And also …

Daniel 7  The Son of Man

This Old Testament book of Daniel has been teaching us a lot about God.  The name ‘Daniel’ means ‘God is my Judge’.  He is a holy God who records and assesses our words and actions and rewards us accordingly.

Daniel and his fellow Israelites are exiled from their home city Jerusalem, having to live in Babylon and serve a foreign king because their forefathers refused to heed prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah and kept on sinning by worshipping idols instead of the Lord their God.

Pagan King Belshazzar discovered in ch 5 you can’t mess with a holy God when he committed sacrilege, saw the ‘writing on the wall’ and was killed the same night!

God is also a Revealer of mysteries, the source of all knowledge and wisdom, Who not only knows but holds the future in His hands.  We see this in King Nebuchadnezzar’s first dream in ch 2 in which he is accurately shown the next six centuries of history and the empires that will dominate the region before they come to be.  His personal warning dream in ch 4 comes true as he suffers years of mental illness before he submits to God and is restored.

God is holy Judge and Revealer of truth and wisdom, He is also the Saviour and Keeper of His people.  We see this famously in chapters 3 and 6 where Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are miraculously saved from a fiery furnace and Daniel from a den of lions.

At the start of this series we asked if God could preserve His people as a defeated minority in an alien land and environment.  We’re learning not only can God save and keep us, He can powerfully use us to influence those around us.  Pagan kings Nebuchadnezzar and Darius come to publically revere the God of their captives and Babylonian society was the better for it.  Practising Christians may be a minority but we are called to witness positively to those around us.

Daniel teaches us not only about God, it offers pertinent lessons about ourselves, about human beings, culture and government.  We do well to note how suddenly these rulers can be humbled when they choose to ‘walk in pride’.  And yet pride is a common human trait.  These days more than ever we’re encouraged to take pride in human identity, ability and achievement.  Look at us!  Look what we can do!

Often coupled with this is an attitude that diminishes or disregards God.  Sometimes we try to exert control over each other as if we were little ‘gods’!  Think of Nebuchadnezzar’s team building golden statue or Belshazzar’s deliberate mocking of God at his drunken orgy.  We march down the street like we are in charge of our own destiny, and each others’, instead of getting on our knees and asking the true Lord of the universe for his grace and mercy!

We can reasonably assume there would have been some good reforms during Nebuchadnezzar’s latter years but these were swiftly reversed when Belshazzar was put in charge.  His hedonistic, egocentric approach to life and government did not bode well for the immediate future and we can imagine Daniel being concerned.  Not long into Belshazzar’s reign Daniel himself has a dream with unsettling themes of human leadership but a dream into which God inserts the most wonderful revelation.

We note firstly some human aspects which by now are becoming familiar.  A succession of kingdoms arise on earth in which human beings act like wild beasts, dominated by appetite and desire.  At first these kingdoms seem to parallel Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in ch 2.  The first sounds like Babylon with echoes of Nebuchadnezzar himself, the next would be Medo-Persia, the third one, the four-headed ‘leopard’ perfectly fits Greece and Alexander the Great’s rapid conquest followed by his early death and division of territory between his four generals.

The fourth beast sounds like Rome with its invincible war machine but this is where it gets interesting.

Let’s bear in mind that Biblical prophecy works in at least three ways.  A passage like Daniel 7 usually has a literal fulfilment in the not too distant future.  Often the same passage also gives principles and patterns which can be seen repeated through history in different places.  And just as often it also points forward to the fulfilment of all things when God brings human history to a climax.  Think of it as ‘soon’, ‘generally’ and ‘finally’.

Daniel’s vision seemed to be fulfilled in the centuries leading up to the birth of Christ.  Greek culture pervaded.  Roman rule was everywhere.  The ‘little horn’ in vs20-22 sounds very like a king called Antiochus Epiphanes who called himself ‘god manifest’ and tried with great violence to stamp out Judaism  around 165 BC.  And yet this pattern of totalitarian state and cruel dictator has been seen again and again throughout history.  The Roman Emperors Nero and Domitian in the first century AD, Adolf Hitler in the 1930/40s, the various Communist regimes of the last century.  Today we can trace similar trends in North Korea or some of the more militant strands of Islam, New Atheism or Pride.  Certain individuals being elevated to almost godlike status, particular ideologies being imposed and followers of the true God being persecuted.

Daniel’s visions are referred to by the Lord Jesus and the New Testament apostles as also speaking of the end of things as we know them.  A final, global government is pictured with a gifted but utterly ruthless leader who will blaspheme God and for a limited time harshly abuse God’s people.  But like all these other empires and dictators this ‘antichrist’ will be defeated and punished by the coming of the real Christ!

Daniel is understandably troubled and burdened by the insights God is giving Him.  However in the middle of this most terrifying vision yet our depraved human antics are interrupted by the revelation of a higher court.  In heaven sits the ultimate Ruler and Authority, ‘the Ancient of Days’ -the eternal, almighty God Who has been keeping record and Who now authorises a human figure, ‘one like a Son of Man’ to come on the clouds to punish pride and end evil and share God’s kingdom with all who trust Him and answer His call to holiness.  ‘The saints’ shall reign with the coming ‘Son of Man’ forever.

Now we read our New Testament with better understanding and greater thrill to note how Jesus of Nazareth constantly refers to Himself as ‘the Son of Man’ and how he preaches, ‘the Kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the Good News!’  He has come once to suffer for sin, He will come again in glory on the clouds of heaven to ‘judge the living and the dead’.  Are we ready?

There is righteousness and godly order in heaven and there will be an inheritance for those who learn from the inspired wisdom God has revealed in His Word, learn to humble ourselves before our Maker and Judge and trust in the Saviour He has given.

Have you done so?  Will you do so today?

Let’s pray.

 

 

 

 

 

Daniel ch 3  Facing the Fiery Furnace Part 1

Did anyone notice how repetitive this first reading was, the same words and phrases over and over, almost hypnotic in effect?  Almost like if we hear something often enough we don’t really think critically anymore, we just go along with it?

This probably wasn’t the first time in history someone tried to manipulate a crowd, it certainly wasn’t the last.  Go to a concert and you’ll see how easily a band can get the crowd to sing along.  Often it’s quite innocent but sometimes it’s a lot more serious.

In Nuremberg in the 1930s mass rallies were held by the Nazi Party.  Everyone was there, dressed the same, under the same flag.  There was dramatic lighting and seductive music and the message of Adolf Hitler repeated with passion again and again.

It seemed to be visionary stuff.  The economy was thriving, unemployment was down, everyone seemed to be happy, this was good, right?  But before long Germany, a nation with a long Christian heritage was doing the unthinkable.

That was a long time ago.  These days we are supposed to be ‘free’, ‘tolerant’ and ‘progressive’, we talk a lot about ‘human rights’, we celebrate ‘equality’, ‘diversity’ and seek to be ‘inclusive’.  These are the words we hear repeated constantly with more music and colour than ever.

It looks and sounds great on the surface, just like Nebuchadnezzar’s orchestra and image of gold, but we need to listen with discernment.  History has demonstrated numerous times how if people just ‘go with the flow’, we could quickly find ourselves trapped with a system that is much less tolerant than we were led to believe!  Doing things in Ireland North and South that 20 years ago would have seemed unthinkable.

Perhaps the time is ripe here for people of courage like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to stand up and say No!  With all due respect we will not be hypnotised into bowing to the idols of this world.  We will not give assent to something God says is wrong.  Whatever the cost, we will stand for what is right.

Daniel ch 3  Facing the Fiery Furnace Part 2

So, 600 years BC, Nebuchadnezzar, absolute monarch of mighty Babylon is having a team-building exercise with all his officials.

The king was disturbed in ch2 by a symbolic dream in which he was represented as just one of a succession of empires that would in time be eclipsed by the kingdom of God.  Perhaps he’s trying to consolidate his power while he can!  He’s out in the provinces getting together anyone with any authority to take part in a communal act of allegiance to the state, the state religion and himself personally, all represented in this impressive image.  Go along with it and it can be a national festival, a real party.  Refuse and you get incinerated.

It’s all going well for Nebuchadnezzar until a tiny minority of three refuse to take part.  These are three of his best officials so he gives them a second chance but no, they refuse to bow.  His sympathy towards them changes and he orders them thrown into a blazing furnace but then watches amazed as they don’t burn but are rescued by one who ‘looks like a son of the gods.’

Let me suggest four lessons here for those who are serious about trusting and following Jesus Christ:

Our God saves

We must take our stand

We have to trust, whatever

And Christ is with us in the trial

Firstly, our God is a God Who saves.  In Daniel ch 1 we learn God is a holy Judge as He allows His people to be conquered and exiled from Jerusalem for their idolatry.  The name ‘Daniel’ actually means ‘God is my Judge’.  In ch 2 we learn God is the Revealer of mysteries Who holds the future in His hands.  Here in ch3 we learn He is a Saviour Who comes to the rescue of His servants.  These three young men who trust Him are miraculously preserved from death.

This is not a new idea for us.  We’ve been celebrating God as our Saviour in the Christian Church for almost 2000 years now.  Every day and every Sunday here together we give thanks that God so loves the world He gave His only begotten Son Jesus to suffer for our sins that whoever believes in Him shall not perish in the fires of hell but be given everlasting, heavenly life!

Now because we gratefully love our Saviour God for all His grace and kindness to us that means we will sometimes have to take a stand for Him and the truths and standards He reveals in His Word.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew their Scripture.  They knew the 10 Commandments.  They knew they must worship God and not bow down to images formed by human pride.  There will be times when, like them, followers of Christ must dare to put Him first, even if it’s politically incorrect.

It’s not that we want to be awkward for the sake of it.  We try to be good citizens – we work hard, pay our taxes and cheerfully play our part in the community.  We certainly don’t wish to offend anyone.  It’s just that we love our Lord and Saviour and want to obey Him rather than simply follow the trends of this world, some of which may be popular but wrong!  May the Lord give us courage and wisdom to be distinctive for Him, positively and refreshingly so!

The Lord Jesus did tell His disciples to expect some opposition in this life.  Nebuchadnezzar was incensed with rage and frustration because he liked to control things and now he had found something he couldn’t control.  These men were prepared to die for their convictions.  He could kill them, maybe, but he couldn’t change them.  Followers of God must be prepared for a degree of resentment, antagonism, even persecution from people like Nebuchadnezzar who have yet to learn humility before their Maker.

Believers must be prepared to trust in our God, whatever the risks in the short term.  Roman emperor Nero threw Christians to lions in the 1st century AD.  The British Foreign Office report in 2019 records that 80% of religiously motivated attacks worldwide are against Christians with acts of violence and other intimidation becoming ‘increasingly widespread’, in some countries amounting to ‘genocide’!

God saved these three from the flames and has sent His angels to protect countless others in countless places through the ages, but sometimes we are called upon to suffer for our Master.  Jesus Himself did not shrink from the suffering He had to endure for us at Calvary.  The Apostle Paul, imprisoned on ‘Death Row’ for his faith prayed not for safety but simply that he might glorify Christ by living or dying, either way.  We must be faithful and obey even if it brings us hardship for a limited time.  Jesus assures us the Kingdom of heaven is ours.  Only let us prove fruitful in His service!

One of the most impressive pictures we are given in Daniel ch3 is not proud King Nebuchadnezzar and his large but really quite useless statue.  It is the picture of our Lord walking with His loyal servants through their fiery trial.  Pagan Nebuchadnezzar struggles to describe what he’s seeing – one who ‘looks like a son of the gods?’  A human figure, but no ordinary human.  This man is shining brighter than the flames of the king’s furnace.  This heavenly looking man has freed the prisoners from their bonds and, like a good shepherd accompanying His flock, He is walking with them through ‘the valley of the shadow of death’!

(In the Old Testament the phrase ‘the angel of the Lord’ is sometimes used reverently to express the presence of the Lord Himself.)

There is no doubt that God’s people may and should take great comfort from this picture.  Our Lord is promising to be with us in times of trial.  Many are the testimonies of believers who have found that in their times of greatest challenge and difficulty, that’s when they have experienced God’s greatest presence and comfort.  There seem to be a freedom and a peace that surpass normal human logic and understanding as Jesus draws near and walks with His followers through our trials.

So God saves.  He delights to rescue with forgiveness and the promise of eternal life those who trust in Jesus, Son of God, the Saviour.  We who trust will want to obey His Word, even if it means going against some of the world’s fashion and may bring pressure and trouble in the short-term.  We are not alone.  Our Shepherd is with us through everything.

Let’s follow Him with wholehearted commitment, assured that His grace will be sufficient through all circumstances and that to live in His glorious presence will be our eternal reward!

 

 

 

Church Service

EVERY SUNDAY
at 10.30 am
During July and August, the service will begin at 10.15 am and tea/coffee will be served afterwards.