the heart of Daniel

Heart-Centered Human_thumb

Daniel 4:34-37.   

The book of Daniel is kind of an odd bird.  Everyone recognizes it as a prophecy, or group of prophetic visions – centered around the person of Daniel.  But most of us first encounter Daniel in the Sunday School stories taken from the book. 

There’s Daniel, thrown into the lion’s den because he refused to pray to anyone but God – even though it had become illegal.  There’s the similar story of Daniel’s three friends – Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah – rescued from the fiery furnace.  We know them better by their Babylonian names: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 

When the Jews got together to compile and categorize their Scriptures they chose to put the book of Daniel in the writings category – even though it has many prophecies.  It was obviously different enough from the Nevi’im (prophets) that the choice was justified.

But when the Greeks got together to compile and categorize the Scriptures, they placed Daniel in the category of Major Prophet.  That choice was also justified.  God is speaking through Daniel – not just in the apocalyptic visions – but also in the historical stories.

The text from Daniel that I want to highlight is the portion of the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation where the great king comes back to his senses.

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (Daniel 4:34-37 ESV)

This was the great king who had built the neo-Babylonian empire.  His people thought he was so great that they literally worshipped him. Those who refused to do so were destroyed.  This was what Nebuchadnezzar had planned to do with those three Hebrew officials with his fiery furnace.  God rescued them, and the king was put in his place for a while.  But before long, he was full of himself again.

Next, God struck him with insanity.  “He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws” (4:33).  He stayed like that for “seven periods of time.”

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible:

and seven times shall pass over thee; which some understand of weeks, others of months, others of the seasons of winter and summer; but it is best to interpret it of seven whole years

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
What I wanted to look at was the testimony that came out of Nebuchadnezzar’s mouth that day – the day his reason returned to him.  I think his words can give us the kind of perspective we are looking for.
 

PERSPECTIVE ON GOD (34c, 35b).

 
God is sovereign.  No, I really mean it.  He has both the right to choose what happens and doesn’t happen, and the ability to enforce his choice.  The buck doesn’t really stop at the white house.  It stops at God’s house.  Prayer doesn’t really change things – God does.  If God wants to do something, prayer is not going to change his mind.  I’m talking about absolute sovereignty here. 
 
Have you heard the story “Big John is coming” ?
 

[read the story here, then come back!]


That story reminds me of this incident with Nebuchadnezzar.  Nebuchadnezzar was everybody’s “Big John”  But God was Nebuchadnezzar’s “Big John.”  His sovereignty is absolute.  His power and authority are absolute.  That was the perspective that the great king learned by his time of humiliation. 

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation” (34c).

and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth” (35b).

You see, you might be under the mistaken notion that the most important question in life is “who am I?”  It is not.  The most important question in life is “who is he?”  — “Who is God?”  Your life is never going to get set in order until you have the right perspective on who God is.
 

PRAISE FOR GOD  (34b, 37a).

 
True praise of God emerges from that awareness of his sovereignty.  Until you and I come to grips with the reality that God exists and his sovereignty is absolute—our attempts at worship will be lacking something.
 
The very first thing that Nebuchadnezzar did after his sanity returned is …
 
I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever” (34b).
What had gotten Nebuchadnezzar in trouble was looking around at all the great marvels of his kingdom and saying “look what I did.”  We are always on dangerous ground when we focus on ourselves.  It took a major crisis in his life for Nebuchadnezzar to get his eyes off himself and see clearly where the greatness is.
 
His awareness of God extended beyond the realm of “God is great.”  It included the reality that this great God is also a good God.
 
Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just” (37a).
 You see, this story could have ended differently.  Nebuchadnezzar could have been restored to sanity and still choose to judge God.  Many people are like that.  They go through some major crisis in their lives and because God did not do things the way they wanted – they turn their backs on him.  Don’t do that.  Learn the lesson that the great king did.  There is an even greater king, and he always does what is right   — even if we cannot understand it.  He deserves our praise.
 

PERSPECTIVE ON US (35b, 37b).

 
A final perspective I see in this story from the life of king Nebuchadnezzar is a reflection on humanity.  He learned something about himself and every other human being that has ever lived.
 
none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (35b).
We all need to learn this lesson.  I suspect that this is why God allows us to keep getting into impossible situations.  We have to learn that we cannot fix all our problems.
 
The analogy that Nebuchadnezzar uses is very helpful.  He pictures the hand of God raising to strike.  There is no hand that comes up to stop it.  None can stay his hand.  There is no voice raised in judgment asking God what he thinks he’s doing.  Nobody is qualified to do that.
 
If anyone dares to think she is qualified to judge God’s actions, she will soon learn otherwise.
 
those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (37b).
You have probably gone through several incidents like the one we read about here – probably not as drastic.  But you got the point.  It’s not about you. It’s about him.  There’s only room for one on the throne.
 
There was once a man who had everything  — and lost it all because he failed to look up and recognize that God had him.  What is it going to take for this generation of supermen to stop looking down and start looking up?
 

ACST 47: The Accusers

 

accuse

An interesting picture of Satan’s activity is revealed in the last book of the Bible:

“Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world- he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”[1]

The enemy of our souls is depicted as a great dragon, doing warfare against believers. He and his angels (the demons) have been thrown down to earth, and are in their final battle against their great enemy (God). The dragon is enraged because his time is short and he knows it. He is described not as a tempter or a deceiver, but as an accuser. He does battle by accusing the brothers day and night before God.

Satan’s accusations in Job.

The book of Job describes Satan in his work of accusation. He came before God and accused Job of being faithful only because he was being protected and blessed. He told the LORD “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”[2] Whomever God commends, the accusers condemn. Charles Swindoll paraphrases this text as “Look, God, talk about kid glove treatment! The man gets penthouse perks.”[3] The enemy of our souls has an extremely negative attitude about human beings. He does not believe in human potential, and explains away all human accomplishment.

Satan challenged the LORD to “stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.”[4] Satan was actually asking the LORD to inflict Job in order to reveal what he was sure would be his true character. “Because the believer belongs to God, Satan must operate within God’s sovereignty and cannot function beyond what God allows.”[5] The book of Job partly answers the questions we all have about why the innocent suffer. Sometimes the reasons for suffering have nothing to do with personal sin. Sometimes suffering is allowed in order for the LORD to prove to Satan and his demons that their accusations are false.

Joshua, the High Priest

One of Zechariah’s prophetic visions begins this way:

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! the LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?”[6]

Here again Satan is shown to believe the worst about a man of God. The vision goes on to describe Joshua as a man clothed with filthy garments, but God proceeds to clothe him in purified ones. This reveals a very important thing about demonic accusation. The demons are often partly right. The difference is that they do not see us after grace.

Whenever the unseen accusers target us, our best defense is not to try to prove them wrong with a history lesson. We fail too often for that to be an effective strategy. Our best defenses against accusations that we are not who we should be are the following:

1. Remind the accusers that our relationship with God is through the righteousness of Jesus Christ. He is our atoning sacrifice. Even the most filthy sin can be washed clean by means of the blood of Christ.

2. Remind the accusers that the Holy Spirit chooses to reside in us. In spite of the fact that our actions sometimes grieve him, he is faithful. It is his faithfulness that is the key to our complete sanctification and ultimate glorification.

3. Remind the accusers that God is infinite. He already sees our future, and so he relates to us on the basis of that future. It will do no good to tell God about our present shortcomings when he already foresees us living in holiness for billions of years. Our destiny is already settled in God’s mind.

Jesus’ Prayer for Peter

Jesus had told Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”[7] Jesus was aware that a battle was going to ensue in which Peter’s commitment was going to be challenged. Peter was going to fail, and deny even knowing Christ. But Jesus promised to bring Peter through that time, and use him afterword. Often, believers are convinced that once they fail in a particular area that their witness is forever marred in that area. This incident shows that times of failure need not weaken our faith. Grace operates in a person’s life when she allows God to rescue her.

Paul on Condemnation

Probably the most famous passage relating to the issue of demonic accusation is from Paul’s letter to the Romans:

“Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died- more than that, who was raised- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[8]

The reference to “angels or rulers” shows that the demonic realm will surely seek to condemn believers. But Paul reveals that believers have a sure-fire remedy to any accusation coming from that realm. God’s love in Christ Jesus was demonstrated on Calvary. It is an event that is settled historically. It forever shows that God has decided in the believer’s favor. Earlier, Paul had said “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”[9] Although bad things may happen to us, none of those bad things should be interpreted as condemnation from God.

The practical result of this truth is that believers can be assured that if they are being accused or condemned, it is not coming from heaven. Heaven’s forces are mustered for our defense, not our condemnation.

When Satan begins to accuse believers of wrongdoing, lack of integrity, or falsehood, the believer’s often feel like God is watching from a distance, judging them. He does not do that. He is present at every accusation, and our Advocate, the Holy Spirit, always takes our side. Even when the believer sins, God stands for her, and not with her accusers. Even when there are consequences that come from that sin, God is ready to restore and heal.

In the end, all personal sins must be punished. But for believers, that punishment has already happened. The Bible says that Jesus Christ “was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”[10]

The Eternal Truth

The best way to overcome accusations is to counter them with the eternal truth. The eternal truth is not the mess a person might be in at this moment. The eternal truth is what God has decreed about believers for all eternity. The Bible tells believers to stand on this truth, and believe what God sees in them.

He Sees…

  • “the salt of the earth”[11]
  • “the light of the world”[12]
  • people of value to him[13]
  • people he has blessed and heirs of his kingdom[14]
  • branches of the Vine[15]
  • people “not of the world”[16]
  • “God’s fellow workers… God’s field, God’s building.”[17]
  • “God’s temple”[18]
  • “the body of Christ”[19]
  • “sons of God, through faith”[20]
  • “Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise”[21]
  • “no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God”[22]
  • “no longer strangers and aliens, but … fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”[23]

One More Strategy

The enemy has one more method that he uses, but it is a “when all else fails” method. He usually has no problem enslaving people through temptation. When that method needs a little help, he resorts to deception. If people learn to discern between truth and his lies, he falls back on accusation and condemnation. But when even that strategy is defeated, Satan and his demons try to enslave people through fear. His final method – which will be discussed in chapter 48, is intimidation.


[1] Revelation 12:7-12 (ESV).

[2] Job 1:9-11 (ESV).

[3] Charles R. Swindoll, Job: A Man of Heroic Endurance (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009) 10.

[4] Job 2:5 (ESV).

[5] John MacArthur, 1, 2, 3, John Jude (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005) 75.

[6] Zechariah 3:1-2 (ESV).

[7] Luke 22:31-32 (ESV).

[8] Romans 8:33-39 (ESV).

[9] Romans 8:1 (ESV).

[10] Isaiah 53:5 (ESV).

[11] Matthew 5:13.

[12] Matthew 5:14; Ephesians 5:8.

[13] Matthew 6:26, 10:31.

[14] Matthew 25:34.

[15] John 15:5.

[16] John 15:19.

[17] 1 Corinthians 3:9.

[18] 1 Corinthians 3:16,17.

[19] 1 Corinthians 12:27.

[20] Galatians 3:26.

[21] Galatians 3:29.

[22] Galatians 4:7.

[23] Ephesians 2:19.

Waking a friend

waking

 

 

 

 

 

One of the simplest descriptions of death given in all of Scripture comes from Jesus as he explains his plans to go to Bethany to raise Lazarus.  He tells his disciples “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (John 11:11). 

Sleep is the most widely used metaphor for death in the Bible.

Some Christians talk about death using language that the Bible never uses, and Jesus never endorsed. Here are some examples.

the travel metaphor

Some talk about death as if the dead person (or his soul or spirit) has travelled to a far-away place. It is very comforting to think that a loved one has “gone to a better place.”  But is it Christian?  The Bible says that the better place is coming to us.  When Jesus returns, he will set up his eternal kingdom on this earth, redeemed, restored, and glorified.  The Christian hope is not going some place. The Christ hope is a coming someone: Jesus himself.

joined the angels

Usually, the person has traveled to heaven, and has joined the angels.  The Bible says that when Jesus returns, his angels will accompany him to earth, where they will assist in gathering the righteous dead for the resurrection harvest. Paul calls this time “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels” (2 Thessalonians 1:7).  He does not mention humans making that return trip. 

Some people actually talk about the deceased as if they have actually become angels.  This is absurd.  Angels are actually sent by God to minister to us (Hebrews 1:14). God has greater things in store for us than simply becoming angels.

joined the heavenly choir/ playing a harp

Some people think that dying makes a person become musical.  That would be nice. I cannot carry a tune in a bucket, and I can hardly play the radio.  It would really be nice to think that I was going to join some great worship jam session in heaven when I died.

Alas, the Bible shoots down that proposition as well. David said “For no one mentions your name in the realm of death, In Sheol who gives you thanks?”  (Psalm 6:5 NET).  He was asking a rhetorical question that called for a negative answer. No one gives God thanks in the realm of death (Hebrew Sheol).  David’s plea was for God to keep him alive so that he could continue to send up songs of praise.  The psalm would make no sense if David anticipated going to join a heavenly orchestra when he died. 

Peter said of David “Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day” (Acts 2:29 KJV). He knew where David was, and there was no music there.

The music will come when the Bridegroom returns for his wedding feast. But we do not have to wait to start sharing the music that is in our hearts. Believers are to be “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart,  giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:19-20). Death does not make us musical. Life does.

escape

Some view death as a release from the prison of the body to enjoy freedom forever.  Nothing captures this hope better than the famous epitaph of Solomon Pease:

Pease

“Under the sod and under the trees

Here Lies the body of Solomon Pease

The Pease are not here

There’s only the pod

The Pease shelled out and went to God.”1

 

Who would not want to believe that death brings release from the pain and sufferings of this life?  Yet, once again, the Bible places the terminus of rescue and escape not at death, but at the coming of Christ.  As tempting as it is to believe that death will bring rescue, the most that we can say biblically is that at death the suffering will end.  The rescue comes when the rescuer comes.  No one shells out of his body at death. 

Even Jesus – when he died on the cross – went to the grave and stayed there until his resurrection.  He told Mary “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17).  Death did not bring escape for him.  It was his resurrection which enabled him to escape from death.  His resurrection guarantees ours.  His return will be our means of escape. Jesus promised that when he comes the dead will be in their tombs and will hear his voice and be raised to life again (John 5:28-29).

gone to their reward

Some people think that death is the gateway to the reward that Jesus promised those who are faithful to him. 

Martha would disagree.  She stood next to the tomb of her brother, and refused to believe that he had been rewarded. She did not believe that he was anywhere but in that tomb.  Her theology was biblical. She told Jesus that she knew that her brother would rise again, and that it would happen on the last day (John 11:24). 

Martha’s eschatology (doctrine of the last things) was spot-on.  Her Christology needed a little help.  She had said to Jesus “even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:22). 

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,  and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).   Jesus was talking about that resurrection day that Martha had mentioned.  He said that on that day if any of his followers will have died, like Lazarus had, he will raise them back to life again.  Then (he said) on that day any of his followers who are still living will never die at all.  That is a great reward.  It is so much better than shelling out and leaving the pod!

Jesus does speak of believers being repaid for their acts of righteousness toward the poor.  He says that those who do acts of kindness toward those who cannot repay them will  be “repaid at the resurrection of the just”  (Luke 14:14).  That does not happen at death. It will happen when Jesus comes back to raise people from the dead. 

Empty-Tomb

Jesus came to the tomb of his friend that day to give us all a visual demonstration of the resurrection at the last day.  His friend had fallen asleep and he purposely waited until that happened. 

Jesus shouted his friend’s name. “Lazarus, come out.”  He didn’t say “come down” because his friend had not gone anywhere.  He had simply fallen asleep.  The shout from Jesus is all it took to wake him.

Someday, you and I will fall asleep. Do not fear. All it will take is a shout from our friend, Jesus, to wake us up again.


1Sandra L. Bertman, Facing Death (London: Taylor & Francis, 1991), 29.