Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Humbled

Part 4 of Our God Reigns 

Text: Daniel 4:1-37




Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble (v. 37). 


You're Not in Control

How many things do you have control over each day? You could say that you’re in control over what time you wake up in the morning. But what if your house loses power in the night, and you’re alarm doesn’t go off to wake you up? The truth is, we really do have as much control as we think.

The theme of the book of Daniel is God’s sovereignty. Unlike us, God is in control of all things.


God Rules

For the second time in the book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream—a dream that “made [him] afraid” (v. 5). In the dream, he sees a tree (v. 10). The tree grows and grows. It grows so tall that “its top reached to heaven” (v. 11). The tree provides shade for the animals, shelter for the birds, and food for all the people of the earth (v. 12). But then an angel (“a watcher,” v. 13) comes down from heaven and orders the tree to be chopped down (v. 14). So the tree is chopped down and all that’s left is the stump (v. 15). Then it’s announced that the stump—now a man—will live like an animal until “seven periods of time pass over him” (v. 16).

What does the dream mean? Nebuchadnezzar summons Daniel to give him the dream’s interpretation. Daniel reveals that the tree symbolizes the king (v. 22). There will come a time when Nebuchadnezzar will be “chopped down.” He will lose his sanity and act like an animal until he realizes that “the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (v. 25).

One year later, Nebuchadnezzar is walking on the roof of his palace, admiring the city of Babylon. Babylon contained two of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, the hanging gardens and the city walls. [1] The king says to himself, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” (v. 30). Immediately (“While the words were still in the king’s mouth,” v. 31), what the dream foretold came to pass. He loses his mind and is removed as king and lives like an animal. Finally, Nebuchadnezzar “lift[s] [his] eyes to heaven, and his reason return[s] to [him]” (v. 34).

Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way that God is sovereign. He is “the Most High” God (vv. 2, 24, 25, 34). The story of this chapter is an example of the truth stated in 2:21: “he removes kings and sets up kings.” “Heaven rules” (v. 26). In the end, Nebuchadnezzar confessed, “All [God’s] works are right and his ways are just” (v. 37). He declared, “None can…say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (v. 35). The king was humbled.


God, What Have You Done?

Many people use the sovereignty of God to argue against the existence of God. They say, “If God is both sovereign and good, why do bad things happen in this world?” [2] Nebuchadnezzar declared, “None can…say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (v. 35). “All [God’s] works are right and his ways are just” (v. 37). But sometimes we might have doubts about God’s works and ways being right and just. Sometimes we might even get angry at God and say, “God, what have you done?”

But we must stop to consider the cross. The Most High God died on a cross for us! He humbled himself (Phil. 2:8)! [3] In amazement, we cry out, “God, what have you done?”


Humbling Truths

Two truths should cause us to be humble.

1. How small we are in comparison to the Most High God. Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful man on earth, was nothing in comparison to God. The psalmist writes, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?” (Ps. 8:3-4). [4]

2. How small the Most High God made himself so that he could save us. To receive salvation, we must humbly acknowledge our sin and our need of a Saviour.


The Cure for Pride

People get angry about all sorts of things—many of them relatively minor things: (1) having to watch a 30 second ad on YouTube, (2) stepping in something wet after you’ve just put on clean socks, (3) hearing someone chew their food loudly, (4) having to wait five minutes in a grocery store checkout line, (5) slow internet.

Do you ever get angry about your pride? The hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” says,

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

To “pour contempt” on our pride is to despise our pride. When we “survey” (i.e., think about) the cross, we should hate our pride. The Most High God died for us! The cross is the cure for pride.
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[1] The walls were wide enough for chariots driven by four horses to pass each other on the top of them (ESV Study Bible, 1594).
[2] All of the arguments against God used by people today (e.g., atheists) can be found in the Bible. The Bible doesn’t shy away from the tough questions. The prophet Habakkuk complained to God, “Why do you idly look at wrong?” (Hab. 1:3).
[3] “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
[4] “Brand new research suggests that the universe is actually a lot more crowded than previously thought. There are up 2 trillion galaxies in the visible universe, more than 10 times previously estimated” (source).

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Faith in the Furnace

Part 3 of Our God Reigns

Text: Daniel 3:1-30




“If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image you have set up” (vv. 17-18).


If

One of my favourite October traditions is watching It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. In the Halloween special, Linus desperately wants a visit from the Great Pumpkin. According to Linus, “The Great Pumpkin rises out of his pumpkin patch and flies through the air with his bag of toys for children.”

When all of the children abandon Linus in the pumpkin patch on Halloween night, he tells them, “If the Great Pumpkin comes, I’ll still put in a good word for you.” Then he catches himself. “Good grief! I said ‘if.’ I meant ‘when he comes’! I’m doomed. One little slip like that can cause the Great Pumpkin to pass you by.” Linus believed that the sincerity of his faith could cause the Great Pumpkin to visit him. [1] Like Linus, many Christians think that the quality of their faith can cause God to do what they desire. [2]

In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego aren’t afraid to say the word “if.” [3] They want God to save them from death in the fiery furnace, but they concede that it’s possible that God might not do for them what they desire. Biblical faith is not confidence in what I think should happen; it’s confidence in God. [4]


No Compromise

King Nebuchadnezzar sets up a golden image [5] and commands that everyone bow down to it. [6] Whoever does not bow down to the image will be thrown into a fiery furnace. When the music plays, everyone bows down, except three young Jews: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s disobedience doesn’t not go unnoticed. They are brought before Nebuchadnezzar who gives them one last chance to obey. He warns them that if they once again refuse to bow down to the image, they will be thrown into the fiery furnace. And then he adds, “Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hand?” (v. 15).

Bowing down to the image would be a violation of the second commandment: “You shall not bow down to [an image]” (Exod. 20:5). When we are faced with the decision of obeying God or obeying man, we must choose to obey God. [7] Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to back down. To the most powerful man on earth, they reply,
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image you have set up” (vv. 17-18). 
They believe that God is “able to deliver [them],” but they also acknowledge that God might not choose to do so (“But if not”). They will obey God even if the outcome is death.


God Is with Us

Nebuchadnezzar, “filled with fury” (v. 19), orders the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are bound and thrown into the fire. The king looks into the furnace. He looks again. He stands up and walks closer to the furnace. Maybe his eyes are playing tricks on him. Finally, he asks, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” (v. 24). His counselors answer, “Yes.” “But,” Nebuchadnezzar says, “I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods” (v. 25). The king shouts into the furnace, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!” (v. 26). The three walk out, unharmed.

Who was the fourth figure in the furnace? It was either a Christophany (i.e., a physical appearance of Jesus before his incarnation ) [8] or an angel. Either way, the fourth figure was a demonstration that God is always with his people. [9]


Sometimes God's People Aren't Delivered

Hebrews 11 is often called “The Hall of Faith.” The chapter mentions Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (and also Daniel): “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouth of lions, quenched the power of fire” (Heb. 11:33-34).

If we have faith in God, do we always get the outcome we desire? No. Hebrews 11 goes on to say, “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword” (Heb. 11:35-37). When we don’t get the outcome we desire, does that mean our faith is defective? No.


Who Is This God Who Is with Us?

The God who is always with us is a God who is sovereign (i.e., in control of all things). He is “the Most High God” (v. 26). He is a God who is able to deliver people from a fiery furnace, if he so chooses. We can have confidence in God because he is not only a sovereign God; he is also a good God. God’s sovereignty must be paired with his goodness. Unless God is also good, his sovereignty isn’t a comfort to us.

We see both God’s sovereignty and goodness in the cross. Jesus came into this word as Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Jesus was condemned to die. But unlike Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Jesus was not delivered from death. He was crucified because God is sovereign; it was God’s plan that he die. [10] He was crucified because God is good; he died for our sins.

Biblical faith is not confidence in what I think should happen; it’s confidence in God—a God who is both sovereign and good, a God who is always with us.

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[1] Linus says to himself, “He’s gotta pick this one. He’s got to. I don’t see how a pumpkin patch could be more sincere than this one.”
[2] For example, “If I pray hard enough, God will heal me.”
[3] See verse 18.
[4] This is a paraphrase of a point made by Bryan Chapell: “Biblical faith is not confidence in particular outcomes; it is confidence in a sovereign God” (The Gospel According to Daniel, Kindle location 918).
[5] In verses 1-18, we’re told nine times that Nebuchadnezzar “set up” the golden image. Nebuchadnezzar probably builds the golden image because of his dream of a great image in Daniel 2: “you are the head of gold” (v. 38).
[6] This account is similar to the story of the Tower of Babel, which was built so that the builders could “make a name for [themselves]” (Gen. 11:4).
[7] See Acts 5:29.
[8] ESV Study Bible, 1592.
[9] Cf. Isaiah 43:2.
[10] “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

God Does What Man Can't Do

Part 2 of Our God Reigns

Text: Daniel 2:1-49




Daniel answered the king and said, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days” (vv. 27-28).


To Whom Do You Give Thanks?

To whom do you give thanks on Thanksgiving Day? When we give thanks to God for our blessings, we are acknowledging that God is sovereign (i.e., in control).

Thanksgiving Day was originally based on the belief that God is sovereign. On January 31, 1957, the Canadian Parliament proclaimed: “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed…is to be observed on the second Monday in October.” When we give thanks to God for the harvest, we are acknowledging that God is sovereign over the harvest.

The theme of the book of Daniel is the sovereignty of God. In spite of how things might look, God is in control.


A Troubling Dream and an Impossible Demand

One night, King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream—a troubling dream. And he’s desperate to known the meaning of the dream. So he summons some of his wise men and demands that they not only tell him the meaning of his dream but also the content of his dream (v. 5). And if they can’t fulfill his demand, they will be “torn limb from limb” (v. 5). The wise men reply as you and I would: “That’s impossible!” They say, “There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand” (v. 10).

The king is furious and commands that all the wise men of Babylon be executed (v. 12). By this time, Daniel has graduated from the three-year training program in Babylon. He is now one of the wise men. And his is to be killed along with the others. Not wanting to torn limb from limb (obviously!), Daniel asks to speak to the king. He requests that he be given some time. At the end of the appointed time, he will return to the king and interpret the dream (v. 16). Though the king’s demand is an impossible one, Daniel knows that God can do what man can’t do. We have a God who does what man can’t do.


The Revealer of Mysteries

The wise men had told the king, “There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand” (v. 10). But Daniel declares, “There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (v. 28). “God in heaven” can do what “man on earth” can’t do.

God has revealed to us what was previously a mystery (i.e., once hidden truth): his plan for the world will be accomplished through Jesus Christ. In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, a “stone” destroys the great image, which represented the kingdoms of man (including Babylon represented by the head of gold). The stone is Jesus. Compared to the image, the stone seems insignificant. And when Jesus lived on this earth, most people didn’t see him as anyone special. But when Christ returns, the kingdoms of man will be turned to dust and he will reign forever.

Jesus came to earth to do what we couldn’t do: bring us salvation. The wise men of Babylon stated that the gods don’t dwell with flesh (v. 11). But the apostle John writes, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Why did God the Son become a man? To die for our salvation. Or, in other words, to do for us what we couldn’t do. Jesus will return to earth to do what we can’t do: build an eternal and perfect kingdom.


Give Thanks!

When God revealed to Daniel the interpretation of the king’s dream, what was Daniel’s response? Thankfulness: “I give thanks and praise” (v. 23). Our response to God doing for us what we can't do should be thankfulness--a thankfulness not only in word but also in deed.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Life as an Exile

Part 1 of Our God Reigns

Text: Daniel 1




But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank (Dan. 1:8). 


God Is in Control

The book of Daniel was written by Daniel the prophet during the sixth century B.C. The first half of the book (chapters 1-6) contains stories about Daniel. The second half of the book (chapters 7-12) contains visions of Daniel. But the book of Daniel is not about Daniel. It’s about God. The theme of the book is the sovereignty of God. “In spite of present appearances, God is in control.” [1]

The book of Daniel begins during a terrible time for Daniel’s people: “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it” (1:1). But God was still in control: “And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand” (1:2). People are concerned about the U.S. Presidential Election. It’s Trump versus Clinton--two extremely unpopular candidates. People are worried about the outcome. But God is in control! “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings” (2:21).


Exiles

The book of Daniel begins with Daniel and his three friends—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—removed from their homeland of Judah and taken to live in Babylon. They are exiles. They are part of a training program set up by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. The best of the best of the youth of Judah have been chosen for this program (vv. 3-4). They will be trained for three years by the Babylonians, and then at the end of their training, they will serve the king.

This training was to be a reprogramming of the beliefs of the Judean youths. Even their names were changed (v. 7). Nebuchadnezzar expects Daniel and his three friends to conform to the Babylonian culture—a culture that is hostile to the beliefs and convictions of Daniel and his three friends.

In many ways, our culture is hostile to Christian beliefs and convictions. The apostle Peter described his readers as “exiles” (1 Peter 2:11). “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). Jesus said that his followers are in the world but not of the world (“They are not of the world,” John 17:16). And the apostle Paul wrote that we are not to be “conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2). The book of Daniel “teaches us that the struggle is not to make the culture Christian, but how a Christian can live in a hostile culture.” [2]


Resolving to Glorify God

Verse 8 says, “But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank.” Why did Daniel resolve to not eat the king’s food and drink the king’s wine? Was it because he would break the OT dietary laws if he ate the king’s food? Maybe, but the dietary laws didn’t forbid the drinking of wine. Was it because the food and wine would have been offered to idols? Maybe, but we’re not told that the vegetables Daniel ate weren’t offered to idols. Perhaps there was another reason. Maybe Daniel resolved not to eat the king’s food and wine to show that he owed his success to God, not the king.

Whatever the reason, Daniel’s decision was rooted in his desire to glorify God. Sometimes resolving to glorify makes our lives more difficult (e.g., Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace; Daniel in the lions’ den—those are uncomfortable places!). We must resolve to put God’s glory ahead of our own comfort. 


God Put Our Good Ahead of His Own Comfort

Let’s stop for a moment to think about this God whom we are called to glorify. He is a God who put our good ahead of his own comfort. Jesus—God in human flesh, the second person of the Trinity—declared, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). God—the sovereign God!—chose to endure the humiliation and suffering of the cross for us. Don’t be ashamed to be known and act as a Christian!

In the TV series The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell states, “You can tell what’s informed the society by…the tallest building in the place.” In a medieval city, the tallest building was the cathedral. In a 17th century city, the tallest building was the political palace. In a modern city, the tallest buildings are the office buildings and the condos.

The focus has shifted from God to self. When our focus is on self, we won’t put God’s glory ahead of our own comfort. But if our focus is on God—and how he put our good ahead of his own comfort—we will resolve to glorify him.

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[1] Tremper Longman III, Daniel, 19. 
[2] Ibid., 61. 
[3] Verse 9 states that “God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs.” Again, we see that God is in control.