Now Get Up and Go: DANIEL 11-12

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DANIEL 11:35-12

As I write today I am battling grief, fear, anger and angst for our world.

I grieve over the loss of what once was our nation. There was a time when by and large the worst things I faced over Christmas was controlling the look on my face when I received Aunt Marge’s annual, awful fruit cake or perhaps learning to navigate the holiday missing a loved one. The weight of what our country faces today, feels more imminent now than ever before.

I fear what’s beginning to feel like a new normal. Radicalism consumed with hate and violence grows, and I watch it happen. And let’s not pretend this kind of radicalism is relegated to only one walk of life. In just a few weeks’ time we’ve seen Paris, Planned Parenthood, and an unsuspecting workplace party viciously attacked, among many more in war-ravaged, desperate nations in the Middle East and around the world.

I’m angry when I see our world leaders responding in fear and rhetoric, rather than turning to God. God wants nothing more than our hearts, but we stubbornly refuse him. We make our plans as if we know better. The higher we build our walls and the deeper we fill our cache of ammunition, we become more and more vulnerable. But this isn’t new.

Judah’s defenses have been stripped away.

You run to the armory for your weapons.

You inspect the breaks in the walls of Jerusalem.

You store up water in the lower pool.

You survey the houses and tear some down for stone to strengthen the wall.

Between the city walls, you build a reservoir for water from the old pool.

But you never ask for help from the One who did all this. You never considered the One who planned this long ago. (Isaiah 22:8-11 NLT)

And I’m anxious when I read the text we are studying today in Daniel, because I see our world mirrored in its words. Is this it? Have we arrived? What do I do with this?

THE TIME OF THE END

Daniel ends his writings with a final vision. In the previous lesson, we covered the first part of the vision that most scholars believe to be largely fulfilled already. The latter part of chapter 11 and chapter 12 seem to be talking about Antichrist and his rise to power, which still remain in the future.

The king will do as he pleases, exalting himself and claiming to be greater than every god, even blaspheming the God of gods. (Daniel 11:36a NLT)

We are told that this ruler will be a man of war and violence, and that he will conquer many lands and nations. We are also told that his days are numbered and he will succeed in everything he does for a predetermined period of time.

He will succeed, but only until the time of wrath is completed. For what has been determined will surely take place. (Daniel 11:36b NLT)

It will be a time of great anguish, but not devoid of grace and salvation.

But at that time every one of your people whose name is written in the book will be rescued. (Daniel 12:1b NLT)

The heavenly messenger tells Daniel that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and that some will rise to everlasting life and some to everlasting shame. (Daniel 12:2) He also tells Daniel how long these things will last, “for a time, times, and half a time,” (12:7) and later he says that from the time the daily sacrifices are stopped 1,290 days will pass (12:11). And yet despite all the detail, the vision is still shrouded in mystery.

I heard what he said, but I did not understand what he meant. So I asked, “How will all this finally end, my lord?” (Daniel 12:8 NLT)

So it’s with this question I want to settle today, “What if we hear what God says, but we still don’t understand what he means?” If you can identify, you are not alone!

WHAT DO WE UNDERSTAND?

From the outset of this study I have talked about the pattern of God’s will. It’s displayed multiple times throughout scripture, and if you look closely, you’ll see it displayed in your own life as well, probably more than once. The pattern is this:

Basic Pattern Israel’s purpose when they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land was to make God’s name known among the nations, to be a light to the world.   God chose these people as his own, so that when he set them apart as holy, the entire world would begin to know God through the picture of Israel. He uses the Church in much the same way today. One dramatic difference: Christ lives in each of us today, and when we step into our purpose and calling, we individually and collectively make Christ visible to the world.

In conjunction with other prophetic texts, we know that when this time of wrath has completed, Christ will return, the dead in Christ will rise to be transformed and those who are still alive will also be transformed. Christ will then establish his Kingdom and rule with love. When Christ returns, all purpose will be completed in full. There will no longer be a need to make his name known to the world, because he will be known.

For the scriptures say, “’As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ’every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.’” (Romans 14:11 NLT)

I go back to this pattern of Captivity -> Preparation -> Purpose, because even if we don’t understand all that God has planned and all that God has revealed, if we understand this much, we can still move actively into the story of God’s redemptive plan. When Daniel said he heard what the messenger said, but didn’t understand, the response to Daniel was telling.

But he said, “Go now…” (Daniel 12:9 NLT)

Daniel didn’t get a direct answer to his question. In fact, he was told the answers were going to be kept secret until the time of the end. The messenger then reiterates his command in verse 13.

“As for you, go your way until the end.” (Daniel 12:13a NLT)

He’s telling Daniel to keep walking the path designed for him, and leave the rest to God. So even if we don’t understand all that we hear God saying, we just need to keep on following what we do hear from him. Easy enough, right? Right…until the doubts creep in about the path we’re on and we start asking God, “what if?”

WHAT IF… I’M NOT EQUIPPED TO WALK THIS PATH?

If you’re asking this question, you are not the first. Moses asked it and so did Jeremiah.   God doesn’t often call the equipped, he typically equips the called. You can be sure, that if God has called you, he will supply you with all that you need to follow him.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. (Ephesians 1:3 NLT)

This is a great place to start, because it means each of us is the perfect candidate to be called by God. He has supplied with all spiritual blessings, ALL, which means they don’t come in installments. They are all there from the moment of faith. Blessings like forgiveness, grace, eternity, gifts and insight from the Holy Spirit, and most of all power to follow God. These blessings are a pretty good foundational start to any and all callings.

When I first heard the call to write, it surprised me, and my first reaction was, “surely not.” But now that I have pursued this for a couple of years, the Lord has brought to my memory writing classes that I took in college, and literature classes that I loved. I had all but forgotten that I entertained a desire to major in English and Literature for a short period of time, but quickly dismissed it because it just didn’t make sense. Even then, God was preparing me.

As you consider your life up to now, you might begin to see that God has worked in a similar way. All the threads will eventually weave your story. Follow the path faithfully, and your journey will provide you with the necessary experience and qualifications to keep moving forward.

WHAT IF… I’M NOT STRONG ENOUGH TO WALK THIS PATH

When Israel approached the Promised Land and was told of the incredible bounty within, they could only hear the reports of the giants. Fear told them they were not strong enough to defeat the giants, and how irresponsible it would be to cross over with little children in their care.

Let’s just get this one out of the way. You’re not strong enough to walk this path. None of us are. But God still calls us anyway.

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (II Corinthians 12: 9-10 NLT)

There were many, many times God told Israel to show up to a battle ill-equipped or he asked them to send the majority of their soldiers home. He told Gideon, he didn’t want Israel to think they won the battle in their own strength. He wanted them to understand it was through the power of God. To be clear, every success, every victory we claim, is ALL through the power of God.

WHAT IF…I SUFFER ON THIS PATH

Suffering is very possible, in fact very probable. However, trials and suffering are uniquely designed to equip, strengthen, and to ultimately create extreme effectiveness. By the way, this is also called worship, and worship is the only way to abide in Christ.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4 NLT)

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. (Romans 5:3-4 NLT)

Daniel doesn’t mince words. Terrible suffering will mark the time of the end for God’s holy people. But what does God say about that?

Many will be purified, cleansed, and refined by these trials. (Daniel 12:10 NLT)

We can trust that any trial we walk will bring great glory to God and then that glory will be reflected back on us.

WHAT IF…I CHOOSE NOT TO WALK THIS PATH

There is certainly a great cost to following God, and many of us wonder if we can afford it. And we wonder if we can afford it, because we’re comparing the cost of following God to the lie that there is no cost if we choose not to follow. There is a cost, and it’s called opportunity cost.

Israel chose not to cross the Jordan River because they feared the cost of going into a land of giants. What they didn’t fully factor was the cost of missing the promise God held for them on the other side of the river.

The Apostle Paul also talks about opportunity cost in his first letter to the Corinthians. The context here is Paul’s concern for sin among the believers and their commitment to holiness.

Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? (I Corinthians 6:9a NLT)

While I want to be careful to maintain the context of this passage, I do believe we can find an application for God’s call on levels of our life. His call for our life will typically follow the pattern of his will as I mentioned earlier.

Captivity

When we are held captive by sin and death, outside of a relationship with Christ, his call on our life will be to place our faith in him. If we reject God’s call to salvation, then we will most definitely not inherit any form of the Kingdom of God.

Preparation

After we’ve placed our faith in him, he will lead us into a period of growth and renewal. His call on our life is to holiness. He will teach us and heal us, and will prepare trials and hardships to cleanse and purify our lives. If we reject this call, misusing the liberty we have in Christ to continue sinning, our sin will prevent the continual expression of the Kingdom in our lives today. The Kingdom is expressed through the blessings referenced in Ephesians that I mentioned earlier. Paul was very concerned for the Corinthians in this area.

Purpose

We are all being prepared for a purpose. His call on our life, our purpose, is as unique as our DNA. If we are earnestly pursuing Christ and his holiness, God will guide and direct our path into a purpose that will make his name known to the world. If we reject this call, it’s not so much a missed inheritance, but rather a missed opportunity to experience and realize the vast fullness of the Kingdom of God that is available right now. We might experience some of it, but not all of it. If you’ll follow me, that opportunity cost is essentially missing the inheritance that he has for us.

NOW GO

We don’t have to understand everything about the Bible, or everything about prophecy, or everything about evangelism to walk the path before us. That much is clear from Daniel. We have everything we need to begin, and will be supplied with what we lack to continue, and are continually empowered by the Holy Spirit to get up and go. Now go.

The Real Revelation in Biblical Prophecy: DANIEL 10-11

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DANIEL 10 – 11:35

The “magic” of Christmas with twinkling lights and quiet nights, carols that arouse an almost melancholy wanting within our hearts, while at the same time stirring a joyful anticipation of what this season, what this year may hold.

The “magic” of Christmas is but a glimpse of what’s in store for the believer.

We long to be with God, to join him in the incorruptible, to leave behind the pain and sorrow that lurks around every bend.

We long for his return, for our transformation, for the perfection that calls to the very depths of our souls.

We long to see Jesus.  This is the real revelation of prophecy.

The last three chapters of Daniel are complex and challenging and charged. There’s an intense energy surrounds the reality of a God who is always near, a God who will one day appear, and a God who will one day make everything right. The deep longing in my soul will one day be satisfied in full. In the next two lessons we will cover Daniel’s last recorded vision.

BROKEN AT THE FEET OF GOD  

Our text today in chapter 10 begins with a broken hearted man. Haven’t we all hit that point at least once, probably more, where we beg Jesus to come for us? We want to call it quits and go home. Confused and weary and broken, we search for understanding to make sense of it all. We know this feeling. Maybe we feel it right now. With the news of senseless shootings and murder this week, I’m not far off. This is where we find Daniel.

The text doesn’t tell us exactly why he’s so broken, but he writes that he’s been mourning for three weeks. In his anguish he has abstained from rich food and drink, and from the creature comforts that were afforded him, to fall at the feet of God in prayer and petition.

Then, beginning in verse four, an almost avalanche of revelation comes pouring out when Daniel is visited by a heavenly being who reveals a detailed vision. There’s quite a bit packed into the final vision, but I’d like to pull on three themes which are consistent with virtually every other chapter in Daniel: God’s swift response in difficult circumstances, the reality of spiritual warfare that surrounds, and the prophecy of full restoration.

DANIEL’S RESPONSE

Daniel was deeply troubled, but because he doesn’t specify the reason, we are left to only guess, and his response to his trouble is significant. We know that two years earlier a group of exiles returned to Jerusalem to begin the work of rebuilding the Temple. (Ezra 1:1) Daniel did not return with them, in all likelihood because his advanced age, but we don’t know for sure. Could remaining in Babylon have troubled him?

We know that the building of the Temple stopped because of external as well as internal opposition. (Ezra 4:24) Israel’s neighbors had no desire to see the rebirth of a strong Israel and their Temple was indeed connected to their strength, so they caused trouble endlessly. The footprint of the new Temple was much smaller than that of Solomon’s and caused friction within the rank and file, because the older generation remembered the way it was. Rebuilding stopped for as much as 20 years until the prophets Haggai and Zechariah spoke boldly to Zerubabbel, the governor. Could Daniel have received word of this conflict over the Temple and been brought to tears?

Based on the vision Daniel received, it’s probable that his petitions were related to his understanding of God’s plan for Israel.

Now I am here to explain what will happen to your people in the future, for this vision concerns a time yet to come. (Daniel 10:14 NLT)

He was deeply saddened for sure and probably confused. His response? Go to the Lord in prayer. In fact, he humbled himself in prayer with fasting.

It’s interesting that we see no evidence of Daniel trying to pull strings on Israel’s behalf, or attempting to control whatever was bothering him. It’s entirely possible he still held a reasonable amount of governmental influence, and he could have sought the resources to resolve whatever issue plagued him, but he didn’t. It’s convicting really, because this isn’t usually my first response when I’m troubled, especially if I have resources and influence at my disposal. Daniel’s response is incredibly important.

GOD’S RESPONSE

In both chapter 9 and 10 we see that God swiftly responds to Daniel’s prayers as soon as he begins praying.

Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer. (Daniel 10:12b NLT)

Daniel said the heavenly being looked like a man, and described him as dressed in linen, with a belt of pure gold, a body like a gem, a face flashing like lightning, eyes flaming like torches, arms like polished bronze, and a roaring voice. This description of Daniel’s is strikingly similar to John’s description of someone like the Son of Man in Revelation:

And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And his eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. (Rev 1:13-15 NLT)

Could Daniel have seen a pre-incarnate manifestation of God the Son? It certainly isn’t out of the question. So it’s interesting that this man follows his response in verse 12 with this:

But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way. Then Michael, one of the archangels, came to help me, and I left him there with the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia. (Daniel 10:13 NLT)

Puzzling, isn’t it? Does God really need help from the angels? Don’t they get their power from God? Can we assume that God was then bested by evil for 21 days? To understand the situation better it’s important to compare God’s relationship to all other beings, including the evil spirits. He is sovereign over all. ALL.

For those of you who saw the Superman movie way back when, you may recall the scene where Lex Luthor wields powerful Kryptonite to disable Superman’s powers. By exploiting this weakness, Lex Luthor became his evil, equal counterpart.

This is NOT the relationship between Satan and God. Satan is NOT God’s evil, equal counterpart. We can be sure this heavenly messenger was not delayed because he was overpowered or exploited for 21 days. The delay was allowed by God.

Daniel had mourned and fasted for three weeks when this messenger arrived; the exact same amount of time the messenger was blocked. It could have appeared to Daniel that his prayers were going unanswered, when in reality God responded the very same day. I believe there is a correlation between the period of mourning and the spiritual battle, but as to the exact nature of the correlation, I would be purely speculating.

When I think on my own life however, typically I am more receptive to God’s word as time extends from an upsetting event. In the emotion of the moment, God’s voice is often deadened, and I’m not receptive. That’s the spiritual battle that is waging all around us. Satan wants nothing more than to block our connection to God. I’m not saying this was Daniel’s battle, but it could have been.

The ground that our enemy gains in our lives is ground that we allow. And we have all authority in Christ to reclaim that ground. Something to consider when we find ourselves asking why our prayers seem to go unanswered. This is why it’s so important to see that Daniel steadfastly turned to God in prayer for those three weeks, as opposed to any other tactic. Prayer is the single-most effective strategy we have to battle the spirits that mean to destroy and discourage.

THE VISION

The messenger then reveals a detailed prophecy of the coming kings affecting the land of Israel. It almost resembles a tennis match as the king of the North and the king of the South go back and forth over multiple generations attacking each other. The messenger clearly states at the beginning of the vision that the Persian government will fall to the kingdom of Greece. This is a reiteration of the claim in the visions from chapter seven and eight, that the ruler of Greece will fall at the height of his power and the kingdom will be divided into four inferior kingdoms.

From there the vision describes what most scholars believe to be the Seleucid kingdom which fought the Ptolemaic kingdom over the course of a couple hundred years. The Torah Class website has an interesting, point-by-point historical account of how each prophetic clue corresponds to the historical event. Please note that no one can say for sure how God intended or intends to fulfill his prophecies with complete accuracy, so continue to humbly seek God’s guidance here.

At some point in chapter 11 of Daniel, this vision transitions from what has already been fulfilled in history to what yet remains for our future. Many scholars believe that Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who rose up from the Seleucid kingdom, fulfilled the description of the king in Daniel 11:21, and that the king described beginning in Daniel 11:36 is the Antichrist that is still yet to come. I’ll talk more about the remainder of the vision in the lesson next week.

WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM GOD?

So often when we come to scripture like this, we approach it in terms of trying to determine how these things will play out, like God gave us these prophecies so that we could and should figure it out, then chart our course accordingly. Maybe we can plan our 401K investments better, however this approach stands in stark contradiction to the character of God, who once spoke to my heart when I was desperately searching his plans for my future,

I don’t give you all the details of the future so that you won’t miss being with me now.

God is the revealer of all mysteries and the donor of all wisdom. When searching and studying scripture as complicated and confusing as the last three chapters of Daniel, we should fall at the feet of our Lord for understanding. When Daniel was hurting and confused, he turned to God, and the prophetic vision was but one aspect of God’s response to Daniel’s petition. What can we expect from our God when we fall at his feet?

Expect him to address your fears

The men who were with Daniel were terrified and ran away and left him alone. Daniel’s strength left him, he grew deathly pale, and finally fainted. Fear is a legitimate feeling and one that cannot be completely eliminated, but it is also an irrational tool used by a conniving enemy to cloud our judgment and block our connection to God.

God knows this, and he wants to reassure us that we do not need to be afraid. Twice he told Daniel not to be afraid. (Daniel 10:12,19) Expect him to address the voice of fear with his voice of love.

Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. (1 John 4:18 NLT)

Expect him to affirm his love

God is love, and every other character quality ascribed to God is congruent with and pours forth from love. Twice Daniel is affirmed in love.

Daniel, you are very precious to God…(Daniel 10:11 NLT)

Expect to hear those words spoken to your heart on a regular basis. I pray you hear them today.

Expect him to provide strength and encouragement

When thoughts of giving up, feeling too weak to continue, and considerations of an easier, less-formidable path present themselves, expect God to lift you up and have you stand. Expect him to tell you to be strong and to trust him.

This man in the vision touched Daniel three times. First he touched him and lifted him up, then he touched his lips so that he could speak, and he touched Daniel again so he could feel his strength returning. (Daniel 10:10,16,18)

‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said, ‘for you are very precious to God. Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong!’

As he spoke these words to me, I suddenly felt stronger and said to him, ‘Please speak to me, my lord, for you have strengthened me.’ (Daniel 10:19 NLT)

Expect him to reveal truth

After your fears have subsided, his love affirmed, and your strength begins to return, expect a word of truth. When God reveals himself and any aspect of truth, it will be for the purpose of growth. Truth opens the door for greater intimacy with God, which will ultimately brighten his light within you so that the world might also know him. Truth and its effects are multi-faceted and far-reaching, and know that when you ask for understanding, God wishes to bestow it.

Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer. (Daniel 10:12b NLT)

WE LONG TO BE WITH GOD

God’s initiative with Daniel in chapter 10, and also with us, is so that we will draw close to him in all things. In his letter to the Romans, Paul talks about this deep craving we have for the promise of a new creation.

And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. (Romans 8:23 NLT)

Prophecy stirs within me “groans,” and like the anticipation that comes with Christmas, I anxiously anticipate the coming of my Savior. This is the real revelation of prophecy. It reveals my longing for Jesus himself.  Prophecy should lead us into righteous and effective prayer for understanding. It should lead each of us to seek his presence in the present, rather than leave us obsessed with an ambiguous future. It should lead us to experience a foretaste of that future glory through the Holy Spirit today.

Trigger A Command From Heaven: DANIEL 9

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“We simply don’t have the luxury of playing nice with prayer. Not if we want things to change. Not if we want to be free – from whatever’s keeping us held down and held back.” (Shirer, Priscilla. Fervent. p 3)

How many of us can say with confidence that we know, understand, AND practice fervent prayer?  I’ve learned  a lot about prayer in recent years. I understand it because I’ve experienced deep, committed prayer with wise and dedicated women who have crossed my path. I’ve seen the results first-hand.  But even now I still struggle to maintain a consistent practice of it.

I know…really know…the power of prayer and its ability to usher in God’s powerful presence, so why in the world would I let it drop? Satan. I don’t like giving his name much airtime, but let’s call a spade a spade. Prayer is the single most effective offensive weapon we have in our arsenal, and he knows it. Divide and conquer. Separate the believer from her power source. Stop her from praying.

DANIEL 9

We find Daniel in chapter nine reading God’s word as spoken to Jeremiah, meditating on it, when the Spirit of conviction and revelation comes upon him and drives him to his knees. The revelation: Judah’s captivity in Babylon would last a numbered 70 years, and they were very close to completing that timeline. The conviction: Judah abandoned God, refused to listen to any of the prophets, and deserved every part of their punishment. A man dedicated to prayer already, it’s not surprising that he would pray again. And not just pray, but he fasted with burlap and ashes.

You don’t even get the sense that Daniel has really finished praying, that he’s been going at it all day, when Gabriel shows up at the time of the evening sacrifice. He’s there because a command was given in heaven. Wow. That’s powerful.

Daniel, I have come here to give you insight and understanding. The moment you began praying a command was given. And now I am here to tell you what it was, for you are very precious to God. Listen carefully so that you can understand the meaning of your vision. (Daniel 9:23 NLT)

Gabriel then lays out a timeline of sorts for all the events described in his visions earlier. These 70 weeks, as described in many of the Bible translations and versions, or 70 sets of 7 in others, seems to equate to years. In other words, there will be 70 sets of seven years for the time of rebellion to come to an end. These specifications have been useful for many spirited debates among scholars and theologians throughout the years, but we can be assured arguments between believers are not what God intended here. Seek what God wants you to see.

FERVENT PRAYER

Here’s what I see in this text. I see the bulk of it focused on prayer, and I see Daniel’s prayer as not only a prayer of repentance, but one of restoration. He wants to see Israel return to the Promised Land and be fully restored as a nation. His prayer that day resulted in an immediate command from heaven, releasing a revelation. God revealed many more details of his plan for the Jews. Israel would return, rebuild, and prepare the way for Messiah.

A period of seventy sets of seven has been decreed for your people and your holy city to finish their rebellion, to put an end to their sin, to atone for their guilt, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to confirm the prophetic vision, and to anoint the Most Holy Place. (Daniel 9:24 NLT)

Could Daniel have fully appreciated how expansive God’s plan for redemption really was? Daniel’s prayer claimed the very fiber of God’s heart and will for redemption, and God acted upon it immediately. God’s answer to that prayer went well beyond restoration for Israel and offered redemption for the entire world.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. (Ephesians 3:20 NLT)

When we pray in God’s will, when we boldly claim the Word of God and allow it to penetrate the deep recesses of our heart, heaven responds. Let’s begin to unpack this with a question: What does it really mean to pray in God’s will?

JUST DO IT

First, I believe there is no inherently wrong way to pray. I don’t think God is sitting up in heaven, judging our prayers by how we talk to him, or in what order we present things to him, did we include our thanks and praise before our petitions?  He just wants us to come to him. He wants us to enjoy his presence. Biblical instruction that talks about prayer and thanksgiving are not rules so that we might appease God, but rather guidance to prepare us to be with him.

For all three of my children I began a practice of prayer after every round of discipline and correction when they were little. As they got a little older, I would require each of them to pray it on their own. Of course I could tell when they were insincere just so they could be released from “time out,” but I didn’t mind. My hope was that the discipline of prayer itself would eventually spark sincerity in the future.

If you really don’t believe you’re actually talking to God, or that he even hears you, and your words become rote, insincere, hung in the atmosphere until all that’s left is the spittle from your breath, then start here, because one could argue that even these aren’t worthless and could lead to sincerity in the future. Just do it.

For many of us however, we’ve done the repetitive (and can I be honest? boring) prayers. We’ve saved them for our bedtime routine because they put us to sleep faster than anything else. Right? But I believe we’re ready for a change, to really step into game changing prayers like those of Daniel. We want to understand how to make his realities our realities. We want to move mountains into oceans and trigger commands in heaven.

WHAT IS NOT PRAYING IN GOD’S WILL

It is NOT giving up on the prayer before it’s even uttered…

So there’s this little section of scripture in the Apostle James’ letter that talks about the dangers of self-confidence.

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog- it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:14-15 NLT)

In this text James is warning about self-confidence and arrogance, not spirit confidence. There is a difference. Praying in God’s will is NOT praying from self, it’s praying in the Spirit. Have we unknowingly written-off our prayer as unanswerable, not going to happen, even before it’s fully left our lips?  Our heart leaves the prayer if we do, and then our heart then leaves God’s presence.  Kind of defeats the purpose of prayer.

Like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, “He’s probably not going to answer that one anyway. Probably not in his will.” James would not want us to pray like that, tagging on a hopeless, “if it’s your will, Lord,” to our prayers. He says later in chapter five to pray earnestly, lay hands, and anoint with oil. That’s not a hopeless sounding prayer to me.

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (James 5:16b NLT)

 (Add Righteousness to your prayers!)

It is NOT tagging God’s name to a list of prayers that look like good prayers for God’s will…

There are a lot of great, and lofty, and noble things that we can pray for and pursue. Much of which can be equally selfish if we haven’t received confirmation from God to pursue them. So much of the good things we’d like to see happen may not actually be in our best interest. I have been known to pray against a prayer request, because I sensed what they were asking was not what God had for them at that stage in life.

Much to my surprise, I had to learn this too when none of my dreams, plans, and prayer approvals were working out early on. I learned that God really doesn’t need me working out all the details to my plans and getting his prayer approval. He’s already got those details worked out. His big picture didn’t need my well-planned flow charts after all.

He is not impressed by the strength of a horse; he does not value the power of a man. The Lord values those who fear Him, those who put their hope in His faithful love. (Psalms 147:10-11 HCSB)

(Add fearing Him and hope in his faithful love to your prayers!)

WHAT IS PRAYING IN GOD’S WILL

It IS searching for, and understanding God’s will for your life…

During the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, learned from reading the word of the Lord, as revealed to Jeremiah the prophet, that Jerusalem must lie desolate for seventy years. (Daniel 9:2 NLT)

Daniel was studying the scriptures, deep in God’s word, and dare I say deep in worship. During this time in God’s word, he saw the promise of 70 years of captivity for Israel. Imagine the excitement to understand it was almost over and to claim God’s will.

The vast majority of God’s will and promises will be found in scripture. Meditating on the word of God in an effort to know him will reveal his will, and this is where bold prayers begin!

(Add reading God’s word to your prayers!)

It IS claiming God’s promises and the inherent authority therein for our lives and for others…

Daniel saw the promise and straightaway claims it fervently. He’s certainly not remiss in confessing the sins that brought about their captivity in the first place. And he includes himself.  Much of his prayer reflects it. Neglecting these opportunities to repent, weakens our stance and claims of promise.  Imagine if Daniel prayed for the promise of returning to Jerusalem, but minimized the wrongdoing.  When I see my kids do that, I see the need to extend their punishment.

But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. (Daniel 9:5 NLT)

Yet Daniel remains bold.

O our God, hear your servant’s prayer! Listen as I plead. For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your desolate sanctuary. (Daniel 9:15 NLT)

When we find a promise in God’s word, Paul refers to as our sword for battling Satan. (Eph 6:17) It cuts through all the lies he tells to keep us down and feeling defeated. Paul also tells us we’re already seated in the heavenlies (Eph 2:6) and that we are already strong in God’s mighty power (Eph 6:10). It means we can claim the authority of God’s power when praying his word. When we pray his will, God acts.

(Add promises and faithful confession and repentance to your prayers!)

It IS searching for an understanding of God’s bigger picture of redemption …

There are certainly nuances to God’s will that he may or may not make available. Our lack of knowledge shouldn’t resign us to pitiful prayers; we continue to boldly pray with what we know. That’s why we have the Holy Spirit.

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Sprit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. (Romans 8:26-27 NLT emphasis added)

When Gabriel came to Daniel to reveal the timeline for Messiah and the final rebellion, that was awesome and I’m thankful for that. Unfortunately, I end up with about 1,000 more questions than if I hadn’t read it in the first place. It’s really only a fragment of the full plan, and a rather confusing one at that.  Understanding how our prayers fit into God’s overall picture is admittedly overwhelming. Knowing this, God typically only reveals snippets of his big picture, because like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, we can’t always handle the truth.

So, like the CIA, God fills us in on a need-to-know basis. But not knowing everything still shouldn’t change our bold prayers. We’ve got big issues in our world. Murder, violence, people fleeing for their lives, terror threatening our way of life all over the world. We need to be bold in our prayers.

Based on the prophecies we read the last two weeks, it seems as though the world could get worse until the time of rebellion if finished. If that’s where we are right now, in a place where it will get worse before it gets better, how do we pray bold prayers in God’s will?  That’s a tough one. Ultimately only we can answer that for ourselves through the Holy Spirit, because he very likely has a unique prayer plan for each of us, as a Body working together.

(ask God to reveal your portion of the Big Picture so that you might effectively pray!)

PRAYERS THAT AREN’T NECESSARILY PROMISES

We’ve said that praying in God’s will means, in part, claiming God’s promises as Daniel did. We’ve also talked at length throughout the course of this study in Daniel, that we aren’t promised physical safety. We aren’t promised an easy life without persecution, in fact Jesus points out that the world will hate us for identifying with Him. Should we not then pray for safety and protection?

Even though these things are likely or maybe even guaranteed, it doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t pray against them. And it doesn’t mean that we aren’t praying in God’s will if we do. They are burdens, like any other, and Jesus wants to carry them. So pray, hand them over, and trust God, and God knows, it just might be his will.

There was a man named Jabez …. He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” And God granted him his request. (1 Chronicles 4:9-10 NLT)

Abide in Christ, stand firm in his Word, pray fervently with authority and boldness, trigger commands in Heaven!

SCRIPTURES TO CONSIDER

Prayers boldly focused on the Kingdom.

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. (Matthew 6:33 HCSB)

Prayers for his presence.

Being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Prayers for shelter and safety, however God may define that for us.

From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For You have been a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. (Psalms 61:2-4 NKJV)

Prayers for firmness and a steady faith.

I am at rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will never be shaken. (Psalms 62:1-2 HCSB)

Doomsday Prepper & Everyone Else: DANIEL 7-8

Photostock Daniel

Daniel 7-8

Daniel saw things. Things that were so disturbing it made him sick to his stomach. Things of evil and terror that keeps one awake at night.

I, Daniel, was terrified by my thoughts and my face was pale with fear, but I kept these things to myself. (Daniel 7:28b NLT)

Then I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for several days. Afterward I got up and performed my duties for the king, but I was greatly troubled by the vision and could not understand it. (Daniel 8:27 NLT)

This wasn’t the first glimpse into the future by Daniel, yet it dealt a heavier blow, leaving Daniel pale with terror. What made these visions so different? Well for one thing, they came with quite a bit more detail and explanation.  And another, they weren’t all rainbows and unicorns.  Chronologically these two visions came to Daniel in the first three years of Belshazzar’s reign, before chapter 5. It’s no wonder Daniel didn’t hesitate when reading the writing on the wall; these visions provided ample explanation… and then some.

What does one do with information like this? For Daniel, in that moment, he kept it to himself, not sharing until years later. Why did God reveal these future terrors to Daniel and then to the rest of us? What are we supposed to do with it? Are we doomed? Before we dive into the details of these two chapters, the question that must remain throughout all our study and discussion is this: how does this text fit into the puzzle of God’s redemptive story? Because, after all, his redemption is really the whole point.

WHAT DO THE SCHOLARS SAY?

Let’s begin with the vision in chapter seven. It begins with the winged lion coming out of the sea, followed by a devouring bear, followed by a 4-winged / 4-headed leopard, and finally followed by a fourth beast, more terrifying than the rest. This beast came with no physical description per se; except that it had huge, iron teeth, bronze claws, and ten horns. Then suddenly a small horn emerged, taking out three of the original ten horns to make room for it. This little horn claimed human eyes and a mouth and boasted arrogantly.

Now let’s jump to the vision in chapter eight. In this vision we see two animals portrayed: a two-horned ram and a one-horned goat. The goat fiercely attacks the ram, subduing it quickly. At the height of the goat’s power, its horn was broken and replaced by four horns pointing in all directions of the earth, until from one of those horns another small horn emerged with great power. This small horn challenged a heavenly authority, an angel or perhaps God himself, bringing desecration to the Temple of God.

By considering the vision from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in conjunction with the explanation of these two visions in chapters seven and eight, plus the annals of recorded history as we know it, scholars have pieced together a plausible interpretation. But let’s be clear, no one can say for sure exactly what the prophecy entails for our world. There are literally thousands of possible pathways for these prophecies to complete. The only the things we know for sure are the limited explanations  provided directly in scripture.

Four Succession Kingdoms

The four beasts in chapter seven seem to correlate strongly with the four major divisions of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, which Daniel explained at that time as representing dominant kingdoms. The angel speaking to Daniel in this week’s text confirmed the same meaning for these beasts.

These four huge beasts represent four kingdoms that will arise from the earth. (Daniel 7:17 NLT)

If the correlation between this vision and that of Nebuchadnezzar’s is indeed valid, then the winged lion would correlate to the head of gold in the statue, the devouring bear would correlate to the chest of silver, the four-headed leopard to the torso of bronze, and the fourth beast to the legs and feet of iron and iron/clay.

Daniel’s interpretation in chapter two confirms that the first earthly government is Babylon. The interpretation in chapter eight gives more clarity to the succeeding two governments. Gabriel explains that the two-horned ram represents the growing power of Media and Persia; a government ruled by two kings that eventually overthrew Babylon.

The 3rd Kingdom

Gabriel goes on to explain that Greece would follow, represented by the one horned goat coming out of the west. History tells us that Alexander the Great, the first king of the Greek Empire and infamous military leader, took the world by storm with incredible speed, subduing the Medes and the Persians and most of the known world.

The goat became very powerful. But at the height of his power, his large horn was broken off. In the large horn’s place grew four prominent horns pointing in the four directions of the earth. (Daniel 8:8 NLT)

Alexander soon died at 32 years of age (323 BC), the height of his success. His four generals (Cassander, Ptolemy, Antigonus, and Seleucus) assumed power by dividing the empire into four regions.

The four prominent horns that replaced the one large horn show that the Greek Empire will break into four kingdoms, but none as great as the first. (Daniel 8:22 NLT)

Daniel’s vision in chapter eight continues with a smaller horn rising up from one of the four horns on the goat, and pouring out great terror on the land of Israel (Dan 8:9). Most scholars believe that Antiochus Epiphanes (meaning “God Manifest” in Greek), who arose as the king from the region of Seleucid less than 150 years after the death of Alexander, was the fulfillment of this piece. Speaking of the smaller horn:

It even challenged the Commander of heaven’s army by canceling the daily sacrifices offered to him and by destroying his Temple.   (Daniel 8:11 NLT)

Known also as Antiochus Epimanes (the Mad) by those who crossed him, he certainly desecrated the Temple by erecting an idol of Zeus and offering sacrifices at the feet of an idol in his own image. Tradition has it that he sacrificed a pig (considered to be most unclean by Jews) and sprinkled its blood all over the Temple, essentially destroying it and its holiness.  Worshiping Yahweh and all Jewish rites were punished by death.

The 4th Kingdom

Chapter eight only discusses the two dominant kingdoms represented by the ram and the goat. They correlate to the bear and the leopard in the seventh chapter as well as by the silver chest and bronze torso in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. Chapter seven states there is a fourth kingdom prophesied to succeed the leopard (also the goat).

This fourth beast is the fourth world power that will rule the earth. It will be different from all the others. It will devour the whole world, trampling and crushing everything in its path. (Daniel 7:23 NLT)

The fourth beast is described as having ten horns, which represent ten kings who will rule this empire. The little horn that comes up is described as different from the other ten, and seems to solidify his power by subduing and eliminated three of those kings. (Dan 7:24) This king will also oppress the holy people by changing sacred festivals and laws, and placing them under his control.

There could be a possible correlation of these ten horns to the ten toes in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, but almost certainly a correlation with the beast’s ten horns described in the Book of Revelation.

Then I saw a beast rising up out of the sea. It had seven heads and ten horns, with ten crowns on its horns. And written on each head were names that blasphemed God. (Revelation 13:1 NLT)

Interestingly, this beast that John describes in Revelation looks like a leopard, with feet like a bear and a mouth like a lion. All three of the other beasts mentioned in chapter seven of Daniel. Most scholars believe that this fourth kingdom in chapter seven is describing the final rebellion before the return of Christ, and that the little horn with eyes and a mouth is the Antichrist. While the fourth kingdom in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue is believed to be Rome, the parallels with this fourth kingdom in chapter seven to those described in Revelation are striking.

Some believe that the little horn in chapter eight is also describing the final Antichrist rather than Antiochus, due to the similar description, but because the little horn in chapter eight appears to arise out of the third kingdom, not the fourth, most tend to rule that out. Regardless, Antiochus at the very least is a picture of what is to still yet to come in the final rebellion. We know that Antiochus didn’t fulfill the prediction of the Antichrist in the 4th kingdom because Jesus refers to Daniel’s prediction as yet a future warning (Matthew 24:15), and the Apostle John wrote his revelation over 200 years after Antiochus.

We could go into a great more detail in these prophecies and the connections to Revelation, but there simply isn’t time here. Overall, these prophecies concern the immediate kingdoms that followed Babylon, including the world power and final rebellion before Christ’s return. Back to our original question, what do we do with this and how does it fit into redemption?

WHAT DO WE SEE IN OUR WORLD TODAY?

It’s quite possible that some of you signed up to study the Book of Daniel this fall, eagerly anticipating these two chapters. You were aware of the prophecies contained herein, and you’ve been wondering if we are living in those end-days right now. You’ve hoped to have that answered today.

It’s quite possible some of you have dreaded these two chapters all season. You were aware of the prophecies contained herein, and you’ve wondered if it would erupt into sensationalized discussion, bouts of tears, arguments, and the stockpiling of canned goods.

When it comes to end times prophecies, it’s critical to maintain an appropriate balance of wary concern to disregard. An extreme focus either way could result in confusion and distraction from our primary goal to know Him and to be with Him.

Looking for Christ

I believe God places within his holy people a longing and desire for the Kingdom. Scripture says that there was awareness and anticipation for Messiah at the time Jesus was born. The people who sought the Lord knew of Daniel’s timeline prophecy in chapter nine, and the time was drawing very close. They were looking for him.

At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. (Luke 2:25 NLT)

Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple…She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem. (Luke 2: 36,38b NLT)

Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph. He was a member of the Jewish high council, but he had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders. He was from the town of Arimathea in Judea, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come. (Luke 23:50-51 NLT)

It’s appropriate to eagerly expect our Lord. He wants us to want him.  It’s okay to look around and wait for him, despite our inability to explain the longing. Jesus also warns us to be watchful and alert, always ready for his return at any moment.

“The day is coming when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about – the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing in the Holy Place.” Reader, pay attention! (Matthew 24:15 NLT)

Looking for Truth

Each believer in Jesus should honestly study prophecy for herself. Understand and consider what the scholars suggest, and then ask God what it is he wants you to see in the scripture. Look around your world, follow the news if you wish, and examine the signs if there are any. Then ask God what it is he wants you to see in the world.

In Daniel’s second vision he said “truth was overthrown” in those final days. In times of sinful rebellion, truth is always overthrown. It’s one of the reasons Jesus has handed down these prophecies, so that we night have a basis of truth for comparison. He tells us to be watchful and alert so that we aren’t deceived into ignoring the signs.

It isn’t wise to completely disregard any possibility for signs of the end times, but it probably isn’t appropriate to see end times prophecies in every news program, government official, or piece of burnt toast either. The danger of “seeing” end-times everywhere is a different kind of deception, which I’ll get back to.

WHAT ARE WE REALLY LOOKING FOR?

One critical part of this passage in that has yet to be discussed, is the piece that describes all that’s right in the world. Daniel sees the Ancient One who sits on his throne in a court that will pass judgment on evil. (Dan 7:9-10, 26) He tells of the authority of the Son of Man and his eternal rule.

Then the sovereignty, power, and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be given to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will last forever, and all rulers will serve and obey him. (Daniel 7:27 NLT)

Yes, be watchful and alert for signs of the end times, but what we’re really looking for is the Kingdom. Like I mentioned last week in chapter six, keep your eye on the angel rather than the hungry lion.

Scripture points clearly to a physical manifestation of a coming kingdom when Jesus returns.  The stuff of dreams.  Use caution, however, when searching for signs in our world. They can easily distract from the very real spiritual manifestation of the Kingdom occurring as we speak. If we keep our eyes pressed only toward the future, we often miss what’s offered right here, right now.

One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?”

Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” (Luke 17:20-21 NLT)

Wow. Digest that fully. Then put these prophecies into that perspective.

Numbered, Measured, and Divided: DANIEL 5

Photostock DanielDANIEL 5

Have you ever walked through a building famed for being haunted? If you have, can you remember the sense of trepidation as you moved? One of the buildings on my college campus was heavily rumored to house the ghost of the Cherokee wife to Texas hero General Sam Houston. One night I was working with a group of students to clean up after an event, and two of us were instructed to carry tables up the elevator into storage. When we arrived at the elevator it dinged and opened, almost as though it was awaiting our arrival and didn’t want us to unhandle our load to push the button. The really weird part was when the elevator did it again to go down – ding, no button. Just the mere suggestion of the paranormal had me scared to death. I couldn’t hear any suggestion that the elevator might have had an electrical surge of some sort.

FAILURE OF MAN

I can hardly imagine the fear of seeing a disembodied hand, writing on a wall in front of me. If you’ve been spooked before, then you might understand the fear King Belshazzar is recorded to have had. He was scared sober. Setting the stage for that evening, it is helpful to note that the entire city of Babylon was also likely celebrating and feasting, carousing and drinking, as was the king. The Medes and Persians were outside the walls, probably known to the king, but he wasn’t worried. The city was impenetrable.

According to Herodotus, a Greek historian, the city was surrounded by at least two rows of formidable walls over 300 feet high and 80 feet thick and were anchored about 35 feet below ground. Archeological excavations dispute some of his exact findings, but nonetheless, these walls were huge. The people weren’t worried. In fact, if the enemy laid siege to the city, there was enough supply within the walls that the people could withstand it for at least 20 years.

So the party continued, and apparently the watchmen never noticed the enemy infiltrating the city through the water canals. Cyrus had diverted the flow of the Euphrates, lowering the water, allowing access inside the walls. The Persians mixed and mingled with the Babylonians until it was time to strike. This leads us into chapter five of Daniel.

The writing on the wall appeared shortly after Belshazzar brought up the holy articles from the Temple at Jerusalem to be used in praise to his pagan gods. A deliberate blow to the sanctity and sovereignty of God. This kind of mockery hardly ever turns out good, and Belshazzar was no exception. Yet again, Daniel was brought to interpret the message when the other magicians failed to do so. The inscription contained common Aramaic terms for currency, but terribly out of context, so know one understood. Daniel explained.

This is the message that was written: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. This is what these words mean:

Mene means “numbered” – God has numbered the days of your reign and has brought it to an end.

Tekel means “weighed” – you have been weighed on the balances and have not measured up.

Parsin means “divided” – your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians. (Daniel 5:25-28 NLT)

The enemy could have already been at the door of the palace by this point, because the king was killed that night and the city entirely overrun.

THE REAL MEANING

I could easily make this a message about the dangers of a life without the one, true God, and it would be worthy. I could make it about pride, but that might as well be a repeat from last week. I could also talk about what happens when nations and their leaders refuse to honor and follow God, and it would be timely. But I want to talk about something that’s not exactly obvious.

I see a picture of Christ embedded in this passage of scripture. In fact, Messiah is all through the book of Daniel. Not coincidence. As I mentioned in the very first lesson, Israel was taken into the pattern of captivity once again (reminiscent of Egypt), exiled into Babylon. This time it will lead them not only into the Wilderness of Preparation and then the Promised Land, but into the ultimate Promised Land made manifest in the promised Messiah. So why wouldn’t pictures of Christ be dropped continuously throughout their time of captivity? God is laying it out so that all will see and receive Messiah, the ultimate solution to captivity.

MENE

Starting with the first word in the mysterious inscription, I see foreshadowing. Mene – meaning “numbered” – referred to Belshazzar and the fact that the days of his reign were numbered. His days, our days, all the days are numbered. God is in control over everything in this world. Even the hairs on our head are numbered. (Mt 10:30) Nothing escapes God.

When Jesus ministered here on Earth he mentioned several times that his own days were numbered. One day Mary, one of the followers of Jesus, poured an expensive perfume on Jesus and she was criticized for the waste. Jesus responded.

Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me. You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me. (Mark 14:6-7 NLT emphasis added)

Jesus also talked about the days until his final return, that they were numbered as well. We don’t know the exact day and time of his return, but you can be sure it is numbered!

When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. This is the way it will be when the Son of man comes…You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected. (Matthew 24:37-44 NLT)

Doesn’t that description sound a lot like the last night of Belshazzar’s reign? There truly is nothing new under the sun.

TEKEL

Tekel – meaning “measured” – demonstrates God as judge and assessor. Only he can truly judge a man’s heart and he found Belshazzar to be wanting, incomplete. If we sneak a peek into chapter six where we find Daniel in the lion’s den, he says something very interesting. The next morning Daniel is found alive and he says,

My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths’ so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight. (Daniel 6:22 NLT)

Daniel was measured and found innocent, complete.   Even when his adversaries tried to find fault in him, he measured up. The contrast here between Daniel and Belshazzar is a picture and foreshadowing of Christ. Christ was also measured and found complete, perfect and blameless, despite his adversaries’ attempts to trap him.

Jesus says that when he returns, the world will be measured. To illustrate he tells the parable of the loaned money where a man gives money to each of his three servants according to their abilities. He leaves town and by the time he returns the first two servants are able to demonstrate the profits made from their investments. The third did nothing with the money and instead buried it with no profit. The man was angry and judged the servant.

You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it. (Matthew 25:26-27 NLT)

When Belshazzar is measured, it stands as a sign of Christ and the fate of the world. We will all be measured. Only those in Christ will be found complete.

PARSIN

Parsin – meaning “divided” – represents the outcome for Belshazzar’s judgment. His kingdom would be divided, taken from him, and given to another. As you might guess, there’s foreshadowing here too on a number of levels.

First, Christ, himself was physically broken and divided when he was crucified. He was divided from God, separated from the Father’s presence, in hell for three days. His clothes were also literally divided.

Second, like Belshazzar’s kingdom, Jesus tells the religious leaders that the Kingdom of God will be taken from them and given to another. He quotes the Psalms that they would have no doubt known intimately.

“The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see.”

I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on. (Matthew 21:42b-44 NLT)

Can you see the concept of division throughout this statement?

Third, we see holy divided from unholy. In the parable of the loaned money that I referenced earlier, once the three servants were measured they were then divided.

Then he ordered, “Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:28-30 NLT)

Divided. In the parable of the bridesmaids, five were ready with extra oil to fill their lamps, waiting for their master to return. Five were foolish and did not have enough. When the master arrived in the middle of the night, the five foolish maids had to go in search of oil and in that time the doors to the banquet were closed and they could not enter. Measured and divided. This illustrates what will happen when Jesus returns again. The nations will be judged and divided.

But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Matthew 25:31-32 NLT)

SO WHAT, NOW WHAT?

If we were to end the story here, without the benefit of the rest of the Book of Daniel, as well as all the New Covenant writings, this could be a pretty bleak look at the future. Sure there will be a sizeable group of people who will reject Jesus and find themselves separated.  This is truth. There’s no way around it, and it certainly is upsetting. But God does not end his story with division. No way. It ends with reunion for all who follow him.

Beginning with the crucifixion, when Jesus was divided and separated from God, he didn’t remain in hell. It says that after three days, he took captivity captive and reunited with the Father. (Eph 4:8-9) Even though the Kingdom of God was taken from Israel and given to the Gentiles, doesn’t mean it will remain that way. The Kingdom will not be complete until Israel unites with the Church. (Rom 11:25-27) When Jesus said, “Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone if falls on,” (Mt 21:44), he is referring to himself, and is exactly like the rock in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream from chapter two when it crushes the statue. The image in the dream doesn’t end with the statue laying in pieces. It ends with the rock, growing into a mountain that covers the world. It’s a picture of reunification for all the redeemed.

The unity of which I speak comes from and through Christ. It is not man made. Why didn’t the statue come back together in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream to symbolize reunification? Because the statue symbolizes the period of Man, corruptible and temporal. The rock that turns into a mountain however, symbolizes the end of the age of man, (or the period of the Gentiles (Lk 21:24)) and the dawn of the Kingdom, the period of Christ, incorruptible and eternal.

BE ALERT BE READY

It’s easy to worry about the sin and general corrosion of the world around us. But I don’t see any scripture to validate worry. Why worry when it is exactly the brokenness and division that has always been displayed and prophesied throughout time? Jesus didn’t say be worried and scared, he said to be alert and ready.

I guarantee that was Daniel’s approach to life in Babylon. Although he may have thought a time or two, “I’m too old for this!” it wasn’t what defined his life. We will see soon enough in chapter six, that even as a spry 83 year old, Daniel was open to connecting to the new government, the new generation, the new ways of the Persians, all for the glory of God.

So don’t worry about the evil we see in the generation coming of age. Evil will surround us and grow. It’s the way of it. But this evil is not an equal counterpart to God. God wields evil for his purpose even as he uses holiness. Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus said,

“Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came! Father, bring glory to your name.”

Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying “I have already brought glory to my name, and I will do so again.” (John 12:27-28 NLT)

God was glorified through an epic act of evil, the killing of God’s son, because Satan was cast out and reunification accomplished. Two pagan kings in Daniel sang praises to God multiple times. Even now, God will use us and all that surrounds to bring glory to his name.  God will do so again.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:9-11 NLT)

I hope you’re just as excited as I to keep moving forward into purpose!

 

Pride Comes Before a Fall: Daniel 4

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DANIEL 4

At twelve years old, I was a shy and terribly insecure seventh grader. I played the flute in the band and in many ways music was my saving grace. I excelled in music and felt confident where otherwise my life was typified by fear. Like many in that stage of life, I succumbed to all the perceived pressures that ghastly junior high halls have to offer.  But, suddenly band became un-cool at some point in the seventh grade. I wanted so desperately to create and maintain an image among my peers and I concluded that band would hinder that. I wanted to sneak my way through it until I could fade it out.

At the end of the year, I was close. We had our annual award ceremony and band party at a local pizza place. In the back of the room I quietly ate my pizza when I heard it. My name. I was awarded the most outstanding 7th grade band student award. Horrors flooded over me. “Now I’m the most outstanding band geek in the seventh grade!” Was I that un-cool that I managed to be the best at it? My first instinct was to slide under the table and hide. I wish I could say I humbly walked up to receive my award, but I didn’t. I hid under the table until the ceremony was over and I crawled out of the room on my hands and knees. Yes I did.

The worst part of the story (and it gets worse), the Band Director caught me as I was crawling out, and handed the award to me, still on my knees. I can still remember the disappointment on his face. I didn’t factor his feelings at all. My fellow band students walked out laughing and calling me, band geek. All my efforts to prop myself up still landed me in a pitiful pile of humiliation. A painful lesson on pride.

PRIDE COMES BEFORE A FALL

Thank God my lesson was not as bad as King Nebuchadnezzar’s in chapter four of Daniel. If you remember the dream God gave the king in chapter two, Daniel told him, “God wants you to understand what was in your heart.” (Daniel 2:30). King Neb gets another dream, and it too is so that he will understand what’s in his heart. A terrible case of pride.

Daniel warns the king to change his ways so that he can avoid this fate.

“King Nebuchadnezzar, please accept my advice. Stop sinning and do what is right. Break from your wicked past and be merciful to the poor. Perhaps then you will continue to prosper.” (Daniel 4:27 NLT)

Old habits die hard. One year later the king walks out to gaze upon his kingdom and his fortune.

“As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.” (Daniel 4:30 NLT)

Before the words finished coming out of his mouth, scripture says his fate was fulfilled. Turned cray cray, he began acting like an animal, and was driven into the wilderness. For seven years he ate grass like a cow and lived outside, a bona fide circus sideshow.

After this time had passed, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven. My sanity returned, and I praised and worshiped the Most High and honored the one who lives forever. (Daniel 4:34 NLT)

I like to believe that what we see here is a permanent life change for the man. A pagan, self-centered, egomaniac turned humble, God lover. A life so changed that the entire kingdom is left stunned and amazed. We aren’t given too many details of Nebuchadnezzar’s life after this event, so it’s possible that his forgetful hard heart forgot this too.

More importantly, however, what stands out to me is that even after the king’s long history of forgetfulness, it seems that God is not content to leave him captive to his own devices. We have talked a lot about captivity in this study series, and how the pattern of God’s will is to release us from captivity.

Have you ever identified an area of captivity in your life that you just couldn’t quite seem to escape? Maybe you prayed over it repeatedly, yet continued to find yourself back in that destructive place. Maybe it felt like an addiction. Maybe it’s food, shopping, arguing. Maybe you asked yourself, “Can I really trust God to release me from this?”  Because this whole chapter embodies prideful redemption, I think it’s worth our while to dig deeper into the subject of pride.

BELIEFS

Let’s take a look again at Nebuchadnezzar’s pattern:

  1. Chapter 2: He saw first-hand the miraculous revelation of his dream. He acknowledged God and his supremacy, and eventually disregarded it.
  2. Chapter 3: He saw first-hand the miraculous salvation of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Again, he acknowledged God and disregarded it.
  3. Chapter 4: He was given another dream of the future and by calling Daniel to help, he acknowledged God in Daniel, again he disregarded it.
  4. Chapter 4: The dream was fulfilled and the king was humbled in the exact way that was predicted, and the king finally acknowledged God for real.

This is a classic case of failing to turn what we know to be true into what we believe to be true. In other words, turning head knowledge into heart knowledge. This lack of understanding in the heart is exactly what we’ve been talking about for the last couple of weeks. These gaps in our heart are often hidden in hardness until God reveals them to us. Depending on how hard that part of our heart remains, it might take multiple attempts and humiliating circumstances before we are able to see it. That, my friends, is pride. No way around it. So much of what we cannot see is simply and tightly wrapped in pride.

SATAN’S AMMUNITION

I’m sorry to say, no one is immune to pride. Perhaps we’re not nearly as bad as King Nebuchadnezzar or those dastardly Pharisees, or maybe we’ve learned to conceal it better than they, but it’s there, lurking in the darkness. Why is pride so difficult to detect? Well, I believe on some level we don’t really want to find it. We’ve come to accept it as part of our being and we’ve come to believe it protects and shields us from further pain.

We really are quite delicate, fragile beings, vulnerable to demonic wiles when suffering strikes. And boy does Satan know how to turn any bad situation into an opportunity to deceive us. This is what Jesus says of Satan,

He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44 NIV)

In my own life, I heard the lies and the half-truths that were thrown my way. And I believed them, because in my pain and vulnerable state at the time, I wanted to believe them. On some level I thought it kept me safe from any more pain and allowed me fester in my anger, which really feels great at first. I know you’ve been there too.

That first half-truth standing before me was a tiny hurdle, easily jumped, however each lie that followed was progressive until I was believing lies that I would have immediately rejected had they been presented to me first.

There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. (Proverbs 14:12 NLT)

FALSE BELIEFS

Let’s talk about false beliefs that lead us down that path. There are more than a million ways Satan can and will lie to you, and if followed, they will eventually lead you down a path to believing that God cannot be trusted. If you’ve claimed Jesus as your savior, Satan knows he can’t keep you from eternity, but he will count it as success if he can keep you from trusting God and keep you from escaping captivity. Let’s explore three common false beliefs, woven into pride that can creep into our mantra.

#1 This Is Just The Way I Am…

Tell me haven’t heard this from someone. Now tell me you haven’t said it, or at least thought it. True, there are things about us that no doubt comprise our personality and mark us as unique. However, these are things will typically look like gifts and assets rather than detriments and character flaws. My point isn’t to get nit picky here, but to draw out common, reflexive thoughts, that flash through our minds when we face a negative repeated pattern. Pride says we don’t need to change, that’s just the way we are.

After Nebuchadnezzar’s repeated disregard for God’s supremacy, he may have easily determined it’s because he’s just not a very spiritual person. Maybe he said, “I’ve tried to follow the Most High God, but it doesn’t really work for me. This is just the way I am.” This belief can be stated defensively, to justify the character flaw, or it could be stated with resignation, because all hope feels lost that change is even possible. I’m guilty of saying both actually.

This week I came across the scripture where Jesus tells his disciples a story about an unjust judge who “neither feared God nor cared about people.” A widow came seeking justice and didn’t receive it. She never gave up and finally received justice because the judge was so annoyed with her.

Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! (Luke 18:7-8a NLT)

It’s a lie that you have to live in captivity because it’s just the way you are. Take hope. God hears you when you cry out and he will render justice. If anyone deserved to be written off and left, it was Nebuchadnezzar.  But God didn’t do that.  He loves you. He won’t leave you there.

#2 It’s Not Me, It’s Them…

One of the telltale signs of pride is the tendency to exalt self over others, and that includes displacing blame onto others. Of course, it’s a protection mechanism, because no one likes to be blamed, but it’s also a subtle indication that there’s a belief God cannot be trusted for the exact protection you desire.

Nebuchadnezzar displayed this behavior when he hauled Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego before him. He couldn’t admit that he had crossed the line with his mandate and not only affronted the people but the Most High God, and instead blamed the three men.

I will give you one more chance to bow down…But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power? (Daniel 3:15 NLT)

Exalting self is not in the character of the Kingdom of God. Anywhere. If this false belief, it’s not me, flashes through your mind, check yourself.

For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Luke 18:14b NLT)

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28 NLT)

The most challenging part to this false belief arises when others are indeed responsible for the pain that brought about the pride in the first place. It’s so critical to separate blame for the pain and blame for the flaw that needs to change. It’s pride that prevents the distinction.

#3 I’ve Gotten Myself This Far…

Is this never so apparent as when Nebuchadnezzar steps up to gaze upon the city of Babylon? “By my own mighty power,” he says, even after he admitted that God was the Lord over kings back in chapter two. The downside to success is the lie that follows, saying you accomplished it by your own strength, and Nebuchadnezzar held firm to this false belief, I’ve gotten myself this far.

The false belief in the power of your own strength will always lead to a distrust in God’s strength. An unwavering trust in self is pride. A rich, young ruler approached Jesus one day, inquiring into eternal life. This man claimed to have obeyed all the commandments, but Jesus knew where his treasure was, in his possessions. So he challenged the man to give up his possessions and follow. The man couldn’t do it. He trusted in his own strength more than God’s.

“Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God. In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” (Mark 10:24-27 NLT)

Stop believing the lies. We don’t have to resign ourselves to captivity, God saves. We don’t have to rely on others to make our freedom possible, God saves. We don’t have to white knuckle our way out, God saves.   We just need allow God to save us.

As we reflect on that nagging, destructive behavior that follows us around like a stray puppy, is it possible God has been attempting to reach out? Will we trust God with the process of redemption? Will we allow him to humble us? If the Lord has revealed something, anything, to you right now, I pray that you will earnestly consider what he’s laying before you. Don’t be surprised or frustrated if there’s not a quick fix. Pride is often tangled in layers upon layers of pain and anger and fear, but trust the process, trust God’s strength, trust God.

Even If He Doesn’t…DANIEL 3

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DANIEL 3

Just this week I read a report of three young men in the Middle East (Iraq) who were thrown into a fire by extremists when they refused to denounce their faith in God and convert their religion. These are the kinds of headlines that are sadly becoming commonplace today. This particular report, however, actually took place nearly 2,500 years ago. It’s the event recorded in Daniel chapter three.

I believe King Nebuchadnezzar became obsessed with his dream described in chapter two. Being the narcissist that he was, he fell in love with the idea that he represented the gold head of the statue, “king of kings” according to Daniel, unopposed ruler. He then builds a 90-foot statue, covered in gold, and insists on celebrating it with all. Not just celebrating it, but worshiping it. So everyone turns out to bow down to this monstrosity.

Everyone, that is, except Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Maybe there were others who declined, but it was difficult for these three to go unnoticed. They held prominent positions in the government and were probably envied by more than a few. Those looking to make entrance into the good graces of the king would see their refusal as a perfect opportunity, and that’s how the story goes.

King Nebuchadnezzar flies into a rage when he learns of their defiance and orders the fiery furnace to be heated seven times hotter. His face even contorts with rage. These young men seem so strong and confident that I am amazed at their response to this intimidating man.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18 NLT)

They’re immediately bound and thrown in the fire and indeed, God saved them from harm. He’s even present with them in the furnace because everyone could see four figures walking around in the furnace. When the three men exit the fire without a scar or singe on them (they don’t even smell like smoke), there’s no explanation for it, except that it’s a miracle of God, and the king knows it.

STAND FIRM

Without a doubt this was one of my favorite Bible stories as a kid, and the message I took home: remain strong in faith and God will protect you. It’s a great message for a kid in the U.S. who tries avoid the dangers of peer pressure and who still remains largely protected in this land of liberty. But there are people today who remain firm, refuse to denounce their faith in Christ and… they die for it. Unprotected. Martyred. What does this say about God and about our faith?

First of all, it should be noted that these young men didn’t suddenly muster up the right amount of faith to nobly walk the path we now admire. It’s clear from the first two chapters that their faith had been building and growing and God prepared them for this moment. While God demonstrated his authority and power through these men, they didn’t turn to his miracles for the foundation of their faith. They relied on the unseen God himself.

But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up. (Daniel 3:18 NLT emphasis mine)

But even if he doesn’t…The Bible is full of dazzling displays of God’s saving power, but it is not devoid of the tales where this divine intervention seems startlingly absent. Not everything has a fairy tale ending. Today, I want to dig deeper into the substance of faith, how God uses miracles and signs to reveal himself, and our expectations from God as a result

THE MIRACLE

Miracles are inherently subjective, viewed and interpreted through the lens of the observer. You can look at my back yard during summer and see an unkempt space of wild grass and weeds. I on the other hand see wildflowers and a natural New Mexico landscape. You might experience God in a way that you see a miracle, while I might be skeptical and wary.

In his book entitled Miracles, Eric Metaxes writes:

If God is behind a miracle, and we can agree that that is ultimately what makes a miracle a miracle, then a large part of his performing the miracle has to do with communicating with the people who are observing or experiencing the miracle. So we can ask, if a miracle happens in the woods and there’s no one around to see it, is it a miracle? (Metaxes, Miracles, p.15)

The whole point of a miracle is not the miracle itself, but to whom the miracle is pointing, and to whom God is communicating through it. Why did God save Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in such a flamboyant way? It wasn’t for the oooh’s and aaaah’s that would no doubt follow. It was so that all who observed (and all who now read the story 2,500 years later) would desire to know this God.

If a miracle happens in the woods and there’s no one around to see it, it’s actually not a miracle. (Metaxes, Miracles, p.15)

As we look through the records of the Bible, I see some predominant, although not exclusive, patterns to when and how miracles are granted. One of which is this, faith in God precedes the miracle, not the other way around typically. For example:

During the ministry of Jesus, there was a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years without any relief or cure from doctors.

For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.” (Mark 5:28 NLT)

And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.” (Mark 5:34 NLT)

Or the gentile woman who requested that Jesus cast out the demon tormenting her daughter. Jesus told her that he was there for the Jews, the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.”

“Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed. (Matthew 15:21-28 NLT)

I could go on and on with examples like these. They were miraculously healed because their faith was enduring. Faith came first. Conversely we also see examples of Jesus withholding miracles, where otherwise he may have granted them, when he identified that the people had no faith. For example:

He returned to Nazareth, his hometown, during his ministry to teach. The people knew he was a carpenter’s son and that he had no formal training. Mark records that his people “refused to believe in him,” and that he was “amazed at their unbelief.” (Mark 6:3,6)

And so he did only a few miracles there because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:58 NLT)

The Pharisees are another example of miracles being withheld.  They were constantly trying to trap him into saying or doing something that they could use to arrest him. There was no faith in them.

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had arrived, they came and started to argue with him. Testing him, they demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority. When he heard this, he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why do these people keep demanding a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, I will not give this generation any such sign.” So he got back into the boat and left them…” (Mark 8:11-13 NLT)

Why do you think the miracles needed to follow their faith? Why doesn’t it seem instead that miracles inspire faith?

HARD HEARTEDNESS

If you recall in the previous lesson I centered in on the truth that God is the keeper of all secrets and thereby the revealer of all secrets. I went on to say that while each of us remains in captivity to pride and selfishness, we’re usually blind to those things that reside in our heart. We might see it in others, but we can’t see it in ourselves. It takes God’s revelation of those secrets deep within our heart to release us from that bondage.

Scripture will often refer to our heart as hardened while we are blind. Is it the blindness that makes the heart hard, or the hardened heart that renders us blind? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? While studying this week, I noticed several different kinds of hardened hearts that I’ll share with you today.

The Forgetful Hard Heart

Starting with Nebuchadnezzar, I see him having a forgetful hard heart. He is presented with God’s awesome power in chapter two after Daniel accomplished the task that he so impossibly set before him. When Daniel shared the dream and the interpretation, Nebuchadnezzar didn’t hesitate to acknowledge God’s supremacy.

The king said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is the greatest of gods, the Lord over kings, a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this secret.” (Daniel 2:47 NLT)

Yet in chapter three we find him building an idol and threatening to kill anyone who didn’t worship it, including those men aligned with Daniel and the Most High God he just praised. How could he forget?  As we move into chapter four next week, we will see this pattern continue. Does he have a learning disability? Or hard heart?

The Opportunist Hard Heart

The folks who fall into this category are motivated, not by faith, but by what they hope to gain from God. So many of the people who marveled at the miracles performed by Jesus, followed him because they wanted to be entertained. But when the rubber hit the road, they too, hit the road.

Shortly after the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 with only five loaves of bread and two fish, some of these same people followed Jesus across the lake and peppered him with questions. They wanted more miracles.

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking eternal life that the Son of Man can give you…” (John 6:26-27 NLT)

So focused on the things this world has to offer, and searching for opportunities to gain more, Jesus is telling them that they’re entirely missing the point.

The Prideful Hard Heart

Now this is a category that could probably technically include the previous two, due to its broad coverage. So much of our sin is rooted in pride. However, for my purposes today, I’m limiting the definition of pride mainly to those who insist they are always right, whose behavioral tendencies are argumentative, and to those who fear that others might threaten their status.

The Pharisees, during Jesus’ ministry, had prideful hard hearts. They found Jesus incredibly threatening and were determined to undermine him at every turn. They vilified his miracles by accusing him of breaking the law when he healed on the Sabbath. They attempted to debunk the legitimacy of his miracles by accusing his power as Satan’s. And their pride kept them from seeing God in these miracles.

The Ignorant Hard Heart

Lest we walk away today thinking that none of this applies to us because we, after all, love and follow God, bless our hearts, there is a hardened heart that affects even those of us who earnestly seek our Lord. As we pursue our Lord, our faith grows, which implies there’s space in our lives where our faith lacks. It’s within this space that a hardened heart holds potential. And it’s our attitude toward that potential, our humble acceptance of our imperfections, which will ultimately determine how long it remains hardened.

Allow me to explain with an example. After this same feeding of the 5,000, a miracle if there ever was one, the disciples got into a boat and sailed out onto the lake. While sailing, a terrible storm came upon them and they were in serious trouble. That’s when Jesus arrived; walking on the water and it scared them as much, if not more than the storm.

The he climbed into the boat, and the wind stopped. They were totally amazed, for they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in. (Mark 6:51-52 NLT)

A group of men who loved the Lord, earnestly followed him, but simply didn’t understand all that was in front of them. We know these men eventually came to an understanding, because they never stopped asking. They never stopped seeking. We have that same hope.

FAITH UNSEEN

I talked about the miracle, I talked about the hard heart that blinds us to the miracle, now let’s talk about the faith that precedes the miracle. Ever heard the phrase, seeing is believing? In reality, it should say, believing is seeing. Stay with me a minute.  Hebrews defines faith for us.

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 KJV)

This is why so many of the miracles that Jesus performed were granted after the profession of faith. Faith is not because of the miracle, but the miracle rather is the confirmation of the faith and God’s faithfulness. Faith is inherently based on things unseen, and ironically faith is also the gateway to those unseen secrets revealed. Believing is seeing.

Faith is not exactly what delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace. God delivered them. Faith is what led them to God over and over, day after day, when they couldn’t always “see” what God was doing, before they ever arrived at the furnace. Even if he doesn’t, they said. It didn’t affect their faith or their resolve.

Those people who wanted more miracles after the feeding of the 5,000, they were blinded to the miracle standing right in front of them.

They answered, “Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do? After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven. My Father did. And now he offers you the true bread from heaven. The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “give us that bread every day.”

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life…” (John 6:30-35a NLT)

Here’s the thing. You might be praying for a miracle in your life right now. You might be looking for a sign. How do you know that it’s not right in front of you? How can you gauge your faith in your circumstance?  Try to answer this.  Fill in the blanks with the burden that’s on your heart now:

Even if he doesn’t ______________, I will _______________.

There could be a miracle in front of you right now, but a hardened heart stands in the way. A heart that only an unseen faith can soften.  Don’t wait until you see it to believe him.

Unsolved Mysteryies: DANIEL 2:24-49

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DANIEL 2:24-49

Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power.  He controls the course of world events:he removes kings and sets up other kings.  He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars.  He reveals deep and mysterious things and knows what lies hidden in darkness, though he is surround by light.  (Daniel 2:20-22 NLT)

An impossible task: tell the king what he dreamed or die(and by the way he won’t even give you a hint).

An accomplished task: revealed by God, Daniel saw the dream and understood the interpretation.

God is the keeper and revealer of secrets.

ABOUT THE INFAMOUS DREAM

This dream was a prophecy of things to come. And at first glance, it seems to be the whole point of the passage. The dream contained an ominous statue, comprised of various materials and metals ranging from gold to clay. Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar that he and Babylon represented the head of gold. His was the strongest of kingdoms. It would however be overthrown and replaced with a subsequent, inferior kingdom represented by the arms and chest of silver. The pattern continues through the bronze torso, iron legs, and followed by feet and toes of iron mixed with clay. Daniel doesn’t say which kingdoms follow Babylon exactly, but he states that an eternal kingdom, established in heaven, will eventually crush them all. This was the meaning of the rock, cut from the mountain, which crushed the statue to bits and then grew into a mountain that covered the whole earth.

The vast majority of scholars agree the following kingdoms fulfilled this prophecy:

  • Babylonian Empire – Head of Gold
  • Medo-Persian Empire – Arms of Silver
  • Greek Empire – Torso of Bronze
  • Roman Empire – the Legs of Iron.

It was during the rule of the Roman Empire when Messiah arrived on the scene. He didn’t physically crush the “statue” at this time, but he did spiritually crush it by establishing the Kingdom of God through his crucifixion.

But if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you. (Matthew 12:28 NLT emphasis added)

We now have access to this Kingdom in our lives, and its dominion is far greater than any government ruling today. Everything we do will either contribute to things built in this world to eventually pass away, or contribute to things built in that world to stand forever.

Here’s where some scholars disagree on the prophecy. Some believe that this specific prophecy in Daniel has been fulfilled in total. Our commentary leans in that direction, suggesting that Rome constitutes both the legs of iron and the feet of iron and clay.

However, there are other scholars who believe the ten toes of iron and clay correspond to the ten horns described in Revelation 17:12-13. In Revelation, these horns are most commonly interpreted as the ten rulers who will rule with Antichrist for a brief period of time at the very end of days. This group of scholars also believes that the rock cut from the mountain, in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, not only spiritually destroyed the statue at the cross, but will also physically destroy the world kingdoms and establish Christ’s physical rule over the earth one day.

You can read the passages for yourself and pray for God to lead you in your convictions. Either of these interpretations could be true, although we can be sure only one is true. This is one of those things in prophecy that still remains mysterious.

It seems there is an ever-present apocalyptic spirit in the air today, with the massive number of post-apocalyptic movies and television shows, and Christian leaders who keep setting dates for the end. It’s always fascinating and intriguing to think about prophecy and how it might relate to the things we see in the world right now. And while there is most definitely a place for that, I want to be cautious how much energy we put into predicting the future, because the potential for spiritual distraction is great. Understanding what will unfold in the future is but one gleaning from this text in Daniel.

OUR UNDERSTANDING

I want to draw your attention to verse 30 where Daniel is telling the king that God had revealed the king’s secret.

And it is not because I am wiser than anyone else that I know the secret of your dream, but because God wants you to understand what was in your heart. (Daniel 2:30 NLT emphasis my own)

It’s strikes me that this text describes the interpretation of the dream, which is not insignificant, and that God does this because he wanted the king to understand what was in his heart as well as what would happen in the future. Anytime God reveals a mystery, it is for the purpose of our understanding. Why does God want any one of us to understand what is in our heart?

The pattern of God’s will for our lives always begins in our heart. The first week of this study I described the pattern of God’s will in our lives as: captivity -> preparation -> purpose. This week I want to discuss God’s revelations. He tends to reveal his secrets along the same pattern of his will. He reveals the secrets of our heart while we are in captivity, he reveals the secrets of heaven while we are in preparation, and he reveals the secrets of his plan while we are in our purpose.

REVELATIONS OF THE HEART

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV)

In the previous lesson, I mentioned this verse when I talked about the voice of our conscience/heart. The heart is deceitful because it is so easily influenced by the complexities of our surrounding culture and experience. What comes out of our heart depends wholly upon what goes into it. Whether in part, or in whole, if our heart is not given to Christ, we are in captivity.

I’ve been a Christian most of my life, and I’ve always taken pride on being introspective, looking at my own behavioral motivations, ensuring my heart was good. Then one day the Lord put a mirror in front of me. He revealed a few nasty things in my heart that I had NO IDEA existed. So what do we call it when we think our heart is fine, and it’s not? It’s still called captivity.

Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is! (Matthew 6:22-23 NLT)

Who can truly understand the heart? God completely understands our heart. He is in the business of healing our heart by providing the revelation of its darkness. He’ll show us the anger, the pain, and the fear nestled deep within the tissue, so that we might escape its bondage. God will show us, we then recognize it, confess it, so that he will carry the burden in our stead, thereby closing the door to the enemy. He then fills that darkness with light; no longer held captive.

REVELATIONS OF HEAVEN

Jesus almost always spoke in parables when he was teaching the masses. When his disciples would get confused, he would explain the symbolism. One day he said,

You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God… (Mark 4:11a NLT emphasis mine)

These parables, like all the symbolic rituals in the Old Testament, held pictures that revealed the truth of heaven, secrets of the Kingdom of God. When we enter the often-grueling period of preparation in the “wilderness,” if we respond to God’s plan by seeking to know Him, he will reveal great spiritual truths. Things that were once hidden will suddenly jump off the page. Until we exit captivity however, the truths of heaven are hidden.

But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. (I Corinthians 2:14 NLT)

For those of you who tend to dread the periods of life spent in the “wilderness,” I want to share the most exciting part about it:

For everything that is hidden will eventually be brought into the open, and every secret will be brought to light. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand…Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given – and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. (Mark 4:22-25 NLT emphasis mine)

Listen closely and your understanding will multiply! That means we’ve got to stop getting sucked into the distractions that stow away with us on our journey into the wilderness. We’ve got to slow down enough to listen. We can’t worry ourselves as non-believers do. (Mt 6:31) Trust God and His plan for you. Partner with Him and know Him.

REVELATIONS OF HIS PLAN

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him. (Isaiah 64:4 NLT)

And then we walk into our purpose, which is scary and intimidating and exhilarating all at the same time! At the beginning of our journey, we can’t even conceive what God plans to do, and that may be where you are right now. But know that he plans to equip you with revelations of your heart, revelations of heaven, all culminating into revelations of his movements. You’ll begin to see his hand in your community and around the world. You’ll start to see the role he has for you as he boldly asks you to step forward into his plan.

It’s exactly what we see at the end of this chapter when Daniel steps into the role God prepared for him in the king’s court. When I read Daniel’s praise in this chapter, I got the feeling that he’s almost breathless, because the Lord had just revealed his movements. Daniel could see his plans, his purpose, and he was participating in His awesome story.

And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it. (Matthew 11:12 NLT emphasis mine)

I just love the imagery of the Kingdom of Heaven forcefully advancing. Y’all, Jesus is coming back!  God’s movements are sure and definite. Like the rock cut from a mountain that grows into a mountain, covering the whole earth, he will continue to reveal his movements so that we might walk in step with His Spirit. Living out our purpose means that all our work will have eternal value and will stand forever.

I am confident that God has you here, because His plans include you. You are being prepared as you hear this to participate in the building of his eternal Kingdom, the great harvest, the preparation for His second coming.

CHILDLIKE

At that time Jesus prayed this prayer: “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way!” (Matthew 11:25 NLT)

Sadly, revelation doesn’t occur for everyone. Those who are predisposed against anything God might have to say, those who’ve already decided they’ve figured it out, they have closed their ears to the voice of God. But like a child is a sponge for knowledge and learning, if we too are open to learning, we are positioned to hear his voice.