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Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Message in a Dream - a prophecy from Daniel

A Message in a Dream

A Prophecy from Daniel


Daniel hid his head under the covers as he lay on his bed trembling in the darkness.  He had just awakened from another one of his wild dreams and it was more than he could handle.  This is how he describes it:  “I, Daniel was deeply troubled by my thoughts and my face turned pale, and I decided not to tell anyone.”  (Daniel 7:28)


Daniel, a Jewish boy, had lost so much already.  He, along with his people- the Jews- had been taken away from their homeland and brought to Babylon to become the slaves of the Babylonians.  Even though Daniel had lost his home and his freedom, he refused to lose his faith in God.  And he would die first before he would worship the Babylonian idols.


Scripture says that God rewarded Daniels’ faithfulness to Him by giving him the gifts of “knowledge and understanding,” and God gave him another gift too- “Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.”  (Daniel 1; 17)  God began giving messages to Daniel in the form of dreams and visions- messages to be passed on to the world – and to us. 


These dreams were prophecies from God given to Daniel to record for all the world’s peoples. Dreams encoded with hidden meanings from God telling ahead of time what the future holds for the human race!  The book of Daniel, one of the major books of prophecy in the Bible, records these dreams and their meanings. This book was written in about 530 B.C. and foretells how the history of mankind will finally turn out.


Daniel describes his new dream from God in the seventh chapter of Daniel.  His dream begins when he sees four winds churning up the sea, and as he watches four beasts come up out of the sea.  The first beast is like a lion with wings on its’ back.  And as he watches the wings are torn off and the lion is given the heart of a man. 


The second beast comes up and looks like a bear chewing on three ribs in its mouth.  Daniel watches as the bear roams about stalking it’s prey and hungrily eats flesh.  Then a third beast appears that looks like a leopard with four wings on its’ back and four heads.  This winged leopard is given the authority to rule.


And then the fourth beast arrives – terrifying and frightening with large iron teeth!  It rampages and crushes and eats its victims. This beast is different from the others, and it has ten horns.  Around this time as Daniel is watching, the saints of God are given the kingdom.  And then as Daniel continues watching, a little horn grows up among the other horns of the beast and uproots three of its’ ten horns. This scary little horn has eyes and a mouth and speaks loud blasphemies against God. And this little horn persecutes the saints who, for a short time, are given into his hands. 


And then Daniel sees thrones being set in place and the Ancient of Days taking His seat.  He is dressed in white and His throne is fiery with a river of fire flowing out from it.  Millions of people are standing before the Ancient of Days attending Him.  And the books are opened.  At the same time, on earth the little horn continues to speak pompous words and the fourth beast is put to death. 


And then Daniel’s dream ends with Jesus coming back to the earth in glory!  The Ancient of Days makes Jesus the ruler of the whole earth with His kingdom lasting forever and ever!  Daniel tells it this way:  “I was watching in the night vision and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with clouds of heaven!  He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him.  Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom.  That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away.  And His kingdom shall never be destroyed.”  (Daniel 7: 13-14)


This bigger than life dream finally ends, but it has left Daniel stunned and overwhelmed.  Trembling and still half asleep he sees someone standing nearby and asked this one to tell him the meaning of the dream.  (Bible scholars believe that this one standing nearby was an angel)  This angel or being nearby is there to help Daniel and gladly explains the meaning of the dream for him.  


The helper (angel) in his dream tells Daniel that the four beasts, each different from the other, are four kings which will come to power (rise out of the sea) and rule in the future. The sea often represents nations and peoples when it is mentioned prophetically in the Bible.  So possibly four rulers or powers over the course of time would rise to power and control much of the known world.   


Some Biblical scholars believe that the lion symbolized Babylon (626-539 B.C.) and the bear the Medo-Persian kingdom. (539-330B.C.)  Strength and ferocity figure in almost every Biblical use of the symbol of the bear and the massive Persian armies would fit that label. The four-winged leopard speaks of Alexander the Greats’ Grecian (Macedonian) kingdom. (330–63 B.C.) And the four heads correspond to the four main divisions into which Alexanders’ empire fell after his untimely death in 323 B.C.


The fourth beast, very different from the other beasts, with iron teeth and ten horns is believed by many Biblical scholars to represent the Roman Empire. (63B.C. -  ?)  The ten horns symbolize an unspecified and yet complete number of kings (the number ten symbolizes “completeness” in the Bible) In other words there might be many kingdoms over time that grew or were influenced from this beast (kingdom). The ten horns in this dream of Daniel’s may correspond to the ten toes in another of Daniel’s dreams (Dan.2:41-42).  


 After the fourth beast (Rome?) rises out of the sea, Daniel watches as the saints (God’s people) receive the kingdom of heaven.  “But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever…”  (Daniel 7:18)  We may stop and ask the question, if it’s true that we have already received the kingdom of God then why are we up one day and down the next?  Why aren’t we living victoriously as children of the kingdom all the time?    


Perhaps because we do battle with sinister enemies here on earth we sometimes experience a mix of spiritual victories and then apparent defeats.  We are fighting a terrible enemy – the devil.  In Daniel 7:25 we read: “… The little horn shall speak pompous words against the Most High, He shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law.  Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time.”


Who is this “little horn” in Daniel’s dream with eyes and a mouth that speaks heresies?  The little horn who will have the saints in his hand for a short time?  The little horn that replaced three of the ten horns on the fourth beast?  Some Bible scholars believe Daniel’s “little horn” embodies the antichrist spirit and becomes an archetype of the Antichrist in the Book of Revelation.  (Rev. 21-27)  We are getting in over our heads.  Whoever this “little horn” is, we know that he is evil.


First we read in Daniels’ dream that the saints receive the kingdom.  And then we read that for a short while the saints will be given into the hands of this evil power – the little horn.  Even though the saints (God’s people) have been given the kingdom, an intense battle continues with evil forces here on earth.  We win victories and we experience set-backs.


And then in Daniel’s dream, right after the saints are given into the hands of the evil little horn, God – the Ancient of Days- sets up court and kills the beast (man’s government on earth).  The dramatic action whereby the beasts’ kingdom is violently taken away fits the many Biblical end time predictions.  And in Daniel’s dream (Daniel 7) God also takes away the power of the “little horn” (the anti-christ) and gives the saints – His people- the kingdom to “possess” forever and ever. 


Even though the saints - or God’s people- are told here in Daniel and also in the gospels that they have already received the kingdom, an extended struggle continues for awhile on earth. And Daniel’s vision spans this spiritual struggle across the ages.  Perhaps we Christians live in an in between time here on earth.  We have already “received” the kingdom but don’t yet “possess” it completely? It almost sounds like we don’t come into our full inheritance until Jesus comes again and becomes the ruler of the earth forever.  And then Scripture says that we will rule with Him.


I am sure that we are missing some of the meaning of this dream of Daniel’s.  But I sense that God gave this dream – this vision- to Daniel and to us for a reason.  This dream makes it possible for us to see what no person can see with the natural eye.  In this dream the curtain of time is pulled back and we are allowed a breathtaking glimpse of the human race as it moves down through the ages.  We are invited to watch as one kingdom after another rises and reigns and then falls.  And then God calls us to observe the end of the ages when He is on His fiery throne to judge and the Son of Man (Jesus) comes triumphantly to the earth to put an end to sin and suffering.  And to rule the earth forever!


When we become discouraged and disillusioned. When things don’t look like they will ever turn out right. When pain and heartbreak seem to dog our every step.  We can remember this dream and be encouraged. We can remember that in the end everything will turn out all right.  In the end Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior will come again to our earth and put an end to all the wrongs and hate and  sorrow.  He will be victorious and we will be victorious with Him.  It doesn’t get any better than that!  














Saturday, February 16, 2013

Is There A christian Position Regarding Gun Control?

Is There A Christian Position Regarding Gun Control?



God and guns go together in the United States. It’s a part of our heritage.  Most Americans believe that the Second Amendment gives every citizen the right to own and shoot a gun.  This is important to Americans because most of us live in fear - fear of the “bad guy”.  And we believe that the only way we can be real Americans and protect our homes and our freedom from the bad guys is to have guns – and lots of ‘em.


Christians in the U.S. are divided when it comes to their position regarding gun control. Some Christian groups teach their children Bible lessons and then more lessons on how to fire guns right on their church grounds! And thousands of Christian in the United States spend their Saturdays’ shooting guns at a gun range and then Sunday’s at church worshiping Jesus, the Prince of Peace.  God and guns go together.  


But there are Christians in the U.S. who don’t agree with this picture. And there are millions of families in the U.S. who have tragically lost a son or a sister, a daughter or a father through gun violence.  And they are also asking questions about America’s romance with guns. I was unaware that my church, the United Methodist Church, has taken a stand to control and regulate the possession of firearms. And the police chiefs in the U.S. want lawmakers to ban “weapons of war” so that our policemen on our streets won’t be outgunned.  There are voices of descent out there against the “gun worship” that is so popular here in our country!


For a long time many U.S. citizens have wanted to change the law that allows a person to buy a gun without a background check.  But amazingly there are more citizens who have fought against background checks for gun purchasers even though our society is a more dangerous place when guns are allowed to be purchased by mentally ill persons and felons. At the present time a mentally ill person can buy a gun at a gun show without a background check.  And the powerful National Rifle Association doesn’t want to change this because it might inconvenience gun buyers!


 And in the U.S. at the present time it is legal to sell military type assault weapons and magazines carrying large amounts of ammunition to the general public. Folks all over the country are rushing to gun stores, department stores, Walmart, sport shops and gun shows and often waiting in long lines to buy these popular assault weapons. It’s the patriotic thing to do!


As a nation we seem to believe strongly in the redemptive power of violence.  But in the last few years many cities in order to save money have drastically cut their police force.  Money seems to be more important than human life. But then surprise- with fewer police on the streets, urban crime rates shot up! But do we strengthen our police force back to what it was?  Or do we all become our own policemen?


 You guessed it, we all become policemen!  We rush out and buy a gun or guns and learn to shoot to kill so that we can protect what belongs to us.  We seem to think that it is our sacred duty to protect our expensive jewelry and our nice automobiles, our video games and our television sets.  We work hard to buy all of these things and we will shoot any “bad guy” who tries to take our stuff away.  We have that right!


 But as followers of Christ we ask ourselves, is this what Jesus would have us do?  Jesus let go of all of His rights when He went to the cross for us.  Would He encourage us to hold onto our right to shoot and kill a thief we find stealing our material things?  If the robberies continue and our livelihood is jeopardized, wouldn’t we have to do something?   If we didn’t actually shoot the thief, what then would the Christian response be?  


We read in Scripture that Jesus is the “Prince of Peace”.   He calls us to be peacemakers. Would Jesus suggest that we give every person in the U.S. a gun and teach them to shoot to kill in order to keep the peace?  If someone is trying to harm ourselves or our children or another person we might have to threaten them with a gun in order to stop them from committing the intended crime, and then call the police.  Or if we were forced to we might have to shoot the person to stop him from his crime. As peacemakers we are to try to stop a violent crime I would think, even if that might mean shooting the person who is shooting at others.


What would Jesus have us do?  Let’s turn to Scripture for some possible answers.  In Matthew 26:47-52 Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane with His disciples when Judas arrives with a crowd of chief priests and elders who are carrying swords and clubs.(they didn’t have guns back then)  Jesus’ enemies were coming to arrest Him and kill Him.  “Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear.  (Jesus stopped and healed the ear)  And then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who live by the sword will die by the sword.’” (Matthew 16: 51-52)   Would Jesus give us similar advice today?  “All who live by the gun will die by the gun.”  He just might!


Another Bible passage on this subject is Zechariah 9 and it reads:  “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Lo, your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is He, Humble and riding on a donkey.  On a colt, the foal of a donkey.  He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war house from Jerusalem: and the battle-bow shall be cut off.  And He shall command peace to the nations: and His dominion shall be from sea to sea. And from the River to the ends of the earth.”  (Zechariah 9:9-10)


Other Scriptures seem to show us that Jesus practices a different Way to peace than the way of the sword. (or the gun).  He tells us: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’”  (Matthew 9:13)  In Matthew 10:28 we read more of Jesus’ words.  “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul…”  In 2 Corinthians 10:3 we read: “Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does…”


 Jesus shows us more about His Way of peace.  “Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, if another sins against me, how often should I forgive?  As many as seven times?’  Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven.’” (Matthew 18:21-22)  Jesus asks us to join Him in living a humble life.  Here are His words to us.  “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me for I am meek and lowly in heart and you will find rest in your souls.”  (Matthew 11:29)  Do we as Christians carry a gun on our hip at the same time we carry Jesus’ yoke of humility on our lives– His meek and lowly heart?  How does that work?  I don’t have all the answers!  Do you?


And Matthew 7:1,”Do not condemn, so that you may not be condemned.”  In Matthew 5:38-41 Jesus tells us:” You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not fight an evildoer.  But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also: and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well, and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.  Give to everyone who begs from you…”  Should we as Christians vote for more laws to level the playing field between the rich and the poor? Laws to bring in more jobs so that desperate people won’t be tempted to steal?  How would Jesus have us obey these instructions He left with us? Yes, the Prince of Peace calls us to a new way of finding peace – different than the world’s way.


Scripture says that when we are in heaven we will “beat our swords into plowshares” (Joel 3:10)   And there will “be no killing in My Holy Hill”. (Isaiah 11:9)  There will be no more violence – no swords (guns) no killing in heaven.  But we aren’t in heaven yet.  You notice that in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus told his follower- the one who cut off the ear of a man in the group that was arresting Jesus- to put away his sword.  Jesus didn’t tell his follower to get rid of his sword.  Just to put it away.  We are still living on this earth and we may still need a sword (gun) sometimes.  


As Christians we walk a fine line.  We are in the world but not of it.  We are called to be Jesus’ “peacemakers” here on earth. (Matthew 5)  So how does our role as a  “peacemaker” influence how we ask our law makers to vote on gun control?  Should the general public have access to military weapons and large clips of ammo?  Should every citizen be able to arm himself with machine guns and heavy weaponry?  How do we answer those questions?


  The statistics are sobering. We Americans lead the world in gun violence. Each year roughly 30,000 Americans suffer a violent death from being shot by a gun.  Many more are hurt or maimed. And the economic costs associated with our gun violence is about $32 billion yearly in the U.S. according to most recently available data. And who can estimate the amount of suffering and pain our gun violence causes!


 Because we have so few restrictions on gun control, many more people die each year in the United States from gun violence than in any other country in the civilized world! There were four deaths in Norway last year due to gun violence and over 400 in England.  And ours is around 30,000!  Shouldn’t this concern us as human beings and as Christians?


If enough of us would speak out about this issue, we could make a difference. Our opinions matter. Is keeping the sale of guns free from most restrictions more important to us Americas than protecting and saving human lives?  How many more people have to die in America from gun violence while we look the other way?  I believe that the Lord is calling us to speak up – to do what we can to keep gun violence at a minimum –to ask our law makers to vote for gun control and make our country a better and safer place.












Saturday, February 9, 2013

He Lost His Mind and Got It Back


He Lost His Mind but Got It Back



The ancient city of Babylon with its temples and palaces was the most beautiful and powerful city of its time (612-539B.C.) And the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Babylon was situated on the Euphrates River in what is now modern day Iraq.


 Led by the powerful King Nebuchadnezzar, the soldiers of the Neo-Babylonian (Assyrian) empire fought and conquered all of their neighbors -the surrounding nations and peoples. Nebuchadnezzar also had an ambitious building program. Archeologists have uncovered some of the ruins -the canals, roads, massive walls and golden monuments of this city from antiquity.


We can learn more about this Babylonian king- Nebuchadnezzar- by reading the book of Daniel in the Bible.  In the fourth chapter of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar has had another one of his wild dreams and he is again asking his wise men to tell him what his dream means. Scripture tells us that indeed God had given these dreams to Nebuchadnezzar to send him a message and a warning.  And the king seemed to know that his dreams had a hidden meaning.


All of the occult soothsayers and counselors in Babylon came to the palace to try to help King Nebuchadnezzar understand what his dream meant.  But alas, try as they might, not one of these “wise men” could interpret the dream.  So the king called for Daniel to come.  And when Daniel arrived the king told Daniel that he wanted his help because “the spirit of the holy God is within you.”  (Daniel 4:8b) Even though Nebuchadnezzar worshipped many gods he could see the one true God in Daniel and in his life. And then Nebuchadnezzar sat down and told Daniel what he had dreamed.  And this is what he said he dreamed. 


In his dream or vision, Nebuchadnezzar saw an enormous tree that could be seen all around the land. Its top branches reached to the sky and its leafy limbs were covered all over with luscious fruit. The beasts found shelter and shade under the tree and the birds lived in its branches. But then Nebuchadnezzar saw a holy messenger come down from heaven and command that the tree be cut down.


 Scripture quotes Nebuchadnezzar as telling that the holy messenger in his dream said:  “But let the stump of the tree and its roots, bound with iron and bronze; remain in the ground, in the grass of the field.  Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth.  Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him. The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone He wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men. This is the vision I had” (Daniel 4:15-17) After he had finished describing his dream, Nebuchadnezzar turned to Daniel and asked him; “Daniel, I know this vision is a message from God. Ask your God what this means.”  


So Daniel prayed to God to reveal the meaning of the king’s dream and right away God answered his prayer and showed him the meaning of the dream.  Unfortunately Daniel was so scared by what the Lord showed him that he went into a state of shock!  His face turned pale and his body began to shake. Nebuchadnezzar could tell right away that something was very wrong. Scripture says: “Then Daniel was greatly perplexed for awhile, and his thoughts terrified him.”  (Daniel 4; 19a)  


“Do not let the dream or its meaning frighten you,” The king said.  (Daniel 4:19b) And Daniel answered:  “My Lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries!”  (Daniel 4:19b)  Nebuchadnezzar could see that Daniel didn’t want to tell him what God had revealed.  But the king insisted that Daniel tell him the meaning of his dream even if it was very bad.


 So Daniel reluctantly began telling Nebuchadnezzar the meaning of his dream. And this is what he said:  “The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the beasts of the field and having nesting places in its branches for the birds – you, O king, are that tree!  You have become great and strong…your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.”  (Daniel 4:20-22) 


And Daniel continued:  “You, O king, saw a messenger, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground.  Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, let him live like the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.”  (Daniel 4:23) 


Daniel explained what this part of the dream meant. “You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals: you will eat grass like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven.  Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone He wishes.  The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that God rules.”  (Daniel 4:25-26)  Daniel told the king that God was judging him for being proud and arrogant.


Then Daniel asked the king to listen to his advice.  He begged Nebuchadnezzar to change his ways, to be kind to the poor and help the oppressed.  Daniel suggested that perhaps if the king became a kinder gentler person that God might change his mind and not allow the meaning of the dream to come true. If Nebuchadnezzar could give God the glory for giving him his kingdom and not think that he had done it all himself, then maybe God would not humble him in the future. Would Nebuchadnezzar take Daniel’s advice?


At first the king was nervous and thought about giving himself to Daniel’s God.  The dream had been so real. Would he really lose his kingdom and live with the animals?  But the days and weeks went by and nothing bad happened. Every knee bowed to him, he fought battles and won every war, and he built even more impressive monuments and lavish palaces throughout the kingdom.  It was difficult not to be proud when he had it all. A year passed by and the king was forgetting about his scary dream from Daniel’s God.


One evening a year after the dream the mighty King Nebuchadnezzar was strolling on the roof of his royal palace, looking out over the great city of Babylon and admiring its massive walls and lavish temples.  As he strutted around the roof adjusting the gold crown on his head, he talked out loud to himself.  “I must say, isn’t this Babylon the greatest city in the world? I alone have built it as my royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30)


The words were still on his lips when “a voice from heaven spoke, ‘This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you.  You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals: you will eat grass like cattle.  Seven times will pass over you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone He wishes.” (Daniel 4:31-33)


Scripture says that immediately Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind and was driven away from his kingdom.  He acted like an animal and ate grass in the fields.  “His body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.”  (Daniel 4:33)


Bible scholars believe the length of time the king lost his sanity which the Bible calls “seven times” was probably a period of seven years. But whatever length of time elapsed, Scripture says that: “At the end of the time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored.  Then I praised the Most High: I honored and glorified Him who lives forever.”  (Daniel 4:34a)   Nebuchadnezzar finally learned to bow and humble himself before the living God.


After this Nebuchadnezzar’s honor and splendor were returned to him. His advisers and nobles sought him out and he was restored to his throne and he became even greater than before. (Daniel 4:36)  Nebuchadnezzar had learned his lesson and this is what he said:  “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything He does is right and all of His ways are just.  And those who walk in pride, He is able to humble.”  (Daniel 4:37)  The king knew that by experience!


Isn’t this story a lesson about the importance of humility?  I’m sure Nebuchadnezzar isn’t the only person whose pride has displeased God.  God also looks into each of our hearts hoping to find humility.  James 4:10 says: “Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up.”  Proverbs 16:17-18 reads: “Pride comes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” And 1 Peter 5:6 reads:  “All of you be submissive toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”


Many times throughout Scripture we are instructed to be humble and submissive toward one another.  If we would be submissive and compromise with one another how many wars would never take place and how many families would never break up?  


 Psalm 133:1 reads:  “Look how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity.”  How many parents and children, brothers and sisters miss out by not being able to live together in unity?  Our lives might be so much richer if all of us could learn to be humble and respectful when we interact with one another.


Jesus asks us to join Him in living a humble life.  Here are His words to us. “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me for I am meek and lowly in heart and you will find rest in your souls.”  (Matthew 11:29)   Jesus is asking us personally to take on His yoke of humility and follow in His footsteps.  It won’t always be easy. Pride is in and humility is not popular. But that is what Jesus is asking us to do.  Are we willing to do it? 





















Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Hebrew Children in the Fiery Furnace


The Hebrew Children in the Fiery Furnace



The date was around 608 B.C. and the Jews who lived in and around Jerusalem had recently been captured by Nebuchadnezzar’s armies and carried away to Babylon as slaves. There was much moaning and crying among these Jews as they were being forced to live in a foreign land so far from home. They missed their old traditions and they missed their homeland so very much.  


Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were four Jewish teen-agers who had come to Babylon with their families.  Shortly after they arrived they were chosen to serve as eunuchs in the king’s palace and later promoted to higher governing positions.  Scripture says: “the king set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon: but Daniel sat in the gate of the king.”  (Daniel 2:49b)  


At this time in history the powerful King Nebuchadnezzar ruled most of the known world- and ruled it with an iron hand. He wanted his new Jewish subjects to forget about Jerusalem and become Babylonians.  And he wanted them to forget their God and worship the Babylonian gods and idols.


Scripture says that Nebuchadnezzar ordered his artisans to create a huge golden image- a statue.  After the image was finished he had it set up on a slope just outside of Babylon.  And then the king called for everyone in Babylon to come to the dedication of his giant golden image. When all of the people had assembled and were standing before the large idol, the king’s heralds shouted out a new order or command for all the people to obey. 


And this is what it was:  “To you it is commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony …you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up: and whoever does not fall down and worship the idol shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.”  (Daniel 2:4b-6)


After this every few days the king would have his musicians play together and all of the people in Babylon would immediately stop whatever they were doing and run to the golden image and fall down and worship it. No one wanted to take the chance of being thrown into the king’s fiery furnace!


After a month or two had passed, Scripture tells us that a group of Chaldeans showed up at the palace to speak to the king.  These Chaldeans had been spying on the Jews and had noticed that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were not obeying the king’s order.  When the music played, these three young men did not run to the golden idol and fall down and worship it. The Chaldeans didn’t like the Jews anyway and they wanted to get them in trouble with the king.


When King Nebuchadnezzar heard that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were not obeying his order and bowing to his grand idol, he flew into a rage.   How dare these Jews not obey him!  Didn’t they know that he was ruler of the whole world?  He ordered his soldiers to arrest these young men and bring them to him on the double.


As the soldiers were bringing Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the palace, King Nebuchadnezzar ran to the door and met them screaming out orders for them to go and worship his idol that very minute. They must prove their loyalty to his idol while he watched. And he shouted out his threat one more time. And if they did not instantly bow down to his idol they would be thrown into the flames and burned up that very hour.  He would heat up the furnace seven times hotter than it had ever been heated just for good measure. And then his last words to the young men were: “And who is the god that will deliver you from my hands?”  (Daniel 3:15b)


Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were facing a terrifying challenge. It was either turn or burn!  Turn from God or burn to death. Couldn’t these boys just compromise a little - pretend to worship the king’s big idol and avoid the scary furnace?  They could keep on believing in God secretly, couldn’t they?  Give in a little? They knew that God had commanded His people not to worship idols, (Exodus 20:4) but surely God would forgive them under the circumstances!  The three teen-agers stood frozen before the angry king for a few minutes not saying a word.


And then all three spoke together at the same time and this is what they said:  “O Nebuchadnezzar, if that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king.  But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”  (Daniel 3:17-18)  These boys belonged to God all the way, whether they lived or whether they died. No turning back!


At this King Nebuchadnezzar flew into a violent fury. He swore and yelled and flashed his sword. He shouted out orders for his servants to heat up the furnace seven times hotter than usual. And he called for his soldiers to bind Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace immediately.  As the soldiers were dragging the three boys to the door of the furnace, the flames shot out and burned up the soldiers. Then the three boys were pushed in and fell down into the flames on the furnace floor. 


King Nebuchadnezzar fumed and paced back and forth outside the furnace room, glad that the boys who had dared to defy his command were in there burning and dying.  Finally he peeked into the furnace, knowing that by now the young men would be burned to ashes.  But instead of seeing ashes the king saw something else!  He couldn’t believe his eyes!  How could this be? “Didn’t you throw three young men into the furnace?” the king shrieked at his men.  “Yes”, they answered. “Then why do I see four men in the flames?”


“‘Look!’ the king answered, ‘I see four men loose, walking in the middle of the fire: and they are not hurt!  And the form of the fourth man is like the Son of God.’ ” (Daniel 3:25) King Nebuchadnezzar’s knees knocked together and his whole body trembled and shook.  Never had he seen anything like this!  This fourth man must be protecting the boys.  Maybe he should worship this God too!


King Nebuchadnezzar’s hands were shaking as he threw the furnace door open and called in to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to come out. The three young men climbed out smiling since the fire had not burned them at all.  Scripture says that their hair was not singed and even the smell of fire was not on their clothes. The amazed king called his wise men together and soon the word spread throughout the land that the God of the Jews had saved these boys when they went through the fire.


King Nebuchadnezzar praised and blessed the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and praised that fourth “man” who had been there in the fire with the boys. Nebuchadnezzar congratulated Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego for staying true to their God and then he promoted them to higher positions in his government. And the king also made a decree that all of the people in the land should never say a bad word against the God that these young men worshipped, otherwise they would be punished.  


What do we learn from this story in the Bible?  Perhaps we can see that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s separation to God – their absolute refusal to bow to the image - offers an inspiring example for us to follow.  Their commitment to God presents us with the challenge to never worship or bow down to any other god except the Christian God and never compromise, conceal or pervert our testimony for Jesus Christ. 


Most of us will never be asked to either give up our Christian faith or face the threat of death. But throughout history many Christians have been put to death for refusing to renounce their faith.  We have records of many thousands of Christian martyrs down through the ages–people who took a stand for God and paid the price with their lives.


Hebrews 11 is a chapter naming some of the many people throughout history who have been faithful to God.  Some were saved miraculously by God like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace.  But some of those faithful ones named in Hebrews 11 died horrible deaths and did not visibly see the protection that was surrounding them until they got to heaven.  They had to live by faith and not by sight in this life. And they will be given the highest honors. (Hebrews 11: 38-40)


In our Bible story, King Nebuchadnezzar saw four men walking through the fire when he looked into the fiery furnace.  And he reported that the fourth man looked like the “Son of God.”  We believe that the fourth man in the fiery furnace was indeed the Son of God - Jesus Christ.  The Son of God walked with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego through their fiery trial.  And the Son of God – Jesus Christ will walk with us through our trials too. (Matt.28:20)


We probably will never have to face a real fiery furnace, (let’s hope not!) but we may have to go through a fiery-furnace testing in our lives.  And we can know at that time that the Lord’s protection and deliverance will be there for us like it was for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  That “fourth man” Nebuchadnezzar saw walking through the fire with the boys will also be there with us when we walk through the fire. 


We need to believe that God will equip us to prevail in adversity.  And we need to be willing, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to endure fire and death rather than to deny God. God was glorified because these young men stayed true to Him.  And God will be glorified in our lives if we stay true to Him too.  Having done all to stand, we stand. (Eph.6:13b-14a)