Rattlin’ Cages

Some folks would swear I ask questions just to rattle cages. And…they’re right. When it comes to digging in to God’s Word, I’ve found that most, if not all, of us approach it with blinders on. Our preconceived notions of what a particular passage says based on what we’ve heard from this or that preacher or teacher clouds our ability to really see the Word for ourselves, and therefore we miss so much of the beauty and wonder, the mystery and sometimes mystical nature of the Bible. So I like to challenge folks to think outside the box, to take God’s Word at face value and dare to believe.

Revelation 11. Two witnesses show up. John has taken us back to the beginning of the tribulation. The first time through he used a wide-angle lens to capture the effects of the seal and trumpet judgments on a global scale. And now he zooms in on the events taking place in Jerusalem. During the breaking of the seals and the beginning of the trumpets, these two guys are prophesying in the city, calling down fire, shutting up the sky, turning water to blood, all for one purpose…to bring the Jewish nation to repentance. The two appear to be unstoppable until the beast shows up and slays them both and leaves their dead bodies in the streets of Jerusalem for 3 1/2 days. Then the two witnesses or caught up to heaven and a severe earthquake takes place…and the people repent. Israel becomes a believing nation once again.

Revelation 12. Using imagery from Joseph’s dream, John describes converted Israel as the mother of Messiah. Strong allusions to Genesis 3.15 permeate this section as the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and satan seeks to devour the child (aka Seed of the woman). Being unsuccessful, he pursues the rest of her offspring (aka seed of the woman). A battle is waged in heaven and the dragon is cast out. (When does this occur? How does satan have access to heaven? Notice particularly that he is described as the accuser of the brethren who accuses them before God day and night.) Knowing he only has a short time, satan begins to persecute the Jews in earnest, attempting to wipe them completely out.

The Christian life is definitely a battlefield. That is nowhere more apparent than in the shocking scenes from the book of Revelation. The hero of the book is the overcomer, who we find defined in this last chapter…they overcame by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony and they did not love their lives even unto death. Overcoming by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony can be difficult enough, but not loving our lives even unto death…that’s all together different. My prayer is that God gives us the courage and the insight to live our lives in such a way that we do fear death, that we see beyond the physical to the spiritual world, and that we lay hold of that which is life indeed, each one realizing what it means to be a knight of faith.

Until next time…stay salty.

Answered Prayer?

Sixty-six years. Daniel had been in captivity for sixty-six years. He had come to Babylon as a young man and now was quite old. Most of his friends were gone…they had died somewhere along the way. Yet Daniel was unwavering in his hope that God would restore the nation. Reading the prophet Jeremiah, he came across the passage where God had mentioned the Jews being in captivity in Babylon for 70 years before judgment came upon the Babylonians. And now the time was near, or so it seemed. So Daniel began to pray, confessing the sins of the nation and asking God to restore them just as Moses had instructed in Deuteronomy. And suddenly an angel appeared, Gabriel in fact. And Daniel’s prayer was answered in a most surprising way.

Daniel 9. First Daniel’s told that 70 7’s had been decreed for his people and the holy city, “to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.” It turns out that the 7’s are years, so 70 7’s would be 490 years. According to the following verse, 69 of those 7’s (483 years) would span the time from the rebuilding of the city (time of Nehemiah) to the appearance of the Messiah (Jesus’ triumphal entry). But then Messiah would be cut off by the same folks who would also destroy the city. In the final 7 (tribulation) there would be a covenant made and then broken by a mysterious figure, a prince of these folks, who would then be destroyed.

Good news for Daniel: the righteous rule of God would be established. Bad news: not anytime soon. We are still in the time between the 69th and 70th 7. We’re waiting for the end of transgression and sin, the entrance of everlasting righteousness and the sealing up of prophecy. In some ways these things have been accomplished…in Jesus who is the “Stone cut without hands” and the “Son of Man” who comes up to the Ancient of Days. In His first coming, He made atonement for sin and paved the way for everlasting righteousness for all who believe in Him. But still we wait. We wait for the final revelation of the Son as the White Horse Rider and the ultimate end of sin, death, pain, sorrow, etc. And as we wait, like Daniel, may God find us just as faithful to impact our culture and point others to Him.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Round Two

Sixty some-odd years ago Daniel arrived in Babylon as one of the captive exiles from Jerusalem. At that time, Nebuchadnezzar sat at the helm of the mighty Babylonian empire. Daniel distinguished himself early on in his career as a man of integrity and an uncompromising worshiper of the true God; and he enjoyed favor with both God and Nebuchadnezzar, rising to dizzying heights within the governmental administration.

Decades later, Daniel found himself in a similar role, a rising star, but in a different kingdom. The Medo-Persians had stepped on the world stage as the new conquering kingdom. Daniel was one of three high government officials, and Darius planned on making him the number two guy in the kingdom. Not good news for Daniel’s competitors. Not that Daniel had it out for them at all, but they did not like the idea of this Hebrew ruling over them. So they devised a plot. I’m not sure what it says about government officials today, but at that time these guys thought for sure they would be able to find some “dirt” on Daniel, political or otherwise. But he was above reproach. Eighty + years old and they could find nothing against him. What a testimony to his character. Their only shot was to try to entrap him in regards to the worship of his God. His reputation as a God-follower must have been well-know. They hatched the plot, Darius signed the decree, and worship of God (any god) was forbidden for thirty days. Once the decree was signed, they had Daniel. They knew that he would not compromise, and Darius would therefore be forced to carry out the death sentence – one-way trip to the lions’ den to be mauled by lions. Things seemed to go according to plan, except the king was unusually worried about Daniel’s welfare, and then the unthinkable…Daniel survived the ordeal! That did not bode well for the conspirators, and their lives were forfeited for their treachery. The story ends in much the same way that Daniel and his three friends other encounters with the king end…with the king acknowledging the greatness of God.

So why does Daniel include this story, especially since it highlights many of the same lessons that we’ve already seen in the book (i.e., God’s sovereignty, God’s protection, Daniel, et al. ‘s faithfulness/integrity, etc.)? I believe it has something to do with this being the second of the kingdoms (round two, if you will) that God revealed would rule over the Jews. Babylon was the first. The Persians were the second. God protected a remnant in the first kingdom, and now He’s protecting that same remnant in the second kingdom. For the Jews reading the story, it would be a strong encouragement that God would look out for them in the ensuing kingdoms during the Times of the Gentiles until He sets up His eternal kingdom. The same encouragement is there for us today as God-followers. Even though following God looks many times like losing rather than winning, we can be assured that the kingdoms of this world are temporary and that their power comes only at God’s discretion. He is still sovereign, and He still continues to work in history to bring about His divine purposes. He will establish His kingdom.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Sign of the Times

The king had a dream. A very disturbing, seemingly ominous dream. The dread that he felt upon awaking only confirmed the magnanimity of the omen. So he called in his wise men – astrologers, magicians, practioners of the arcane arts – seeking to discover the meaning of the dream. The assembly was brought together, and then a very peculiar request was made. “Tell me the dream and its interpretation,” demanded the king. The sages stood dumbfounded. Such a request had never been made before. Sure they had been asked to interpret dreams, but never to rehearse the dream itself before hearing it. But the king’s word was law, and his resolve was firm. Tell the dream and its interpretation or die! The wise men astutely answer that the giving of dreams and revealing of mysteries was beyond mortal man. Nevertheless the king pronounced the death sentence. Daniel 2

The first that Daniel heard of the king’s decree was at the moment that the guards show up for him. Apparently he wasn’t invited to participate with the others although we are told that he surpassed them all in wisdom and knowledge. Daniel asked for time from the king and asked his friends to pray that God would grant the interpretation. God graciously revealed the dream to Daniel. And then Daniel made a profound statement about God – “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding. It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him. To You, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, For You have given me wisdom and power; Even now You have made known to me what we requested of You, For You have made known to us the king’s matter.”

Daniel reported to the king. In the dream, Nebuchadnezzar saw a huge statue – head of gold, arms and chest of silver, trunk of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with clay. He also saw a huge stone cut without hands that crushed the statue and filled the earth. “You are the head of gold,” Daniel told the king. Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom would be followed by a series of successive kingdoms, each one inferior to the one before until the kingdom set up by God was established which would supersede them all. Nebuchadnezzar was ecstatic and gave gifts to Daniel and made this amazing statement: “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.”

Both Daniel and, more importantly, Nebuchadnezzar recognized that God is sovereign…very significant considering that in chapter 1 the king’s actions symbolically show the defeat of the God of Israel by Marduk, the Babylonian god. The importance of this story for the Jews is two-fold. One, it sets expectations as the Times of the Gentiles formally begin. Israel should not look for a king on the throne until God sets up His kingdom…a kingdom which is very physical (“crushes” all the others). Two, those who follow God are to be faithful during this time. God has not forgotten His people even though following God may look like losing, especially from the world’s perspective. Hold the course. Keep the faith.

Until next time…stay salty.

The Next Chapter

Last night we finished the book of Acts. After a harrowing boat ride, Paul finally arrives in Rome. Along the way he ministers not only to sailors and military personnel, but also to the island inhabitants of Malta. The gospel continues to spread. And in Rome he meets with the Jews living there to discuss the charges against him. He presents the hope of the gospel fulfilled in Jesus, but the group rejects the message. Once again he turns to the Gentiles.

Several themes came up as we talked last night. We clearly see God at work expanding His kingdom, directing both individuals and the church. The gospel spreads from Jerusalem to Rome, and the church, which began as a Jewish body, quickly incorporates all nations in fulfillment of Genesis 12 (that through Abraham all the nations of the world would be blessed). Opposition grows but the church overcomes. The resurrection is the primary emphasis of the speeches given by major characters in the story like Peter, Stephen and Paul.

The narrative ends with the obvious questions: What happened to Paul? What’s the rest of the story? Luke leaves room for us to add our own chapter. The story of the church and the expansion of God’s kingdom is not finished yet. The story continues still today. But I wonder what those early believers would think of this chapter. Would they recognize the church they fought so hard to establish? When I read about the way that they loved and sacrificed and engaged their culture, I really wonder.

Discussing Hitchens’ book, God Is Not Great, with some friends I realized what a stinging indictment his book is against Christianity. The fact that he could lump all of Christendom into the same category of the other world religions so easily, shows that the church as a whole is failing at its job to be salt and light. That an atheist who has had as much contact with Christians as Hitchens did throughout his life is unable to caveat his statements about Christianity because he saw something different about the believers he encountered is telling.

Luke ends the book of Acts with the statement, “Boldly and without hindrance he (Paul) preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” I wonder how boldly we are preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about Jesus through both word and action to a world that so desperately needs to hear…

Until next time…stay salty.