Jeremiah 1

“They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you” (v19). God called Jeremiah the prophet to a most difficult task: to be a “prophet to the nations” and to speak God’s own words (v5-9). Judah (southern Israel) was in turmoil; they had embraced idolatry, and King Josiah was trying to reform them, but they were also caught between the Egyptian and Babylonian empires. Into this mess, God sent Jeremiah to declare truth to power, no matter the consequences.

“Do not be afraid of them …” (v8). When we fear God more than earthly powers, we have the courage to follow His ways, no matter the cost.

Isaiah 66

“And they shall declare my glory among the nations” (v19). Through Isaiah, God declared that when He came to redeem His people Israel, the message of hope would also be for “the nations.” God had revealed Himself in a special way to Abraham and his descendants as part of His global plan of salvation, and now “the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues” (v18). These “brothers” from around the world who answered the call of God would even come to serve as priests and Levites (v20-21).

“All flesh shall come to worship before Me” (v23). No country, ethnic group, or person is overlooked by God. Jesus came to reconcile us to the Father and to one another.

Isaiah 65

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered” (v17). Through Isaiah, God declared that those who did not accept His call to relationship (v12) would miss out on the life-filled new earth that He would create. Rather than violence, catastrophe, and disappointment, we will enjoy the results of our efforts in the redeemed earth: “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit” (v21). The creation won’t be at war with itself; peace will reign (v22).

“Before they call, I will answer” (v24). God planned to save us before we called out for help, and He promises a future better than we can imagine.

Isaiah 64

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence!” (v1). The Israelites wanted the Lord to “come down” and restore their nation. They knew that their sins had led to their destruction by foreign armies (v5). “Our holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised you, has been burned by fire, and all our pleasant places have become ruins” (v11). Yet, they still counted on God’s mercy and compassion: “Behold, please look, we are all your people” (v9).

“No eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him” (v4). Whether our troubles are unexpected or self-created, we can count on God’s kindness. His mercy overflows.

Ephesians 5:15-32

“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (v17). In practical terms, Paul said that believers must reject the crude language, sexual immorality, drunkenness and greed of their past lives. Instead, they should cultivate hearts of joy and thanksgiving, quick to sing and worship, “submitting to one another out of reverence to Christ” (v21). Following Jesus changes things at the family level, too, with husbands following Christ’s example of humble and self-sacrificial leadership (v25-33).

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but wise …” (v15). Saved by Christ and made new by His Spirit, we are capable of speaking and behaving according to His will.

Ephesians 5:1-14

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us …” (v1-2). As citizens of God’s kingdom, Paul urged the Ephesians to change their manner of speaking and behaving. Rough or crude joking is “out of place” for those who see other humans as image bearers of God. Sexual immorality and greedy materialism are “unfruitful works of darkness” (v11), completely opposed to our lives as “children of light” (v8).

To “walk in love” doesn’t mean that we are perfect, but, with the help of the Spirit, we reject the ways of darkness and “try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (v10).

Psalm 136

“Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever …” (v2). The psalmist led Israel in praising God for His steadfast love, which is beautifully evident in the “great wonders” He has done (v4). The earth and the universe reveal His never-failing love for all creation (v5-9), yet God also shows specific love to humanity. By His “strong hand and outstretched arm” He brought Israel out of Egypt (v12), and He continues to rescue us.

We each have personal reasons to “give thanks to the Lord, for He is good” (v1). His steadfast love brought the world into existence, and His mercy and grace toward us will not fail.

Isaiah 63

“In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old” (v9). Isaiah reminded Israel that God had proven Himself to be their Savior (v8). He led them out of Egypt under Moses’ leadership, He provided for them in the desert, and He fought against their enemies. Even though they “rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit,” (v10) earning His anger, He continued to be their Father and Redeemer (v16).

The same God who rescued Israel over and over sent Jesus to save us once and for all. His love and mercy don’t run out.

Isaiah 62

“And they shall be called The Holy People, The Redeemed of the LORD; and you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken” (v12). Isaiah’s prophecies were full of judgment on Israel and other nations, because they had rebelled against God’s ways (ch 58). Yet God wasn’t finished with humanity. Rather than condemning, abandoning, or rejecting us, God had prepared a way to redeem us through His Messiah. By faith in Him, Jews and Gentiles together could receive “a new name” (v2).

“Behold, your salvation comes …” (v11). God’s salvation is more than a rescue from sin; He also gives us a new identity as “a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord” (v3).

Isaiah 61

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives …” (v1). Israel was lost in sin, yet God promised that His anointed servant, the Messiah, would fulfill everything God’s people failed to be and do. Jesus declared that He was fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy (Luke 4:18), offering healing and freedom. He proclaimed “the year of the Lord’s favor” to all who would receive Him.

“Instead of shame there shall be double portion” (v7). Only God Himself can take away shame and make us “oaks of righteousness” (v3).

Isaiah 60

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you” (v1). Isaiah told God’s people that one day God’s own light would shine brightly on them and through them: “you shall see and be radiant” (v5). The rest of the world would be drawn to Israel’s light (v3,6,7), bringing glory and honor. This new, transformed Zion will be a place of total peace: “Violence shall no more be heard in your land …you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise” (v18).

Jesus’ light is still shining, drawing people to salvation. In Him, we are citizens of the renewed world He will bring, full of His glory and peace (v19).

Ephesians 4:15-32

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (v32). Those who have “learned Christ” show His Spirit in their words and actions (v20). Paul put special emphasis on our speech, saying that we must put off the old self with its “corrupting talk” and “bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander” (v29-31). Instead, we put on “the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (v24). Following the world’s patterns of speech and conduct grieves the Holy Spirit (v30).

As we honor Jesus by cooperating with His Spirit, rejecting the old ways of selfishness and hard-heartedness, He transforms our minds, words, and behavior (v23).

Ephesians 4:1-14

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v1-3). Paul told the Ephesian believers, Jew and Gentile both, that having been rescued by Jesus and reconciled to God and one another, they were called to unity and peace. To help them resist the world’s ways and be equipped for ministry, God gave them “apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” (v11-12).

“Until we all attain the unity of the faith …” (v13). God calls us to leave behind childish ways (v14) and to grow into the humility, gentleness, and love of Christ.

Proverbs 26

“Like an archer who wounds everyone is one who hires a passing fool or drunkard” (v10). The proverbs teach us that fools – unteachable, impulsive, quarrelsome people – are dangers to themselves (v3,11,12), and they are also a danger to everyone else. Those trying to work with “a fool” end up “drinking violence” (v6), while giving “honor” to a fool is like giving ammunition to one prone to cruelty (v8). Gossips and those who love stirring up quarrels cause terrible harm to communities (v18-22).

“Where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases” (v20). Our words and behaviors affect everyone around us; we can either stir up strife or cultivate peace.

Isaiah 59

“For our transgressions are multiplied before you, and our sins testify against us …” (v12). Isaiah pointed out the awfulness of Israel’s sin and urged them to repent while there was opportunity. “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you” (v2). Even though the Israelites had God’s Law, they were lying, cheating, obstructing justice, filled with “desolation and destruction.” On their own, they were lost: “They way of peace they do not know” (v8). But God is full of compassion.

"And a Redeemer will come to Zion …” (v20). Before we even asked, God had a plan to rescue and redeem us. His mercy is greater than our sins.

Isaiah 58

“Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure and oppress all your workers …” (v3). God told the Israelites that their fasting and prayers were useless, because they were mistreating their workers and the poor. God didn’t want their self-involved worship, He wanted real obedience. "Is not this the fast that I choose: to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house …?” (v6-8).

“Then shall your light break forth like the dawn…” (v8). If we belong to Christ, His own love for the world will shine brightly through our words and actions.

Isaiah 57

“There is no peace," says my God, "for the wicked" (v21). Isaiah declared that God was furious with the Israelites for getting involved in all sorts of horrible idolatrous practices, including sexual immorality, religious prostitution, and sacrificing children (v4-9). They thought the idols would satisfy and protect them, but instead of peace, they found destruction. Their only hope was to humbly cast themselves on the Lord, who dwells “in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit” (v15).

God welcomes us when we turn from sin and seek His refuge. He wants “to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite” (v15).

Isaiah 56

"And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD …these I will bring to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer …” (v6-7). God’s plan, according to Isaiah, was to redeem both the “outcasts of Israel” (v8) and all those who called on Him. He promised to honor and bless even those rejected by Law and society, like eunuchs (v8). Therefore, “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come” (v1).

“For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples" (v7). Jesus calls us to be His house, a new community, a bright light pointing toward His coming kingdom.

Ephesians 3:11-21

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that … he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (v17). Paul wanted the Ephesians to understand Christ’s love for them and for people from different cultural backgrounds - “every family”. They needed the Spirit’s power to grasp the “breadth and length and height and depth” of God’s grace, so that Christ could dwell in their hearts by faith.

As we cultivate the Spirit’s presence in our hearts, turning away from the hatred and enmity of the world, we become full of “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (v18-19).

Ephesians 3:1-10

“This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (v6). Paul was so overwhelmed by God’s grace that he called it a “mystery” four times (v3,4,6,9). The long-awaited Messiah, fulfiller of all God’s promises, came to save Jews and Gentiles both and make them “members of the same body.” Paul’s ancestors didn’t understand, but this truth “has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (v5).

In Jesus, impossible cultural barriers are broken down, and we become one family. God wants His surprising, wonderful, eternal plan to shine “through the church” to the world (v10).