Wicked Nightmare

What a wickedly vivid nightmare! Four fantastical beasts, each one, in some ways, more terrifying than the one before. A lion with the wings of an eagle. A bear leaning to one side with three ribs in its mouth. A four-headed leopard with four wings. A horrific beast with iron teeth and bronze claws, having a number of horns, that bites and tears and devours. But then a radiant throne and the Ancient of Days sitting in judgment. And finally one like a Son of Man riding a cloud and coming up to the Ancient of Days to receive authority and a kingdom. Such was Daniel’s dream. And it deeply troubled him.

Daniel 7. When Daniel asked for the interpretation, he was told that the four beasts represented four successive kingdoms…much like Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2. Like the head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, the lion with the wings of an eagle represented Babylon. That much Daniel could be sure of. But at the time of the dream, he was still living in the time of Babylon’s rule so the identity of the remaining kingdoms would have been a mystery. From world history, we know that the kingdoms that followed Babylon were Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. But the curious thing is…Rome never actually fell to another world power. For sure the city was sacked by the Visigoths and the Vandals from the north in the fourth century AD, but the kingdom itself faded into the background and became the European states that we know today.

The interesting thing for us in this vision is the fact that the final kingdom falls to the “One like a Son of Man” by whom the little horn that speaks out blasphemies against the Most High is cast into burning fire. This hasn’t happened yet. The little horn is also predicted to make war with the saints and overpower them – probably what terrifies Daniel…evil winning and good guys loosing. This we may think we have seen, but not to this extent. And so we wait. While it looks like following God is losing, we wait. While persecution intensifies, we wait. While our physical lives are seemingly thrown away like so much garbage, we wait. We wait for the eternal kingdom. But we also seek to engage the cultural now. We fight back the darkness and make it harder to go to hell. The Judge is coming, and when He arrives it will be too late for those who are His enemies. So we wait and we work and we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”

Until next time…stay salty.

 

It’s getting hot in here

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah all sought to remain true to God even in the midst of dire circumstances and a culture that sought to conform them to its image. When they first arrived in Babylon (exiled from Jerusalem because of the nation’s idolatry and disobedience), it started with a name-change. The names of all four boys reflected the God whom they worshiped and served. The first move of cultural re-education was to give them names that reflected the Babylonian pantheon of gods. So Daniel became Belshazzar, Hananiah became Shadrach, Mishael became Meshach, and Azariah became Abed-nego.In addition to new names, the boys were immersed in Babylonian customs and learning. The food that they were told to eat violated what their consciences dictated, so they asked for a pass, and God was merciful. Their decision to follow Him was rewarded.

Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. No one seemed to be able to interpret it for him, so he pronounced a death sentence on all his wise men (which included Daniel and his three friends). When Daniel and crew were made aware of the king’s edict, they asked for time, and God was merciful once again and granted Daniel insight and wisdom to know the dream and its interpretation. Daniel was promoted and secured high offices for his three friends. Up to this point, God seemed to be prospering Daniel and his friends in captivity. Following Him had been relatively easy.

Daniel 3. Everything changes. After Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a statute representing successive world kingdoms (aka The Times of the Gentiles) and the subsequent destruction of those kingdoms by God’s eternal kingdom, Nebuchadnezzar took to heart Daniel’s statement that he, Nebuchadnezzar, was the head of gold and king of kings. He set up a huge golden image to which he commanded all of his officials to bow down and worship (likely both political and religious significance). Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah all refused. Nebuchadnezzar was not happy and threatened certain death for the three boys unless they complied. And now their faith was on the line…what would they do? These guys made an amazing statement, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” But even if He does not… wow. What faith. Regardless of the outcome these young men were willing to remain true to God. For them, death was not the end. But God once again was merciful and spared their lives.

These three are a stark contrast to the nation. The nation went into captivity because they continually bowed down to idols, yet these three refuse idolatry even though their lives are on the line. And they become examples for believers going through this time of Gentile domination when doing the right thing seems to bring a negative consequence…the world system is vehemently opposed to the things of God. Jesus said, “If they hate you, know that they hated Me first…” Death is not the end, but just a transition. As the author of Hebrews says, we are looking for a better kingdom than what the world has to offer, an eternal kingdom that will never be shaken and will not fade away.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

On trial

Ever gotten in trouble for something you didn’t do? I have. I was in the second grade. It was early Monday morning. After breakfast, Dad began, “Son, I heard that some kids were throwing rocks (it was gravel) at each other yesterday evening at church and hit several cars. Do you know anything about it?” “No, Dad,” was my immediate response. “Are you sure, because someone said that they saw you out there with them?” I replied a little more apprehensively this time, “I saw the kids, but I wasn’t throwing rocks.” “Son, I think you’re lying to me.” Growing terror now, “No, Dad, I wasn’t throwing rocks!” Several swats later with tears streaming down my face, just as my dad was starting to believe me, “Yes, Dad, I threw rocks, too.” Three more swats for lying. To this day, I still don’t think I threw rocks, but I wanted to bring an end to the spanking.

Acts 24-26, Paul can relate to being falsely accused. Three different trials, three different Gentile authorities, three declarations of innocence (at least of anything worthy of death). With Felix, the Jewish leaders bring in the big guns, the lawyer Tertullus. Quickly Paul goes from being accused of bringing a Gentile into the Temple precincts to being accused of starting riots, introducing a new religion to the empire and desecrating the Temple. A guilty verdict on any one of the three charges could easily mean the death penalty. Rome did not tolerate insurrectionists, introducing a new religion was a capital offense, and the Romans had given the Jews permission to kill any Gentile who violated the Temple. It looks like Paul is in big trouble, but you wouldn’t suspect that from his cool demeanor (unlike this scared 7 year old boy). Instead he calmly addresses the court, refuting the charges of insurrection and of defiling the Temple. And then he spends a great deal of time explaining that the primary issue was Jesus, as it had always been. He was on trial for the hope of the resurrection…a hope that he shared with his Jewish brethren. Since the time of Abraham and the beginnings of the Jewish nation and even all the way back to Adam, the people of God had been looking for the Genesis 3:15 Seed of the Woman, the Messiah, the Davidic King who would crush the head of the serpent and redeem all of creation along with every person who believes. Paul said Jesus was and is the Guy…He is the First of the Resurrected, the Jews disagreed. That was the crux of the argument. Although Felix informally dismisses the charges against Paul, he nevertheless keeps Paul in prison for the next two years, frequently visiting him, hoping to receive a bribe, but instead receiving the gospel, which cuts him to the quick.

At the end of Felix’s term, Festus takes over as governor. Festus is ready to clean up Felix’s mess and so looks into the charges against Paul. There doesn’t seem to be anything to the charges, but in an effort to please the Jews, he asks Paul if he is willing to be tried in Jerusalem. Paul, knowing that Jerusalem would be a death sentence, appeals to Caesar. Festus acquiesces. King Agrippa happens to be in town, and aware of his intimate knowledge of the Jews, Festus asks him to hear Paul’s case. Agrippa agrees, and Paul defends himself yet again. This time he describes his life before conversion, his conversion experience on the Damascus road, and his commission to preach the gospel to both Jew and Gentile. At the conclusion of his defense, he is once again declared innocent, but as he has appealed to Caesar, Paul now must go to Rome.

It’s easy to blow past these three chapters on the way to finish the book of Acts, and I even considered not writing on them; but I was struck with the similarity between Paul’s experience and Jesus’ experience with the mock trials and declarations of innocence from Gentile authorities and the vitriolic hatred and rejection by those who do not believe. Jesus said the same would happen to those who follow Him. So what about you? Are you ready to be falsely accused, to be misunderstood, to be mistreated and persecuted and rejected for the sake of the Name? I have a feeling that those times are not far off my friend. But may we face those times with courage and grace, fiercely trusting in Jesus and leaning into the Holy Spirit for the strength to finish well, proclaiming the gospel until our time on earth is done.

Until next time…stay salty.