son complains, the fathers explains that he is overjoyed because his son, who had died, was now restored to life again.

61. Jesus had the power to heal miraculously, a power he extended to his closest followers to exercise on his behalf, in his name. He sent them out to heal and to preach. For this reason, they were called Apostles. He instructed them to be detached from worldly things, relying completely on God to provide for their needs. When they returned, Jesus was teaching a large crowd containing thousands of people. When is was time to eat, he performed another miracle, feeding the crowd with a few fish and a few loaves of bread. Some thought that Jesus was one of the ancient prophets arisen from the dead, but the Apostle Peter professed what had been revealed to him, that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus then predicted that he was to suffer greatly, and that anyone who wished to follow him would have to endure suffering as well. Later, in a vision, Peter and a few of the other Apostles saw Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah, representatives of the Law and the Prophets. God the Father affirms his son, and Moses and Elijah disappear, leaving only Jesus, the new teacher.

62. Jesus performed other miracles so that others would know that he was indeed the Christ. On one occasion he walked on the water of the sea to reach the Apostles who were travelling in a boat. They were terrified at the sight, so Jesus identified himself. Peter, whose faith allowed Jesus to work a miracle through him, walked on the water to meet Jesus on the sea; however, when he saw the elements and the world around him, he became terrified again and began to sink. Peter’s faith and his focus on Jesus were what allowed God to work through him in the world. Indeed, Peter knew that day that Jesus was the Christ. When they landed the boat and spread the word, sick people were brought to Jesus for healing. His healing power was conveyed to them even through his garment, not because of the garment itself, but through the faith and humility of those who brought the sick to him.

63. Physical ailments were considered evidence of one’s sin or the sin of one’s family. One man, whose own parents testified that he was blind from birth, was miraculously healed by Jesus. It was revealed that his blindness was not due to sin at all, but that it was so that God could work through him as a sign for others. The religious leaders judged Jesus a sinner, since he healed the man on the Sabboth; however, the Sabboth was a day of rest from the labors of everyday life, consecrated by God in the Law (in the reading for Day 21), and this healing was no ordinary work, but a work of God, performed out of love for the man.

64. Healing included the casting away of unclean spirits that possessed and harmed the bodies of men. The spirits could recognize Jesus for who he really was, the Son of the High God. One man was possessed by many demons, who collectively identified themselves as “Legion”. Wishing not to be tormented by Jesus (evidence of his power over them), they prayed that he let them enter the bodies of a herd of swine instead. They ran the swine into the sea and were drowned. The local people were amazed when they heard what had happened and they cast Jesus out of the land. Jesus would not allow the possessed man to join him, though, telling him to stay behind as a witness.

65. Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, had died from an illness. All who knew Jesus also knew that he could have healed Lazarus had he come sooner. So that the others would see the glory of God, Jesus prayed that Lazarus’ life be restored, and so it was done. The religious leaders saw this as a powerful sign and were afraid that the Romans would punish the people for the controversial actions of this one man. The High Preist, through whom God spoke infallably, prophesied that the man should die for the sake of Israel. The time had come for the annual memorial for the deliverance of Israel from Egypt (see Day 19) and the Jews who purified themselves in preparation to celebrate this sacrificial feast noted that Jesus was not among them. They took this as an indication that Jesus was not planning to celebrate with them; however, they did not understand that he needed no purification for he was already spotless, he was God.

66. On the day of the feast, Jesus sent his disciples into Jerusalem to make preparations for the celebration. At the table, Jesus told the disciples that he had eagerly desired to celebrate this memorial with them (the Pesach/Passover, or possibly a Toda meal on the day prior to the Pesach). He took the bread (Afikomen) and wine (the 4th cup, the blessing cup) and gave the (Hallel) blessing as would have been expected, but then he did something new. He identified the bread as his body and the wine as his blood, and told that his body would be given and his blood shed — that he would die — to seal the new covenant between God and his people. He told them to offer this bread that was also his body and this wine that was also his blood as a memorial of his sacrifice. In this act, he replaced the memorial of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt into the Promised Land with the memorial of deliverance from death into life. (See Day 19; the continuation of the sacrifice of the Passover with the feast of unlevened bread parallels the continuation of sacrifice of Jesus with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper) He was then betrayed by one of his own Apostles, handed over to the authorities that he may be executed.

67. Jesus knew what was to happen, and yet, he abandoned his will to the will of God his Father. He and some of the Apostles went to a place where he often prayed, a place where his betrayer would know to look for him. When the soldiers were led to this place to arrest Jesus, he identified himself as “I AM”, the same name God had told to Moses to use to identify him in Egypt. At hearing the name of God, those who came to arrest him fell to the ground. Peter attempted to defend Jesus by the sword, but Jesus stopped him, bending again to God’s will. The solders delivered Jesus to the religious leaders and to the High Preist who questioned him about his teachings. Charged with blasphemy but unable to execute Jesus under the Roman law, Jesus was then led to the Roman Prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate, who quentioned him further. Pilate found no guilt in Jesus, no crime that he had committed, especially one worthy of death. It was customary for the local Prefect to release a prisoner at the time of the feast. Pilate gave the people a choice: Jesus or Barabbas the revolutionary. They chose Barabbas, whose crime was punishable by crucifixion, a slow death while hanging by the arms on a wooden cross. Interestingly, the true Son of God was exchanged for one whose name, bar-Abbas, means “son of the father”. While all of this was happening, Peter watched from amongst the crowd, and when he was asked about being Jesus’ disciple, he denied it three times (a literary device used to express that Peter had denied him completely), just as Jesus had prophesied.

68. Jesus was beaten and mocked. Pilate hoped that the people would have a change of heart and allow him to release Jesus. When the people pressed for execution, they made Jesus appear to be a political enemy of the Emperor, and Pilate succombed to their request out of fear and ordered his execution. Jesus was forced to carry his own cross to the place where he was crucified in the third hour (between 9AM and 12PM), the time at which the priests would have began slaughtering the sacrificial animals for the feast. An inscription was placed over his head, “Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum” (INRI, “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews”), a title to which the religious leaders protested. His blessed mother was there, watching, and with her was John, his closest friend amongst the Apostles. Out of love for them both, Jesus gave his friend to his mother to be her son in his stead, and gave his mother to his friend, making her his mother, not by blood but in spirit. Wine was given to Jesus using a hyssop branch, in a similar way as the blood of the sacrificial animals was applied to the door posts of the home as part of the memorial feast. With this, Jesus died. A soldier pierced his side with a lance to prove that Jesus was dead, and blood and water flowed out. By the Law, sacrificial animals (indeed, any animal eaten by an Israelite) can contain no blood. He was buried hastily so that the feast could be observed by his friends.

69. On the third day of his death, Jesus’ friend Mary came to his tomb to properly prepare his body for burial. The tomb had been opened and Mary reported this immediately to Peter. Peter found that Jesus’ body was no longer in it, though his burial cloths were found folded neatly, indicating that the tomb had not been opened by robbers. Jesus later appeared to Mary, though she did not recognize him at first. He instructed her to tell his brothers that she had seen him and that he was to return to his Father. A few days later, he appeared to the Apostles who were alone and locked in a room out of fear. He gave them the Holy Spirit (by breathing life into them, as in the first creation; see Day 1), as well as the power to forgive or retain sins, a power possessed by God alone until this time. An Apostle who was not with the others during the Jesus’ visit did not believe their account of what had happened, that is, until Jesus visited him as well a week later. Jesus also performed a miracle in the sight of his Apostles while they were fishing. They had caught nothing all day until Jesus appeared to them on the shore and told them to cast their nets one last time. They immediately caught more fish than they could lift, yet the net did not break. (Jesus had once told the Apostles that they would become “fishers of men”; thus, this scene may symbolize the unfailing strength of the Apostles when they act together and in the Lord’s name, that is to say, as the Church.) After they had eaten breakfast, Jesus questioned Peter who confessed his love for Jesus three times (i.e. completely; see Day 67), and Jesus put Peter in charge of his flocks. Jesus performed may signs so that others would believe in his resurrection from the dead.

70. Jesus stayed with the Apostles for forty days and was then taken up, body and spirit, to the Father. At this time, he revealed to the Apostles that in a few days they would be cleansed by the Holy Spirit.

71. Indeed, on the fiftieth day, the Holy Spirit appeared to them as fire. When they spoke, each man heard them in his own native language; God once confused the language of men (see Day 5), but allowed the Apostles to teach to all without confusion. Peter addressed the crowds, the Jews in particular, and told them how Jesus had been raised from the dead in accordance with the prophecies of Joel and David. Many were moved by his speech and wanted to know what they should do to participate in the resurrection. Peter told them to repent, have a change of heart about their sinful lives, and to be cleansed in the name of Jesus, so that their sins may be forgiven and that they may share in the Holy Spirit. They did so, and lived peacefully together, learning from the Apostles about Jesus and his teachings.

72. Peter healed, in the name of Jesus, a crippled man who begged regularly outside of the temple. Peter could not do so through his own power, but only because he had faith that God could (and would) do so through him. Those in the temple were amazed at what Peter had done, but Peter gave testimony to God, calling those present to repent and be cleansed of their sins. He told them also that God sent the Messiah first to the children of Israel so that they may turn from their evil ways lest they be cut off from the people, and that Jesus was to come again in the times of “universal restoration”, the fulfillment of all things, as prophesied. He reached the hearts of many again and many repented, but Peter and John (who was with him) were arrested by the temple guard and questioned the next day by the religious leaders. Peter gave testimony to God and told them that the healing was performed in the name of Jesus, whom they rejected and had crucified. The leaders knew that a great sign had been worked through Peter, and though they could not deny it, they forbade the Apostles from speaking in the name of Jesus to prevent word of what had happened from spreading. Peter and John were released and reported what had happened to the community. They praised God and asked for his strength and protection.

73. Stephen, an assistant to the Apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, thus able to do many good works, debated many diverse people within the crowds who could not overcome the wisdom he spoke. A mob, stirred by false witnesses, delivered him to the religious leaders with charges of blasphemy. In his testimony, he recounted highlights from the history of Israel, God’s dealings with Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon and others. While giving testimony against the Jews, he was carried out and stoned to death, the first to die for the sake of Jesus and his people, the Church. This was done with the consent of a young man named Saul who began a persecution of the Church that very day.

74. Another assistant, Philip, encountered a man from Ethopia who was a member of the Queen’s Court and who had come to Jerusalem to worship. The man was reading a scripture written by the prophet Isaiah, but did not understand it. After Philip explained how the scripture was fulfilled by Jesus, the man desired to be cleansed of his sins, and Philip did so.

75. A man named Cornelius, a Roman centurion and not an Israelite, and his family feared God, so they were generous in giving prayer and alms. For this, God found favor with him and told him by the message of an angel to seek Peter. Being a man of authority, he sent for him. Before Cornelius’ men arrived where Peter was staying, God revealed to Peter in a vision that whatsoever God has made clean, Peter is not to call unclean; therefore, he accepted Cornelius’ invitation even though Cornelius was not an Israelite (he was a Gentile) and not considered clean according to the Law. Peter told Cornelius, his family, and those who were with them about Jesus the man, how the Prophets foretold his coming, and the things that he and the Apostles witnessed. They came believed his testimony, were given the Holy Spirit, and were cleansed of their sins. When Peter reported what had happened to the other Apostles and the members of their communities, they objected at first, but came to agree when Peter explained God’s impartiality. Recall that God promised the redemption of all of mankind (see Day 2), not just to Abraham and his descendents.

76. Saul, the young man persecuting the Church at that time, was on a mission to arrest followers of Jesus’ Way when Jesus himself appeared to him in a vision. Jesus instructed him to enter the city and wait. Saul was blinded by the vision. God sent a man named Ananias to heal Saul. When his eyesight was restored by the name of Jesus, he believed and he had his sins washed away. He began to proclaim Jesus publicly, using his knowledge of the Law and the Prophets to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. He amazed the Jews by his change of heart, and they eventually tried to kill him. When he arrived in Jerusalem, he joined the Apostles.

77. After leaving Jerusalem, Saul and another man, Barnabas, were with the believers in Antioch. The Holy Spirit instructed the members of that community to send the two men out to do God’s work. When travelling in Greek-speaking lands, Saul,whose name was Semitic in origin, went by his Greco-Roman name “Paul” instead. Paul preached and performed miracles. In one case, he contended with a false prophet for the faith of a Roman governor, whom Paul convinced by temporarily blinding the false prophet by God’s power. Paul addressed the Jews in the place where they assembled to pray, explaining as Stephen had done before him (see Day 73) how Jesus had fulfilled the prophecies, about how God had raised Jesus from the dead, and that those who believe in the resurrection are made right with God, their sins that could not be forgiven under the Law now forgiven. When Paul addressed the Gentiles (non-Jews) and explained that this saving belief in the resurrection was for all men and not just the Israelites, the Jews became jealous, contradicted Paul’s message publicly, and cast him and Barnabas out of the city. In another city, though they won the hearts of many through their preaching and miraculous signs, some tried to stone them to death. Some of the Gentiles witnessed the miracles (e.g. the healing of a man crippled from birth just as Peter had done; see Day 72) and thought that their Greek gods had come in the form of men. Paul tried to convince them (unsuccessfully it seems) that they were only men, and preached (appropriately, considering his audience) not on the fulfillment of the Scriptures, but on God’s dominion over creation. When they returned to Antioch, Paul and Barnabas, by their authority as Apostles, appointed leaders in the community (thereby establishing a particular Church).

78. The inclusion of the Gentiles by Peter and Paul surprised some who had been waiting for the Messiah; indeed, some (especially Pharisees who had come to believe) thought that observance of the Law was to be required by all believers, regardless of their lineage or relation to the people of Israel. Paul and Barnabas, weary of debating this matter in Antioch, took it to the Apostles in Jerusalem so that a decision could be reached. Peter, recalling his own experience with Cornelius (see Day 75), knew that God did not show partiality in the purification of men, that salvation was a gift from God to all; thus, he determined that Gentiles need not be bound by the Law. Circumcision was a specific issue that brought Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, but dietary laws must have been raised as a concern as well. In agreement with (Simon) Peter’s decision regarding God’s impartiality, the Apostle James proposed that the Church in Jerusalem write a letter to Gentile believers, stating that they need only observe a few restrictions with regard to food (no meat containing blood or that had been strangled or sacrificed to idols) and to avoid unlawful marriage (e.g. to close relatives). The Apostles and the whole Church agreed; so, by the authority of the Holy Spirit, the Gentile believers in Antioch and nearby cities were instructed, orally and by letter, to follow the rules that James had proposed and nothing more. The letter indicated that the provisions contained therein superceded any other instruction given by those who had not been sent by the Apostles (i.e. those lacking Apostolic succession).

79. As Paul and his companions spread the decree made by the Apostles and the whole Church, and preaching the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and cleansing the sins of new believers besides, they met with many hardships. In Philippi, a Roman colony, Paul cast out a fortune-telling spirit from a girl, but was accused of disturbing the peace by those who were making money from the soothsaying. They were beaten and imprisoned, freed miraculously by an earthquake that opened the prison doors. In Thessalonica, others suffered on Paul’s account when some jealous Jews formed a mob and accused them of treason againt Caesar. Having found Jews willing to listen to the good news, the Jews from Thessalonica discovered Paul’s location in Beroea and confronted him there. Paul delivered a great sermon to the philosophers in Athens, but was subsequently dismissed by them. He won over many in Corinth, but was eventually brought to trial by the Jews there. As Pilate had done with Jesus, the proconsul Gallio did not wish to judge matters of Jewish Law. Paul and his companions were well-received in Ephesus, but he did not stay there long; instead, he travelled to Antioch and Galatia, stopping in Jerusalem to visit the Church. While in Ephesus the second time, his teaching angered the local artists who made silver idols, nearly to riot. During is journeys Paul preached, but he also healed, even raising a boy from the dead; indeed, the power of God was so great that even the garments that touched his skin had healing power (similar to Jesus’ garments; see Day 62). He and his companions set right many whose understanding of Jesus’ teachings and sacrifice was lacking. He also wrote letters to the communities of believers in the cities he had visited.

80. Paul was eventually brought to trial in the Roman court by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. As was his right as a Roman citizen, Paul appealed to Caesar because the charges brought against him were empty and because he did not recognize the authority of the Jewish leaders any longer. So that he may be sent to Rome with proper charges against him, Paul testified to King Agrippa II, an expert in Jewish customs. In his own defense, he explained his devotion to the Law from an early age, his encounter with Jesus after his resurrection (see Day 76), his obedience to the vision, and the consistency of his own teachings with those of the Prophets. In transit to Rome, the ship carrying Paul and other prisoners encountered terrible weather; however, Paul had been promised by God that he would stand before Caesar, so the ship and the people aboard it sailed across the Mediterranean Sea under divine protection. Once in Rome, he was placed under house arrest. He sought to learn from the Jews in Rome whether or not they intended to pursue the charges made against him; however, they had no knowledge of him. They did know that the Way was universally denounced by Jews everywhere, so they invited him to speak about his beliefs. Some believed, but most did not. The deliverance of the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to Rome marks the climax of Paul’s ministry. While there, he continued to write to the communities of believers.

81. In a letter that he wrote to the community of believers in Rome, Paul explained that God destroyed death by sending Jesus to die for sin, and that only those who set themselves apart for God (i.e. be holy) can please God; thus, those who choose to live according to God’s divine will (as intended in the beginning), detatched from the concerns of the flesh and casting off the deeds of the body that set us apart form God, will not be condemned (as under the Law) but will live. Since our natural bodies still die, this must refer to something more, a spiritual life and the redemption of our bodies in the resurrection. Paul also wrote that, through Jesus, we have a new relationship with him, that we are his children and therefore his hiers, but that we must suffer with Jesus to share in the inheritance. He assured his readers that what is gained in this inheritance far exceeds what is lost in suffering, so that in hopes of attaining it we endure. Weakness of the will is aided by God’s Holy Spirit who makes known the intentions of our hearts to God and intercedes perfectly on our behalf. Lastly, he wrote that God’s love is always present and everlasting, and that so long as we choose to accept his calling and live in his love, we can not be separated from it.

82. Paul expressed the same condemnation of the flesh in a letter to the believers in Galatia, that their inheritance depends on the bending of the human will to the will of God. He observed that the Law forbade the works of the flesh which are evil, but not the good works that fulfill the Law, that is works of love. Indeed, he wrote that by living in love, serving one another, one can avoid the temptation to gratify the desires of the flesh, and thereby avoid forfeiting one’s inheritance. Service even includes the (gentle) correction of others and living as an example for others so as not to tempt them. Paul encouraged his readers to never grow tired of going good — indeed to do good for all and especially for those who belong to the Church while we are still alive and able to do so — because (metaphoirically speaking) the harvest will only be reaped if we do not give up.

83. In a letter to the believers in Ephesus, who received him well in his journeys (see Day 79), Paul reminded them that the real battle is with evil, not people, and that God provides the strength to defend and the only weaponry necessary to win. He also encouraged them to pray at every opportunity, remembering in their prayers his own ministry.

84. Likewise, in a letter to believers in Pilippi, he told them to be joyful, to pray in everything they do, to keep their minds focused on all that is good, and to follow the example Paul had given them.

85. In a letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul commended them on their conversion of heart, recognizing that faith in Christ and hope in the resurrection had borne fruit, love for one another. Paul had received reports from the man who worked under him, the one who had delivered the good news to them and founded the congregation in that place. He prayed that they continue to grow spiritually, pleasing God by their good works of love, and always giving thanks to God for redemption. Interestingly, Paul inserts a poetic arrangement into the letter, which some believe is a hymn familiar to the Colossians. The poem refers the image of God (Jesus) through whom all things were made, who rules over all believers, a man full of grace who redeemed and reconciled all things by the blood he shed on the cross. He applied this hymn to them, noting how Christ had reconciled them too with his body; thus, he encouraged them to keep the faith and hope so not to lose their redemption.

86. Besides writing to the believers in the places where he had preached, Paul also wrote to those who worked under him, such as Timothy from Lystra (central modern-day Turkey). Amongst other things, Paul conferred pastoral wisdom to Timothy in a letter. He commended those who desire to oversee (to shepherd) congregations of believers and explains how those chosen to do so must be of great character (“irreproachable”) and not new to the faith. Also, those who help them in their (official) duties must be likewise. As he had in the letters to the Colossians, Paul inserts a hymn known to those in Ephesus, which is near Lystra, one which Timothy would probably have known.

87. In the same letter, possibly addressing a specific issue that had arisen, Paul affirmed the teaching of Jesus and the Church, that being bound to the restrictions of the faith (i.e. religion) will lead to great (spiritual) gain so long as the believer is content, that is to say, detatched from the material things of the world. The love of and desire for money is the root of evil. He reminded Timothy how much more this applies to him as a “man of God”, a title used for Moses and the Prophets. Being above reproach, Timothy can then preach modesty to the rich, telling them to be rich in good works so that they may store up heavenly treasure.

88. In a second known letter to Timothy, Paul instructed him to protect the teachings of the Church, to hand them down to faithful people (i.e. Sacred Tradition) who can teach, suffering hardship if need be as he himself had done. He drew upon another hymn, emphasizing that believers must endure in faith or be denied by Christ. This was to affirm the Church’s teaching on the resurrection which had been challenged by two (named) individuals in Timothy’s community. He also emphasized the importance of detatchment from worldly goods, stating that those cleanse themselves, turning from desire and pursuing reighteousness, are useful to God, ready for good works assigned to them. He gave Timothy the good advice to avoid arguments, but to correct others with kindness.

89. Paul also noted that the competence for doing good work comes from knowing the Sacred Scriptures, which, at the time, would have included the Law, the writings of the Prophets, the Psalms, and the like (what we call today the Old Testament). These Timothy would have known from his youth. With that, he charged Timothy to preach the truth under any and all circumstances, to continue Paul’s own ministry, for Paul knew that his martyrdom was near. [Jesus had revealed his martyrdom to him at the time of his conversion. See Acts 9, not covered in this reading plan.] He knew that he was to be judged as all people are, but that he had lived until the very end according to the faith professed by the Church, and that he would be rewarded in fulfillment of God’s promise.

90. Paul did not fear death for he believed in the resurrection. In a letter to the believers in Thessalonica, Paul described how the death of the body does not end the life of the believer, for those who have died in the hope of the resurrection will be taken to God by Jesus, even before he comes to this world again at the end of the age. Indeed, Paul assumed that Jesus would come again, if not before his own death, then within a generation, for he described how Jesus will take those who belong to him at that time. Even though no one knows when Jesus will come again, Paul comforted his audience, reminding them that they who live in the light of God’s revelation will be saved from the wrath of God.

91. In a letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul states that without love, the gifts of God are wasted on man. God may bestow gifts of great preaching, or of prophecy and knowledge of holy mysteries — God may even bestow the gift of the greatest faith to a man — but without love even the complete sacrifice of one’s self comes to nothing. These other gifts, which he describes as “partial”, pass away in the presence of love, which is perfect.

92. In a letter to the believers on Corinth, Paul described the Church’s ministry to spread the good news of salvation through Jesus. He noted that the good news is only truly revealed to those who first have the faith to believe, to those who choose to open their minds to receive it. It is paradoxical that this ministry is conveyed by the very bodies that the resurrection surpasses. Our bodies are temporary, and Paul warned his readers that we are judged by the good and evil we perform while in our bodies; however, he also wrote that God has prepared us for this judgment by sending us the Holy Spirit, and that we must seek reconciliation with God whenever we act against his will. Thus, we should not receive the gifts of God only to live for ourselves, but to live rightly for the sake of others.

93. Paul wasn’t the only one who wrote letters. Peter, whom Jesus left in charge of the Church (see Day 69), wrote to believers dispersed in Asia Minor (Turkey), providing instructions on how they ought to live. He began by giving praise and thanks to God for the new hope of salvation that came through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. He also commended them on their joy, a product of this hope, though their faith was being tested by trials and suffering, and comforted them with the understanding that the sufferings and glories of Christ were foretold by prophecy. He then urged them to keep their focus on attaining salvation, succombing not to desire, but conducting holy lives. Peter’s message, like Paul’s message to the Corinthians, included a warning that we are judged based on works; therefore, because we have faith and hope in God, we should conduct ourselves with reverence, love one another with pure hearts, and rid ourselves of all hateful attitudes toward one aother. Peter invited them to think of themselves as stones used to build the house of God that, like the first stone set as a reference for the laying of all of the other stones (i.e. the cornerstone, Jesus), have been rejected by men but found useful and precious by God. Finally, Peter wrote that their good works are a testimony to their faith, that even unbelievers will witness their conduct and give glory to God.

94. The Apostle James, who led the community in Jerusalem, also wrote to the dispersed believers. He encouraged his readers to persevere when faced with trials, even to find joy that their faith was being tested, and to trust in God to provide the wisdom necessary to do so, for through endurance comes perfection and completeness. Endurance in temptation is especially important, because succombing to the desire (giving consent of the will) is sin, and when that sin matures it leads to spiritual death (i.e. mortal sin). James reminds them that hearing the good news is not enough, but that they must act in response to it (be “doers”, not just “hearers”). Echoing Paul (see Day 91), if one does not love (e.g. caring for the helpless, such as widows and orphans), then a person’s religiousness is only a front they they use to deceive others and even themselves. James also warned them to not discriminate against one another, for this is a lack of love and the law is only fulfilled by love. Finally, he too emphasized that the works of men are the criteria on which they are judged by God, that not only are good works the testimony to one’s faith, but that works complete one’s faith.

95. The Apostle John wrote on the same theme of love in his letters. He reminded his readers that the message of love was given in the beginning, and that from the first generations man ignored it. Thus, because we love we know that we are in God’s friendship. Indeed, we love because we were first loved, as evidenced by Jesus’ sacrifice of himself; thus, we should live the same way, giving ourselves to others, not just in word but by in our deeds. When we have formed our consciences well through both faith and love, and our actions do not violate our consciences (our “hearts” to not condemn us), then we know that we find favor with God. Through our love of neighbor, God’s love is perfected in us.

96. John (identified as the same as John the Apostle by later writers and historians) also wrote a lengthy description of life in Christ using a genre of story-telling steeped in symbolism, a style that resembled that of some of the Old Testament writers. It was written in this way to convey the faith in a time of persecution when expression of faith could spell death. Indeed, John explained in the narrative that he himself was in exile on the island of Patmos, a Roman penal colony, for his testimony to Christ. When caught up in celebration on the Lord’s Day (i.e. Sunday; the day of the resurrection, the “new creation”), John entered a vision and was instructed by Jesus to write a letter to seven churches in Asia, conveying the message that he was about to receive. He saw Jesus, glorified, in all his majesty, knowledge, wisdom, authority, and justice. Through John, Jesus wished to communicate with the angels who had been placed in charge of those cities, praising them for accomplishments, but also admonishing them and warning them with regard to the shortcomings of the church communities.

97. In summary, Jesus had this to say about the seven churches. The church in Ephesus suffered well and endured, but was warned to rediscover the love it had lost over time, for its works had diminished. Believers in Smyrna, a poor community amidst hostile neighbors, were to see tribulation and were reminded that eternal life is only given to those who remain faithful until death. The church in Pergamum, a center of paganism, was also praised for its endurance, but certain dissenters put the whole community at risk of God’s wrath. In Thyatira, where the works of the church were increasingly great, but those who tolerated the false prophecy of a woman named Jezebel and refused to repent would suffer greatly. The church in Sardis had not found life, save but a few individuals, for their works were not complete. Philadelphia, though weak, had found favor with God and was instructed to persevere. Finally, the faith of the church in Laodicea, a very wealthy city, was lukewarm, not producing the fruits of love.

98. In his vision, Heaven, the dwelling place of God, is revealed to him. In a throne room set on the banks of a crystal sea, where God is worshiped by twenty-four elders and four living creatures resembling a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle (these creatures also appeared in a vision to the prophet Ezekiel and have been used in ancient Christian art to represent the writers of the four Gospels), the omniscient and omnipotent Christ sent by God has returned victorious and receives from God a scroll containing a message of such great importance that it was sealed with seven seals. After receiving the scroll, he is worshiped by the occupants of Heaven and Earth. When he breaks each of the first four seals, mysterious horsemen are summoned and sent out to patrol the four corners of the Earth (these riders had appeared in a vision to the prophet Zechariah and symbolize conquest, war, famine, and death). When the fifth seal is broken, the prayers of the holy martyrs can be heard in a plea for vindication. When the sixth seal is broken, natural forces cast the world into turmoil and all upon the Earth fear the wrath of God. Before the seventh seal is broken, a select number from the tribes of Israel are marked by angels that they may be protected from the destruction to come at the hands of the Romans. A multitude of faithful Christians can then be seen, giving hope to those on Earth that those who persevere in their faith until death shall be saved for eternal life in Heaven.

[This study does not cover the breaking of the seventh seal and the destruction of the Jews in Jerusalem. It ends abruptly and picks up at the end of the destruction of pagan Rome.]

99. All in Heaven rejoice at the victory of God over their persecutors in pagan Rome; however, Rome was but a manifestation of a deeper evil, the pure disobedience against the will of God. Upon this victory, Jesus establishes his lengthy reign as king over all other kings of the earth and Satan, the leader of the disobedient, is jailed. Those martyred in faith came to life in his presence, but those who had suffered death in disbelief remained (spiritually) dead until the the destruction of the world. At that time the (spiritually) dead and Satan with them will be punished eternally for thier disobedience.

100. With the passing of the existing creation, God once again creates. The earthly Jerusalem is replaced with a Heavenly city, and the garden that is God’s protection (see Day 1) is restored, free from any curse. Marriage language is used (see Days 47 & 50) to describe the union of God and those who love him. Jesus then sends John with this revelation of Heaven as a testimony to the churches of the faithful on earth.


Advertisements

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: