the fourth in the fire

The Word for today:
Daniel 3

I love Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego!

I wish I could go to Wal-Mart and buy a big poster of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Because Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are like the Three Musketeers of faith!

But it’s o.k. if I don’t have a big poster of my heroes Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Because most of all (as you’ve gathered!) I just like saying “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.”

Certainly there is musicality in their names. And certainly their unwavering faith in God makes our own spirits sing. But the best part of the story is “The Fourth in the Fire.” Let’s let the story tell itself:

The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”

They replied, “Certainly, O king.”

He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”  (Daniel 3:22-25)

Well, I’ve got some news for Nebuchadnezzar. The fourth in the fire “looks like a son of the gods” because he is the Son of God!

May our faith be strong enough to see him there with us in the midst of our trials and trying circumstances.

But even when our faith wavers, he’s still there. The hell he endured on the cross made Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace seem like just a warm breeze.

Look right through your troubles and you’ll begin to make out his form. Troubles, in fact, help us see him more clearly.

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a Stone cut out, but not by human hands

The Word for today:
Daniel 2:31-49

The book of Daniel takes place in Babylon. When Babylonian soldiers destroyed Jerusalem and burned the Temple to the ground, most of the Jews were taken captive and lived out their lives in this foreign land. A few of the exiles, like Daniel, rose through sheer talent to prominent positions there.

Daniel chapter two presents a far-reaching prophecy of human history.  Much of what was prophecy then is history now…

It happened that Nebuchadnezzar, the powerful King of Babylon, had experienced a disturbing dream. Babylonians widely believed that the fate of individuals and nations was revealed through such dreams. In this case, Nebuchadnezzar asked what seemed to be impossible: he asked his astrologers, sorcerers, and wise men to first tell him the dream and then interpret it!

They, of course, could not. So Nebuchadnezzar decreed the execution of every wise man in the land.

Among the wise men scheduled to be executed was Daniel. But he did not despair, because he knew that God was able to reveal deep and hidden things. (Daniel 2:22)

After receiving a revelation from God in a dream, Daniel described to Nebuchadnezzar the full content of his dream. Picture a large and dazzling statue, with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron and feet of iron and clay.

The statue was a pictorial summary of what Jesus would later refer to as the times of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24). We are in the last phase of those times right now:

Images from a dream come true:
Head of gold = Nebuchadnezzar/Babylon (Daniel 2:38)
Chest and arms of Silver = Medea/Persia (Daniel 5:28; 8:20)
Middle and thighs of Brass = Greece (Daniel 8:21)
Legs of Iron / Feet part iron and part of clay = Rome.

Rome first divided into two (the legs), fulfilled in the eastern and western Roman Empires. From then on we find an ever-dividing kingdom and a government ever weakened in its power, represented by toes of iron and clay that cannot hold together.

These were the kingdoms fashioned by men. But the dream was not complete, for there remained a Kingdom to come, which will not be forged by the hand of man:
While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. 
Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth. (Daniel 2:34-35)

This kingdom will last forever:
In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands–a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces. (Daniel 2:44-45)

***

Suddenly, In the time of the Gentiles, a stone not cut with human hands comes down and strikes the feet. The entire image is pulverized.

The stone is God’s Anointed, the Rock of our salvation, Jesus Christ.

But to the Jews He is a stone of stumbling (2). To the Gentiles, He’s a stone of crushing:
“Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” (Matthew 21:42-44, quoting Psalm 118:22-23)

We are either broken before Him (in repentance), or we will be broken by Him (in judgment). We will either come to that Stone, or that Stone is coming to us.

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(1) See Psalm 95:1; Isaiah 28:16; 1 Corinthians 10:4; (2) see 1 Peter 2:8; 1 Corinthians 1:23

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the unveiling of the Word–part 2

The Word for today:
Daniel 2: 1-30

Note:
Yesterday, in part 1, we started with the definition of apocalypse, the specific literary genre of the books of Daniel in the Old Testament and Revelation in the New Testament. From there we proceed to today’s discussion of the Word, upon which all meaning depends.

***

mark this: Daniel 1:17
To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning.

The Bible student must at all times be cognizant of literary issues. The Bible is literature, and God utilized many of its various styles. He spoke through narrative (story), through history, through poetry. He spoke through figures of speech–metaphor, simile, analogy, symbol, parable–saying one thing in terms of another.

He employed various “voices”–humor, sarcasm, irony. Especially irony.

The reason he employed these “figures” is the very same reason writers use them today–because they communicate truth better than linear, “straightforward” prose. Otherwise, scripture would be reduced to something akin to the manual we get with a new car, or–God forbid!–the assembly instructions that come with a gas grill or a backyard swing set.

Linear expression does not fit the human condition, nor speak truth to the human heart. Thus Jesus, instead of talking about “evangelism” in the way a seminary textbook might, spoke of a sower sowing seed and fishers of men. Our Savior, you see, is the master poet. More than that, he is the seminal Word, from which all poetry issues and flows.

Thus in our Bibles, as in our lives, we walk through the valley of the shadow. We see through a glass darkly. But his word is a lamp unto our feet.

***

We remember, when we were students in English class, discussing what a poem “means.” Though it can be helpful to analyze, it must be understood that any analysis is, de facto, a reduction of the poem’s meaning–because the poem is more than the sum of its parts. We kill to dissect.

In scripture, the grandest utterance of literature, Jesus isn’t just the poet, he himself is the poem. Theologians attempt to analyze him. But he resists dissection.

Jesus, in the end, doesn’t have a “meaning,” because he is meaning.
He told us this, way back in Exodus, when he revealed his name:
I AM THAT I AM.

He is the irreducible. Things–in fact every thing–have their meaning in terms of him, but there are no terms other than himself by which he can be explained.

Thus it is left to scripture to ask this question:
To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? (Isaiah 40:18)

And to provide the answer:
There is none besides you. (1 Samuel 2:2)

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the unveiling of the Word–part 1

The Word for today:
Daniel 1

Note:
Today, in part 1, we begin with a specific literary definition. From there we will proceed, in part 2, to plumb the depths of the Word, the irreducible building block upon which our faith is based.

mark this: Daniel 2:28
There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.

The book of Daniel is an Old Testament counterpart to the book of Revelation.

The book of Daniel, like Revelation in the new Testament, is an apocalypse. (Isaiah 24-27 and the book of Zechariah are also apocalyptic.)

Apocalypse means an unveiling–specifically, a disclosure of that which was previously hidden or unknown. The word comes from the Greek word apokalupsis, which has a meaning similar to the Latin word revelatio–from which the title of Revelation is derived.

Apocalyptic writing uses many figures of speech and symbols. When evil powers seemed dominant, these unveilings were given to show the real situation behind that which was apparent, and to indicate the eventual victory of righteousness upon the earth:
There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. (Daniel 2:28)

The Bible student should be respectful of literary issues because the Bible is literature. Thus, the more we know of literature writ large, the more we can know of scripture.  And the more we know of scripture writ large, the more we can know of the Word at the heart of it all.

(To be continued tomorrow.)

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keep & kept

 

keep-you-from-falling-jude-1-24

(by Pastor Joe)

The Word for Today: Jude 17-25

mark this: v. 24-25 —
To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy– to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

God is in the keeping business.
The entirety of Scripture records not only His relentless pursuit of mankind, but also His consuming desire to keep us as well.

Two words: “shamar” and “tereo” litter the Old and New Testament, respectively. They both carry the same basic meaning; they mean to:
– attend to carefully, take care of
– guard
– keep one in the state in which he is
– reserve

From the Garden of Eden, to the restoration of all things, God remains in the keeping business–
After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard (shamar) the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24)

Whereas I once saw the flaming sword as a huge “stay out” sign, I now see it as I should, “keep open.” God has mercifully left that angel and that sword not only to keep pollution (sinful man) out, but also to keep the way open to redeemed man. Despite our rebellion, God has made sure the way to eternal life stays attended, guarded and reserved.

The rest of the Bible tells the story of God attending, guarding, and preserving, first a man (Abraham) and then a nation (Israel) until the time of the One to come. Jesus Christ is given to mankind to actually reopen that path to eternal life (John 14:6).

He then promises His presence and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to act as the ultimate Keeper in our lives, and that’s what leads us to the verse we started with, Jude 24-25. You and I may be lots of things– dictated by the times and events and circumstances of our lives. But one thing that is even more true of everyone who is in Jesus Christ: we are guarded, we are preserved, we have eternal life reserved for us. We are kept.

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