We Will See His Face

-There Will No Longer Be Any Curse

Some of the most exciting words in all of Scripture, for those who’ve accepted the Gospel & made Jesus their Savior, are found in the last book of the Bible, the Book of the Revelation:  “There will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His slaves will serve Him.  They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. Night will no longer exist, and people will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:3-5).  We will be in the very presence of God! And, He’s the reason heaven will be an incredible paradise! We will see His face, and His Name will be on our foreheads! That speaks of possession! We will be His! No longer will Satan be around to try and usurp “ownership” away from God! Oh, to be God’s possession forever!

-Have You Prepared Yourself?

So, I ask you, have you prepared yourself for that? Are you prepared for Jesus’ return? When you are, there’ll be changes happening in your life right here and right now! Looking for Jesus is what the Book of Revelation is all about! Back in chapter 1, in John the Apostle’s introduction:  “The one who reads this is blessed, and those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep what is written in it are blessed, because the time is near!” (1:3) That’s how John introduces this book; and Jesus repeats those words at the end of v.7, “Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” That phrase, “…to keep the words…”, means to consider them & to ponder them! To make personal applications 24/7. To “live” by them! To let them change your life!

-Enslaved To Jesus

In verses 6, and 9, we’re said to be enslaved to Jesus! To be in that place is to be in the best place we could ever hope to be! He bought us! He owns us! And, He is the benevolent, loving, gracious, merciful Sovereign over us! We could never provide for ourselves better than God can provide for us. I love how John puts it in 1 John, “…this is what love for God is: to keep His commands. Now His commands are not a burden.” I long to be enslaved to His word because I know His commands are best for me! I obey Him imperfectly in this life because of my flesh. I want to obey Him totally, completely! I prepare my heart every day to do that, in part, because I long for His return & my life’s goal is to hear Him say to me, “Well done! Good and faithful slave.”

-Preparing For Jesus’ Return

When you prepare yourself for Jesus’ return, there is no more logical decision that you can make.  John says, “Blessed are those who wash their robes…” in the blood of the lamb (22:14). That’s clearly what’s meant in the context of this book. And, that word “blessed” literally means to be “satisfied” or “happy.” Who doesn’t want a blessed, satisfied, happy life? That life belongs only to those who are obedient to His commands; to those who repent over their sin; who come to Him in “brokenness” asking Him to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Now, you’re no longer ignorant! You’ve been exposed to the truth of God’s word! You have a responsibility to respond to His Gospel message that Jesus saves! That’s the only life that is blessed & the only life that satisfies & makes you happy! When you disobey His word it will always leave you further broken in a greater sense of despair. It’s only logical that you would come to Jesus!

The Humility Of Christ

-We’re Usually So Full Of Ourselves!

For Jesus, to become a man was the most humbling experience God could ever endure! How foolish we are when we lift ourselves in pride as though we were really something! We won’t grasp how insignificant it is to be human unless we see ourselves as God’s image bearers! We are usually so full of ourselves; so self-centered & self-absorbed; and narcissistic, that we just don’t get the reality of our existence. Jesus’ humility, however, went way beyond lowering Himself to become a man! He died the most humiliating death ever devised to kill a criminal— Crucifixion! The pain was excruciating & the public shame beyond comprehension.

-Jesus Humiliated Himself To Serve Us!

It was especially true for this one, Who was God! For, He had created the very tree that was used to crucify Him. He humiliated Himself in order to serve us at our greatest point of need—we desperately needed a Savior because we could not possibly save ourselves! So, as we’ve talked about being Gospel lights over the last several posts, we will shine as we let God’s Holy Spirit change our attitude to the mind of Jesus Christ; even if that means humiliation in the service of others! And, church, that will only happen as we live in search of God’s approval! We will only shine as Gospel lights to our city as we seek the approval of God alone!

-We Were Created To Bring God Glory!

That was Jesus’ attitude—pleasing the Father! “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” Philippians 2:8. And, because of His obedience to the Father’s will, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vs.9-11). Edward Welch wrote a great little book titled “When People Are Big & God Is Small.” In it, he reflects on how broken & distorted is the image of God that we reflect because of our sin. We were created to bring HIM glory! We were designed with certain “needs” and “desires” that only God can fulfill. But, when we replace that “God-Shaped vacuum” in our life with the created things in this world, we take glory away from God & transfer it to that thing that becomes an idol! And, because of our sinful brokenness, it can be so easy to be caught up in idolatry; and not even be aware!

-We Need Jesus’ Attitude!

We need the attitude of Christ! Because He willingly left His throne in Heaven! Because He took the form of a slave! Because He lived His entire life here solely for our benefit! Because He stopped & lowered Himself even to the humiliating death on a cross to serve our needs! And, because of all of that, God has highly exalted Him & given Him a name above every name! In fact, that word in v.9 literally means “super exalted.” God super exalted Jesus! This is the only place in Scripture that that word is used! Everything Jesus did was for God’s glory! And, our attitude is most like Jesus when we are God-Centered in everything we do! Casting aside our personal agendas! Letting “Christ In Us” restore the image of God that we were created to reflect! God uses the church that is full of people who live their lives like that! He uses them for His glory! We need to pray that way! That God will transform our churches to live like that!

Have The Attitude Of Jesus!

-Stuck In This Broken Flesh!

The Apostle Paul’s command to the Church of Philippi in the 2nd chapter of his letter to them is somewhat disturbing:  “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,…” he says. Let that sink in for a moment! How are we going to do that, Church? How can we possibly have the attitude Jesus had; and think as He did? We’re stuck in this broken flesh! He was God! Paul went on to say that Jesus existed, “…in the form of God, & He did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11).  How can we possibly have the same attitude that Jesus had? And, yet, we are commanded to!

-Encouragement In Christ!

Does that not disturb you a little, as it does me? I hope that it does, and I hope it drives you deeper into the text because there are 2 significant details that we can’t leave out if we hope to obey this command to have the attitude of Jesus. If you’ll look back to verse 1, you’ll see that Paul says, “If there is any encouragement IN CHRIST…” If there is an encouragement! If there is any hope in doing what Paul is about to direct this Church to do, it’s because of our position “IN CHRIST.” If you’re a follower of Jesus; if you believe in Him, you are IN CHRIST! And, Christ is IN YOU by the Holy Spirit! So, Paul is telling the church that we CAN have the attitude of Christ— that He’s going to describe for us next— because we are IN CHRIST!

-Work Out Your Own Salvation!

There’s a 2nd significant detail in this text. Look at verses 12-13. Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.” Again, Paul gives us a command! You… work out your own salvation! Your Christian life is your responsibility. But, then he adds, “…it is GOD who is doing the WORK IN YOU…” It is because you are IN CHRIST that God enables you & gives you the desire! So, IN CHRIST, God enables us with a desire to think; or have the attitude of Jesus!

-An Attitude That Mirrors Jesus Christ!

I hope you’re tracking with me; because this is great stuff! And, let me show you the payoff! The idea, that we floated in our last post, that Jesus uses the transformed lives of our church to convict Sioux City (or your city!) of their need for a Savior, is why everything we do in life is significant. God uses the deep relationships— through our participation in Small Groups & Sunday School & ministry opportunities— to transform us into Gospel lights everywhere we go! In our places of work! In our neighborhoods! Even in our leisure! Let me show you why I say that! It’s found in v.15, where Paul says, “So that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world.” IN CHRIST, God enables us by giving us the desire to have the mind or attitude of Jesus! He will make us shine like stars in the world; and right here in our own city!

Why We Preach The Gospel!

-It Remedies The Needs Of The Nations!

Over the last couple of posts we’ve mentioned that only as the church returns to the mission that Jesus gave her— to preach the Gospel & make disciples; only then will the church become relevant in the world once again! According to the Apostle Paul’s 1st chapter of his letter to the Church of Rome, we note several reasons why it’s necessary to preach the Gospel. First, because it remedies the needs of every nation: “We have received grace and apostleship through Him (Jesus),” Paul writes, “to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations, on behalf of His name” (1:5).  All the ills of every nation are healed by the Good News of Jesus’ Gospel. Through Jesus, we receive grace to take the Gospel to the nations.

-We Have Supernatural Support!

In context, Paul is saying that grace is the supernatural “support” that Jesus gives us to carry out the commission that He’s given us. Grace is not just supernatural in the way that a totally depraved soul comes to salvation. Grace is also God’s supernatural “gift” of support that He gives us to do the ministry He’s called us to do. The biggest need of our nation is not to place the 10 Commandments in front of every courthouse. It’s not to overturn Roe v. Wade (although we pray that it would be overturned). Those types of issues are just symptomatic of a deeper spiritual problem. Our nation needs to obey the Gospel! Our nation needs to repent of our sin & come to Jesus for salvation. That’s why we must preach the Gospel. That’s how we see our nation change—by making 1 disciple at a time! 

-It Remedies The Needs Of The Godless!

And then, we preach the Gospel not only because it remedies the needs of every nation; but because it remedies the needs of the godless. Have you ever assumed that the lost are perfectly content & happy in their sin? That they wouldn’t be interested in the Gospel if we shared it with them; because they love their sin too much? I have! It’s a mistake to make that assumption! Oh, they may have initially been tempted by the fun sin promised. But, sin turns into a cruel slave master. It enslaves our friends and loved ones! The sin that started as fun becomes an addiction; and, they turn to treatment centers & counseling because their lives & their families are ruined! The Gospel of Jesus Christ remedies that.

-Jesus Is The Answer & The Solution!

Whatever the question, Jesus is the answer! Whatever the problem, Jesus is the solution! Jesus is the solution to everyone’s sin problem. His sacrifice on the cross appeased the wrath of God toward our sin. Look at what God’s Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write next: “For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (v.18). Sin has its own built-in wrath. It creates pain in people’s lives, and they often become open to the Gospel because of it.

-God Delivered Them Over!

We also preach the Gospel because it remedies the needs of the sexually impure. “Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity,” Paul continues, “so that their bodies were degraded among themselves… For even their females exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. The males in the same way also left natural relations with females and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Males committed shameless acts with males and received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error” (1:24-27). If you’ve ever tried to help someone caught in the trap of sexual sin, it’s extremely painful to watch. Their lifestyle of sexual sin came about because they “…exchanged the truth of God for a lie…” We live in an incredibly confused world sexually speaking; and, the carnage is piling up! Only God has the answer for true sexual satisfaction because He created sex!

Our Savior Jesus Christ!

-Jesus Christ’s Humility!

The humility of our Savior, Jesus Christ, is apparent in the cloth the shepherds found Him wrapped in after His birth. Luke records that they would, “…find the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths & lying in a manger.”  There’s significance to the swaddling cloths that can easily be overlooked at first glance.  But, those cloths foreshadowed Jesus’ death. According to the Mishnah, which is the collection of the Jewish oral traditions, these cloths were used to wrap the lambs that were destined to be Passover lambs. As soon as the lamb was born, they’d wrap them with these cloths or bands to keep them from injury; because the lamb could have no blemishes or broken bones.

-He Was Wrapped In Burial Cloths!

And, it’s interesting that the same type of cloths was also used for burial cloths; and, the manger, used for cattle, was typically a cave; though, caves were also used as tombs to bury the dead. Someone put it like this:  “On the first day of Jesus’ earthly life He was wrapped up like a Passover lamb and laid in a cave, and on the day of His death He would be wrapped in the same type of cloth and laid in a cave” (Robby Gallaty). Our great God is humble! To the Church of Philippi, the Apostle Paul spoke of Jesus; and, said, “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross” Philippians 2:8.

-Jesus Christ’s Humanity!

But, the Bible affirms not only the humility of Jesus; but, the humanity of Jesus. And, what makes Jesus’ humanity unique from the humanity of every other person who’s walked this earth is His “incarnation.” The “incarnation” is just a big, theological term that means Jesus “took on human flesh”; or, the act of being made flesh! So, why is that significant? For Jesus to be our Savior, He had to live the life of a perfect, sinless man to die as a substitute in our place. The Gospel writers are methodical in pointing out that Jesus was a human baby planted in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit.

-The Holy Spirit Will Come Upon You!

Luke wrote that Mary had a conversation with an angel; and, when she asked how she could become pregnant when she had never been intimate with a man, “The angel replied to her: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (1:35). So, Jesus was a real human baby born to a real human mother; without a human father. The Gospel writers bear that out!  Jesus had all the typical needs of a human man. He slept. He ate food. Luke says He perspired (ch. 22:43-44). He bled; and, He died like a man. He also showed the human emotions of joy & sorrow & anger. Luke also records that, “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature (as a man), and in favor with God and with people” (2:52).

-Our Great High Priest!

The N.T. book of Hebrews calls Him our High Priest; and, says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin” (4:15).  He shared in all the human weaknesses of the flesh without sinning; so, that He could be the sacrifice that God required for the remission of our sins. But, the Bible also affirms the Divinity of Jesus Christ. He was God! The divine nature of Jesus was joined with His human nature; so, He became the God-Man. He didn’t come out and say, “Hi, I’m Jesus & I’m God, and here are 10 reasons why!” But, it’s clear each & every time when the Jewish religious leaders understood Jesus to be making that claim! They called it blasphemy & picked up stones to stone Him! He fulfilled all the O.T. prophecies; which, one mathematician calculated to be 1 chance out of 13 trillion. If it’s true, God visited our planet! Do you know Him?

Your Idols Exposed!

-Are You Aware Of Your Idols?

For the Prophet Jonah, it doesn’t appear that he was aware of his “idols” until God exposed them! He had been a faithful minister of God’s word to his people; and, to his family! But, when God’s Word pointed him in a different direction; and, he was unwilling to go, his idols were exposed— his national pride, his family; and, even his present ministry was more important to him than obedience to God’s will! That’s the definition of an idol! Whenever you section off any part of your life; and, tell God He can’t touch that; or, He can’t have that— your idol has been exposed!

-What’s Your Idol?

Is your job or your home or your kids or grandkids off limits to God? Are you unwilling to let God take them to a foreign field to share the gospel with a foreign people? In your heart, is God free to use your kids; or, grandkids, as He wills? Or, are you demanding that they stay close to home? Are you willing to let God change your job? Are you willing to let Him move you? What if it was God’s strategy to move some of us to a “lesser” part of town? Oh, we couldn’t do that—it’s not “SAFE”! There’s your idol: SAFETY! Or, perhaps, racism might be the underlying idol! There was some of that going on with Jonah. He saw his people (Israel) as better; or, more deserving than the Ninevites, to whom God wanted to send him!

-Fleeing From The Lord’s Presence!

And, so, it says that Jonah determined to “…flee from the Lord’s presence…” (1:3). And, he found a ship to take him! Listen, Satan will always have a “ship” waiting in the harbor, to take you away in the opposite direction from God’s will! But, for Jonah God used a big fish to intersect with His disobedient prophet; and, get him back on course to Ninevah where he preached God’s word; and, the Ninevites repented; and, turned to God. The 3rd chapter, of Jonah, ends with these words:  “Then God saw their actions—that they had turned from their evil ways—so God relented from the disaster He had threatened to do to them. And He did not do it” (v.10). 

-Merciful & Compassionate God!

So, Jonah responded to their spiritual revival by shouting praise to God, right? No! In fact, it says, “Jonah was greatly displeased & became furious. He prayed to the Lord: ‘Please, Lord, isn’t this what I said while I was still in my own country? That’s why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place. I knew that You are a merciful & compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love & One who relents from sending disaster. And now, Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live” 4:1-3. Really? That just doesn’t seem possible that a prophet, of God, would become furious with God for saving an entire city! Now, there was an underlying reason for Jonah’s anger! He was prejudiced!

-The Sin Of Prejudice!

For God to make us useful, for His kingdom purposes, He has to unmask all of our prejudices also. Jonah had swallowed some bad doctrine! He believed that God was “FOR” Israel; and, He was “AGAINST” everyone else! All the wicked people, of Ninevah, for example; whom, God intended to save by Jonah’s preaching of the gospel. It’s that scandal of grace! Our prideful flesh wants to believe that the gospel is for “good people”…. like us! Like our nation! Jonah was offended that God would extend grace to a wicked people like Assyria! He was prejudiced against them! We need to beware of the danger of national pride, church! I fear that many, in the American church, have been trekking down that slippery slope over the last 40-some years! The church cannot hold prejudice against any other people group, nation; or, religion; and, remain true to Jesus’ commission to make disciples of every tribe, nation & people group! That’s our calling!

How God Makes Us Useful!

-Looking For The Blessed Life!

Jesus has commissioned us to make disciples! All of us!  When we refuse to be obedient to that calling we find ourselves in the unhappy position that Jonah found himself in when he refused to warn the Ninevites of God’s judgment if they failed to repent! We’re all looking for the blessed life! But it’s not nearly as elusive as we think it is! The blessed life, that we’re all looking for, is realized, in part, in the obedient investing of our lives in God’s work in other people! God would make Jonah useful in His big kingdom plans; and, there’s some real application here for us. He will do what He needs to do to make us useful.

-God Makes Us Uncomfortable!

There are several examples in Jonah’s life story. First, to make us useful, God makes us uncomfortable. If you take a look at a Bible map from around that time, you’ll see Assyria to the north of Israel. And, there’s a city on the Tigris River named Ninevah. It’s the very city that God told Jonah to go preach to. Ninevah was the nation’s capital of Assyria; and, the thought of going to Ninevah made Jonah very uncomfortable. These were dangerous times! Assyria hated Israel; and, they had slowly been occupying their land to the north. In fact, in less than 70 years, from Jonah’s time, Assyria will become such a power in the region that it will overrun the northern kingdom of Israel; and, take most of the people still alive into captivity. And, it’s into that environment that God says to Jonah:  “Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because their wickedness has confronted Me” (Jonah 1:2).

-An Uncomfortable Comparison!

Let me try & paint a picture for you of how that would look for us. Let’s say it was September 2001; and, some bad guys from Iraq or Iran just took down the twin towers in New York City. Our nation was preparing to go to war! Everyone’s gotten all patriotic, in America; because, another people dared to attack us. And, let’s say that out of nowhere, it seems, God delivers YOU a message:  “Get up! Go to the lands of Iraq & Iran and preach against it.” How would you feel about that? You would feel a lot like Jonah did when God told him to go preach God’s word to Ninevah.

-It’s Easy To Cast Judgment!

God totally rocked Jonah’s world! He had a successful ministry going on at home; and, he was comfortable with that! He was ministering to his people; and, now God was telling him to get up & go to an unfamiliar land occupied by his enemies! It’s easy for the average Christian, in America, to read about Jonah & cast judgment, isn’t it? But, if we take into consideration all that background information, let’s be honest—doing what God told us to do would make us pretty uncomfortable! God makes us useful, first, by putting us in uncomfortable situations. But, He also intends to expose our idols! Until we denounce our idols we’re not useful to Him!

-Denounce All Idols!

Most of us aren’t even aware that we have idols, in our life. And, it appears that Jonah was unaware of his own idols until God shook him up & made him uncomfortable! He was faithful! He poured his heart into his ministry; and, into his family! But, when God’s word pointed him in a different direction; and, he was unwilling to go, God exposed his idols! What were his idols? His home, his family; and, his ministry! All great things! All blessings from God! But, when they became more important to him than obedience to God’s will, they became idols! Whenever you section off any part of your life; and, tell God He can’t touch that; or, He can’t have that, your idol has just been exposed! Are your job, your home, your kids, or your grandkids “off-limits” to God? Are you willing to let God take you; or, them, to a foreign field to serve Him & a foreign people? If you’re unwilling, then, God’s gifts, to you, have become your idols! Confess it & repent!

God, Jonah & A Big Fish Too!

-Trying To Run From God!

If you’re at all like me, you have a hard time passing up the story that is the book of Jonah. I find myself identifying with Jonah in several ways! Not in the most obvious, of course; I’m not a prophet in the Jonah sense of the word! I’ve never received an oracle from the Lord! I’ve never been thrown into the sea by a bunch of sailors; or, swallowed by a big fish! But, I have tried to run from God! I have been reluctant to go to a new place of ministry!

-Leaving The Deep Roots!

Sara & I were almost newlyweds when we moved across the country to do ministry in Denver, CO. We started our family there; and, for the next 20 years we did youth ministry, adult ministry; and, we owned 2 different businesses! But, the Spirit of God began to stir a desire in my heart to sell the business and become a lead Pastor at a local church somewhere. So, we began to pray about where IN DENVER the Lord would have me to pastor; because, I was very reluctant to leave Colorado! After all those years we’d developed some deep roots. I loved Colorado— I still do— but, God had a way of preparing us to go where He was leading! Once He depleted our savings, God broke my will; and, moved us here, to Sioux City, IA.

-Feeling Too Comfortable!

So, in a small way, I get Jonah’s response, in v.3, of the opening chapter:  “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because their wickedness has confronted Me.’ However, Jonah got up to flee to Tarshish from the Lord’s presence. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. He paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish, from the Lord’s presence”.  In Jonah’s mind, there was nothing great about the city of Ninevah for many reasons! He was comfortable where he was; and, clearly, he wasn’t on the same page with God on this one! God would have some work to do in Jonah to change him. We need the message of Jonah; because, if we’re all being honest, we all look a lot like Jonah! And, the same kind of “spiritual surgery” that Jonah needed, we need!

-God’s Sovereign Directive!

Jonah’s story reveals how God includes us in His disciple-making work; and, then prepares us for it! Until we submit to God’s Sovereign directive, for our lives, we’re going just keep getting swallowed up by one big fish after another, like Jonah. So, let’s talk about God’s Sovereign will & plans for you. The greatest fulfillment you will ever realize, in your life, comes only from obeying Him! We tend to operate life with this weird idea that God’s plans for us just aren’t going to be as satisfying as our plans are; like, obeying Jesus and sacrificing everything for Him will be a drag & a burden to us.

-His Commands Are Not A Burden!

The Apostle John addressed that sentiment:  “For this is what love for God is: to keep His commandments. Now His commands are not a burden” 1 John 5:3. It’s no burden to love God & obey His will for your life. God has created you! He has downloaded the best path for your life into your heart by His indwelling Holy Spirit; and, your plans will never offer you the meaning in life that you long for! The best path for Jonah was the road to Ninevah; NOT, the boat ride to Tarshish that he chose for himself! And, because he rebelled, God would need to apply some pressure to get him back to the best place possible for his life; which, was the center of God’s will. Jesus has commissioned us to make disciples; and, we’re living in disobedience if we’re not doing it! And, the blessed life you’re looking for is realized, in part, in the obedient investing of your life in God’s work in other people! We’ll talk more about Jonah next post!

Ungodly Men & Ungodly Laws!

-We Don’t Have To Take Care Of Ourselves!

The Old Testament prophet, Daniel, viewed himself as nothing more than God’s humble servant. He didn’t take himself too seriously! He saw himself as just one piece in God’s sovereign plan for the world! Though life circumstances, no doubt, made him fearful at times; fear did not control him! When we get over our fear, we can kind of “let go” & “let God” use us however He wants. I don’t have to take care of myself. God takes care of me! God shows us, in Daniel’s story, how we ought to respond when ungodly men make ungodly laws.

-Bow Down & Worship!

In Daniel, chapter 3, Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, builds a 90’ tall gold statue of himself; and, demands that everyone bow down & worship it; or, be thrown into a fiery furnace. That would be a problem for Daniel’s 3 Hebrew friends— Hananiah, Mishael & Azariah! They had been raised in good Jewish homes. They knew the commandments Yahweh had given to Moses in Exodus 20— “I  am the LORD your God; do not have any other gods besides me; do not make an idol for yourself; You must not bow down to them or worship them.” So, here they were between a rock; and, a hard place! Obey the King & face God’s judgment; or, obey God & face the fiery furnace.

-An Awkward Moment!

Get the picture? There are probably thousands of people, representing all the nations that Babylon had subdued; all, waiting for the sound of the music. They hear it; and, everyone bows down & worships the gold image except 3 men. They had to know that their insubordination wouldn’t go unnoticed. And, it wasn’t:  “Some of the Chaldeans took this occasion to come forward and maliciously accuse them” (3:8). So, they are made to stand before King Nebuchadnezzar; and, they “…replied to the king, ‘Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question.  If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up’” (3:16-18).

-God Is Able To Deliver!

Enraged by their insubordination, the king demanded that they be thrown into the furnace. But, they determined to obey God rather than the king; and, trust God to do whatever he willed. They had faith that God was able to deliver them; but, even if He didn’t, they would not bow to the king’s image. There is a great application to take from their example—we need to be careful we don’t make claims for God on His behalf! We may think that God has to respond in a certain way; but, our knowledge is finite! His ways are higher than ours! So, don’t make promises for God that He doesn’t make!

-How Our Story Ends!

We can’t make demands on God about how our personal story ends! They trusted that God would deliver them either by a miracle; or, by death! We have to be careful that our trust in God is not limited to delivery by miracle! Their trust in God was not just tied to delivery from the furnace:  “…EVEN IF He does NOT,” they said, “we won’t bow to false gods!” That’s a gospel response. Sadly, the gospel being preached in the majority of our American churches is all about “me.” It’s man-centered; and, not God-centered! So, if He doesn’t deliver me from the furnace I won’t trust Him! That’s where false teaching begins… with man’s ways! King Nebuchadnezzar took credit for his accomplishments; when, it was God who blessed him with his abilities! I read somewhere that:  “Pride is like plagiarism because it attempts to take for ourselves Glory that belongs to God alone.” God will not share His glory with you! Humble yourself before Him.

The Return Of The Exiles

-The Life Of A Refugee!

We see the pictures on the nightly news or our online news sources; and, though pictures may be worth a thousand words, they can never adequately portray what it’s like to be exiled from your native land & to flee as a refugee to a foreign nation! The stories are horrific! The greatest fear, as a parent, is to be separated from your children in such a setting; although, in some cases, where the conditions are brutal enough, parents willingly hand off their children to someone else with the hope that they might survive & have a better life! Most of us, living in this country, simply have no point of reference or experience to draw on when it comes to living like an exile or a refugee!

-Israel’s Refugees From Babylon!

And, while some of the world’s current refugee crisis has similarities to the time of Israel’s exile— as recorded at the end of 2 Chronicles— there are many differences! The majority of exiles today are leaving war-torn nations by their own will, seeking refuge in a safe, neighboring country. Israel’s exile occurred against their own will when, the foreign nations of Assyria; and, then Babylon, swept in like a flood & plundered their homeland; and, then exiled them off to serve as slaves! For Israel, their exile was the more bitter because they had no one to blame but themselves.

-Israel Broke Covenant!

God had covenanted with them to bless them in the land—that He gave them—if they would obey Him & keep His commandments! But, He had also promised a curse if they broke covenant with Him; and, that’s exactly what they did! They abandoned Yahweh & chased after other gods; until, finally, Yahweh abandoned them! The 137th Psalm was written as a lament by those who endured the exile, the slavery & the human trafficking in that day:  “By the rivers of Babylon,” they cried, “there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. There we hung up our lyres on the poplar trees, for our captors there asked us for songs, and our tormentors, for rejoicing:  ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’ they mocked.  “How can we sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil?” That’s how the book of 2 Chronicles ends!

-Exiled To Babylon!

It reads that King Nebuchadnezzar, of Babylon, “…deported those who escaped from the sword to Babylon, and they became servants to him and his sons until the rise of the Persian kingdom. This fulfilled the word of the Lord through Jeremiah and the land enjoyed its Sabbath rest all the days of the desolation until 70 years were fulfilled” 2 Chronicles 36:20-21.  So, Israel was exiled to Babylon for 70 years; and, God’s prophecy, through Jeremiah, was fulfilled. It was during those 70 years that the Medo-Persian empire overpowered Babylon!

-The Lord Put It In His Mind!

From there, the book of Ezra picks up the story of the exiles:  “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, the word of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The Lord put it into the mind of King Cyrus to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom and to put it in writing” Ezra 1:1. That verse includes 2 significant details! First, that Jeremiah’s prophecy, of a 70-year exile, was completed in the first year of King Cyrus’ reign in Persia! And, second, that it was God who “…put it into the mind…” of Cyrus to issue a proclamation! I would encourage you to make a note in your Bible, right there, that says, “Here is an example of God’s Sovereignty over the world.”  Cyrus wasn’t in control! Persia wasn’t in control either! God was directing traffic here! He put it in Cyrus’ mind to issue the proclamation we’ll look at next week!