Now Get Up and Go: DANIEL 11-12

Photostock Daniel

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.

Two Sides to the Same Coin: DANIEL 6

Photostock Daniel

DANIEL 6

Consider these three images.

images-1

imagesqpJ3epuCan you see more than one picture? Can you see the old woman and the young lady in the first?  Do you see the balding men in the other two and the village scenes?  Unless you can train your eye to go elsewhere, your mind often only perceives one expression of the image upon first look. If you can get your eye to identify the outline of the alternate image, you have a hope of seeing the whole. It works the same way with a magic show. Using slight-of-hand, the magician expertly persuades your eye into misdirection so that you cannot perceive the real act that is so often occurring right in front of you. This kind of trickery can be awfully convincing. Spiritual misdirection and illusion occur more frequently that you might imagine. That’s why I’ve entitled this lesson, “Two Sides to the Same Coin.”

THE PASSAGE

In the first part of the chapter we learn that Daniel has adjusted quite well to the incoming government of the Medes and Persians. In fact, King Darius, who has the utmost confidence in Daniel, has made plans to place him in authority over all of Babylon, which does not set well with the other ruling directors. They look intently into Daniel’s life to find any fault with which they can discredit Daniel in the hope of hindering his success. They find none, and without alternatives, they decide to conjure up a scenario to trap him.

These men suggested a new law to King Darius, appealing to his ego. The law stated that no one could pray to any other god or person, except to the King himself for 30 days, or suffer a night in the den of hungry lions. In those days Persian law signed into effect was irrevocable, and when Daniel became aware of it, what did he do? He sought God for help and guidance in the quiet of his room. He got on his knees and he prayed. Exactly what the men anticipated, and they immediately reported to the king.

It sounds very similar to King Nebuchadnezzar’s mandate in chapter three, but unlike Nebuchadnezzar, King Darius was very distraught over the news. I’m sure it never crossed his mind that these men were deceiving and misdirecting him. He spent all day trying to undo what the law had put into effect, but alas, there was nothing he could do. He had no alternative but to arrest Daniel and hope that God would save him.

Sure enough, Daniel’s life was intact come morning, and scripture states that when Daniel was lifted from the den there was not a scratch on him. Absolutely a miracle, because these lions were hungry. When I read this, I feel amazed that God chose to intervene on Daniel’s behalf. I feel relieved to see such a happy ending, but I immediately find myself asking the question, “Would God save me from the lions?”

I know there aren’t always happy endings, so can I trust God here? Awfully similar to the question we asked when we studied Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in chapter three. In that study we learned from these young men that even with the possibility of our circumstance ending in a worst-case-scenario, it doesn’t change the reality of our God nor our response to Him.

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 added)

This week I want to build upon that sentiment with what we see from Daniel.

APPEARANCE OF DEFEAT

I mentioned last week that pictures of Christ are embedded throughout the book of Daniel and chapter six is certainly no exception. Quickly, I’ll list the parallels from this passage of scripture.

  • Daniel lived a blameless life and his adversaries could find no fault. Christ lived a blameless life and his adversaries could find no fault.
  • Daniel was betrayed with a conjured offense. Christ was betrayed with a conjured offense.
  • Daniel was sent into a pit of lions for death. Christ was sent below, into hell, carrying death with him.
  • A stone with the king’s seal was placed to prevent Daniel’s escape. A stone with a seal was placed on the tomb of Jesus to keep anyone from stealing the body.
  • Daniel was lifted out of the pit of death into new life, unscathed. Christ was also lifted out of hell, resurrected into new life.
  • Daniel began as a lowly exile and rose to a position of ruling authority, second only to the king. Christ began as a lowly carpenter’s boy and rose to a position of ruling authority at the right hand of God.

In my study this week, I found that by comparing Daniel’s life to that of Jesus, it helps answer my question, “Will God save me from the lions?” in an unexpected way. I realized this was not the question for this text.  The question itself actually introduces misdirection. Allow me to explain by going back to the words of Jesus as he teaches the disciples shortly before his arrest.

I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me, but I will do what the Father requires of me so that the world will know that I love the Father. Come let’s be going. (John 14:30-31 NLT)

Think about his statement. When you read it, what stands out to you? If I’m honest, I noticed that my eye was subtly persuaded. As I read this statement, my eye was trained on “the ruler of this world approaches.” It occurred to me that when I ask the question, “Will God save me from the lions,” it’s because my eye betrays my fear.  My eye is focused on the lions. The truth is, the lions in the den only had the appearance of defeat. It’s misdirection. The enemy succeeds in his illusion if he can get our eye to move away from reality and onto the illusion he attempts to create. Because of the crucifixion, the ruler of this world only has the appearance of defeat.

John the Baptist

From the beginning of his life, while still in the womb, John’s purpose was clearly spelled out by heaven. John the Baptist would be raised as pious leader and would prepare the way of the Lord. His life was dedicated to ministry, and his ministry was dedicated to preaching repentance of sin, baptizing in water, and preparing an entire nation for Messiah. He immediately recognized that his purpose had been fulfilled when Jesus approached him in the Jordan River. John saw it with his own eyes when the dove descended upon Jesus and God’s voice confirmed it from heaven.

However, not long afterward, John was arrested and jailed for his public criticisms of King Herod’s sins. I’m sure he saw the writing on the wall while he was in jail, and he knew his life was approaching the end. John was eventually beheaded as a prize for Herod’s daughter.

Prior to his execution, the gospels tell us that John sent his disciples to find Jesus and confirm that he was indeed Messiah. Until now I’ve always seen this part of the narrative as a moment of doubt for John. Maybe the encroachment of death was overwhelming him with fear. But could it also have been an attempt to keep his eyes focused on God? I’m sure enemy forces were actively working to persuade his eye elsewhere, but could John have wanted confirmation of the truth he held deep to battle these forces? Did he doubt, or did he want to ensure his eye was focused on God? Two sides to the same coin, really, but that’s exactly the issue I’m raising.

Fear and faith are two sides to the same coin and it comes down to where we rest our gaze.

Stephen the Zealot

Stephen was among the first in the early church to be killed for his faith in Christ. He boldly spoke to the religious leaders about the truth of Christ and in so doing made his accusations against them quite clear. Furious, they responded with an immediate sentencing for stoning. Actually it was more like a knee-jerk reaction, and I can hardly imagine a worse way to die. But listen to the account of his experience right before his death.

The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!” (Acts 7:54-56 NLT)

At that they rushed him outside and stoned him. It’s clear to me where Stephen’s eye was focused in that moment. It could have been focused on the stones, but no, they were trained on the Son of Man. As a result he was empowered by the Holy Spirit to request that God not charge his accusers with this sin.

Jesus Christ

Before you jump to the thought that Jesus was perfect and could do anything, remember that he was fully human here. He left his glory in heaven to be fully human. The night of his arrest, Jesus went to Gethsemane to pray because he was deeply distressed.

He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

He went on a little farther and fell to the ground… “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Mark 14:34-36 NLT)

Scripture goes on to say that the disciples had fallen asleep while they were supposed to be keeping watch. Jesus returns to pray and again finds them asleep. He repeats this three times. Each time he returned to pray he repeated the prayer from above. The stress and fear was real. His eyes could have been focused on the cup, but he retrained them back to God the Father each and every time.

Daniel

Getting back to our passage we find Daniel in the lion’s den. Let’s look at his testimony when Darius greets him in the morning.

Daniel answered, “Long live the king! My God sent his angel to shut the lion’s mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight. And I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.” (Daniel 6:21-22 NLT)

No doubt Daniel had his eyes trained on the angel and not on the lions. So the question isn’t, “Will God save me from the lions?” it’s more like, “Will I see the angel God has sent?”

OVERCOMER

As we’ve studied Daniel now for eight weeks, you’ve probably asked yourself more than once, “Could I really stand firm as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? I hope I can, but I’m not sure.” There is a truth that undergirded their firm foundation, and it undergirds our faith as well.

When Jesus said, “I don’t have much more time to talk with you, for the ruler of this world approaches,” he was speaking of Satan as ruler of this world. Jesus also said,

“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b NLT)

The truth that undergirded Daniel’s faith and ours is out of this world! Literally. If we keep reading in John, Jesus’ prayer expands on this concept.

I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to this world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. (John 17:13-16 NLT emphasis added)

While the lions certainly are a part of this world, we are not. The lions only have the appearance of death, because our life is found above, in the eternal. Whether or not our circumstance plays out into a worst-case-scenario, God will be glorified and his presence with us will not be affected in the least. This is the essence of faith. Faith allows us to “see” the angels in every circumstance while fear tries to persuade our eyes toward the lions.

Fear and faith are two sides to the same coin and it comes down to where we rest our gaze. The Apostle Paul says it plainly.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweigh them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (II Corinthians 4:17-18 NLT)

Even If He Doesn’t…DANIEL 3

Photostock Daniel

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.