Sapphire Sky

July 19, 2018

What is the Kingdom of Heaven?

Filed under: theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 6:50 pm

The thoughts of kings and kingdoms are foreign to our 21st-century mindset. The very mention of them brings to mind fairy tales and medieval legends. Our view of a kingdom is romanticized and very separated from our day-to-day life.

But in the ancient world, the king was supreme. His word was absolute and uncontested. The citizens would thrive under a good king or chafe under a bad king, who would rule until his death or defeat (by a more powerful king).

When God established the nation of Israel and called them to be His own people, He set up a government where God Himself would rule as their perfect king (see Exodus-Deuteronomy). But the people rejected God’s rule and demanded a king of their own (1 Samuel 8:4-9). Throughout the rest of Old Testament History, the fortunes of God’s people rose and fell based on the character of their kings.

But God had greater plans for His people. Every book of the Old Testament promised that a great king would come. He would save mankind from the curse of sin, and lead Israel in a victorious, perfect kingdom. He was the Promised One, the Anointed One, or in Hebrew, The Messiah (see here).

The Old Testament prophets also wrote about His kingdom. Daniel saw the empires of mankind destroyed by the kingdom of God that would never end (Daniel 2:44, 7:27, see here). Isaiah saw the kingdom of God as a kingdom of peace and safety, where the wolf would dwell with the lamb (Isaiah 11).

This kingdom of God was a real promise that Jews anticipated. As they were dominated by the world empires — Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome — they looked forward to the day when their Messiah would come and free them, restoring peace to the world. When John the Baptist came announcing that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, the people came by the thousands. They were ready to be free!

Jesus followed John with the same message: the kingdom of heaven was at hand1. But Jesus never came with military force. He never drove out the Romans, nor did He oppose any conquering army. He had no political power. Yet Jesus spent most of His ministry teaching about His kingdom. So what is His kingdom? What is the kingdom of heaven?

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July 6, 2018

The Ministry of the King

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 12:56 pm

Thoughts from Matthew 4

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Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee

What does it mean to be like Jesus?

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

How can we be imitators of Jesus Christ?

Matthew 4 tells the beginning of Jesus Christ‘s ministry on earth. He had been waiting for 30 years, until he learned that John was baptizing in the Jordan River. He then came to be baptized, launching His three and a half year ministry (see here). In a dramatic showing, the Holy Spirit descended on him after His baptism and God the Father audibly accepted Jesus as His son.

Jesus was then taken immediately by the Holy Spirit after His baptism. He was brought to the wilderness where, after an extended fast, He was severely tempted by the devil (see here). Jesus started his ministry with a challenge from the enemy.

Now, almost a year has passed. John’s Gospel accounts tells us about this year that followed the temptation, when Jesus had stayed in the south country of Judea, gathering disciples (see John 1-4) . It was there that He met Andrew, Peter, John, Phillip, and the Nathanael (see here). It was also during this time that He threw out the corrupt businessmen from the temple (see here), and shortly afterward had a lengthy discussion with one of the top teachers of Israel, Nicodemus (see here).

Jesus also had taken a brief visit to Galilee during that year. John’s gospel account tells of how He came up to Cana for a wedding feast, and where he performed His first miracle (see here). It was also during this visit to Galilee that Jesus relocated his family from his hometown of Nazareth to the town of Capernaum, by the sea of Galilee (John 2:12).

It was about a year since Jesus‘ baptism when John the Baptist was arrested by Herod Antipas. John had been preaching in the North (Galilee) while Jesus was was in the South (Judea, John 3:22-24). Yet, when Jesus heard the news that John was arrested he knew that the time has come for him to head north. The opposition was mounting against Him and the time was growing short.

Jesus’ message was the same as John – repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The king was here, and He was getting ready to set up his kingdom. It was now time to prepare yourself for the kingdom, starting with getting right with God!

He also gathered followers as he went through Galilee. He had already known Peter, Andrew, James, and John from His time in Judea, but he now called them to leave their professions and follow him, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”. When they heard Him, they left their fishing and immediately followed Him.

Many pastors have preached on this passage, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men“. It is a well-known quote from the gospels and it is often applied toward missions or evangelism. I have heard one popular pastor use this passage as a launching point to explain why we need to strategize and determine how to reach the world with the gospel. This is a good sentiment and is true to Scripture. However, that is not what Jesus is saying here. He gave a command and the promise. The promise is that Jesus will do the making. He will make us into fishers of men. It is not a job that we take on upon ourselves.

What is our job? Our job is to follow Him. That was Jesus’ command to Peter, to the other disciples, and therefore to all of us who believe in Him. We are to follow Him! The last scene in the four gospels is when Jesus appeared again, to Peter, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had risen from the dead and had come to restore and commission His broken disciples. His final message to Peter was the same as at the beginning, “Follow me!“ (See here).

What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ? Just like the disciples of old, we spend our time with Him, and hang out with Him. Jesus Christ consumes our thoughts and our focus. He becomes our role model.

We cannot imitate Jesus’ every action on earth, so that cannot be what it means to follow him. We cannot heal the sick like Jesus did. We cannot raise the dead. We better not say that we are God, and I trust that we will never have the opportunity to be crucified!

But this passage in Matthew shows us how we are to follow Jesus Christ. Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit as he went to his temptation (Luke 4:1). Luke again highlights the fact that Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee (Luke 4:14). This is the key to Jesus‘ ministry, and this is how we are to follow him. We need to rely on the Holy Spirit in the same way that Jesus did. He is to direct our every move, so that we work through His power.

It is through the Holy Spirit that Jesus began His ministry in Galilee:

 

He was a light in the darkness

John was in prison but the need was as great as ever. This land of Galilee was historically dark because the people of that region had turned away from God, and were terribly abused by conquering nations. Isaiah predicted that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:1-2). The persecuted, wicked people of Galilee would have the first light of the Messiah — He would bring them truth and life.

Isaiah lived over 700 years before Jesus Christ. But the people was just as dark in the time of Jesus. The people were consumed by their self-seeking ways and needed to turn back to God.

We also need to be a light to the darkness. Matthew says that Jesus went out preaching the good news about the kingdom. Our message about the kingdom may be different from Jesus (we are not the king, nor are we preaching the message of an imminent physical kingdom), but we need to be a light in darkness, bringing the good news about Jesus Christ to those who do not know Him.

 

He called others to follow Him

Jesus called his disciples to come and follow Him. He promised that He would make them fishers of men.

We need to call others to Jesus, but we also need to remember that we are fishers of men. The first four disciples — Andrew, Peter, James, and John — all lived different lives and had radically different ministries, yet God uses each of them to being people to Him.

We need to follow Him. He does the transforming.

“Jesus never commanded the disciples to catch fish. He commanded them to follow him and He would make them fishermen.” – Stephen Davey 6

 

He taught, preached, and healed

Jesus went throughout the land of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the message of the kingdom, and healing many. His fame became so great that people from the surrounding areas all came to see Him. Even the people from Judea, whom He had left to return to Galilee, followed Him north!

We will not have a ministry like Jesus, but this example shows what can happen when we are led by the Holy Spirit. God will more than fill up what we leave behind!

 

As a final thought, it would be good to remember what happened to the first four fishers of men. Jesus had called each of them, and promised that He would use them.

Andrew is the most noted for bringing others to meet Jesus. He first brought his brother Peter to see Him (John 1:40-41, see here). Andrew was the one to bring the boy to Jesus when He fed the 5,000 (John 6:8-9, see here), and the Greeks went through Andrew when they wanted to see Jesus in Jerusalem (John 12:20-22, see here). Church tradition holds that Andrew traveled north to preach the gospel in what is now eastern Europe and Russia.

Peter was typical example that we think of when we hear of the term, “fisher of men”. We see him leading the church in Acts, and preaching to thousands (Acts 2:38-41). Jesus predicted that Peter would die a martyr’s death and tradition says that he was crucified upside-down by the Romans.

James was always known in the gospels as accompanying his brother John, through the good and the bad. James was the first Apostle to be killed, being murdered by Herod Agrippa I in Acts 12:1-2.

John was the disciple who lived the longest. He referred to himself in the fourth gospel as “The disciples whom Jesus loved” (e.g. John 13:23). His only claim to fame was that Jesus chose to love him. John was the writer of five books of the New Testament, including the fourth gospel and the final book of the Bible, Revelation.

These were four disciples with for different lives and four different ministries. Jesus does not tell us how we will become fishers of men, he only says that we are to follow him.

Follow him!

 

Previous post:  The Temptation of the King

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June 26, 2018

The Temptation of the King

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 6:14 pm
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The Judean Desert, as seen from Masada

Thoughts from Matthew 4

 

Wouldn’t it be great if we could stop doing things wrong? If our lives were perfect and we never disobeyed God?

Unfortunately, it does not take long to find out that that is not the case.

Even when we belong to God, we still doubt Him and try to get what we want without Him.

We still challenge God, asking Him to meet our agenda, as if we are more important than the God of the universe!

We still look for shortcuts to meet our needs, ignoring God’s plan.

Life is a never-ending battle with temptation. And sadly, we often lose.

The Bible opens with Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, falling to temptation. They disobeyed God’s law, and the entire world descended into chaos (see here).

David, the greatest king over Israel, is well known for his fall into temptation. It only took a short walk on the roof with his wandering eyes, and we next find out that he was guilty of adultery, murder, and lies to cover up his actions (see here).

But there are also notable victories over temptation. Joseph chose to run away naked when his master’s wife tried to seduce him (see here). Daniel was taken away from his home, yet he chose to follow God and not get caught up in the idol worship of his peers (see here).

But by far, the greatest example of victory over temptation was Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus had just finished an incredible start to His ministry. He was baptized by John the Baptist, the greatest prophet in history! The Holy Spirit came visibly down upon Him, and God the Father Himself spoke from heaven to announce the Son of God!

But then the Holy Spirit took him immediately into the desert. Jesus was there for 40 days with the burning sun and the barren rocks, and with absolutely no food to eat. But He was not alone. Satan dogged His every step, trying to get Him to turn away from God.

The Bible shows Satan’s strategy for tempting people to turn away from God. They are small in number and very predictable, but extremely effective:

1 John 2:15-17
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life —is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

Satan’s three ways to tempt us are:

  • The desires of the flesh — what makes us feel better?
  • The desires of the eyes — what looks good to us?
  • The pride of life — what gives us importance?

There in the desert, he used all three of these weapons against Jesus Christ.

First, he challenged Jesus personally. Jesus had not eaten for 40 days and was very hungry and physically weak. But He was the Son of God — why not do a miracle to feed Himself? This temptation was akin to the desires of the flesh — suggesting that Jesus answer His own needs for hunger.

Eating bread is an innocent activity, but the message from Satan was much more insidious. He was saying to Jesus, “Since you are the Son of God, you should be able to take care of yourself now. You no longer need to rely on the Father, and you can feed yourself!”

Jesus responded by quoting scripture back to Satan. Deuteronomy 8:3 says that, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” We need to depend on God, not only for our food, but for our very existence!

Satan’s next attack was at Jesus’ role as the Messiah, the King of the Jews. He took Jesus to the rooftop of the temple overlooking the steep valley below. Satan himself then quoted scripture (Psalm 91:11-12), showing that God would never let the Son of God get injured. Instead, Jesus would descend safely down to the worshippers below, and be hailed as their king. This temptation was akin to the pride of life — Satan was attempting to get Jesus to turn away from God and seek glory on His own.

Jesus had defeated Satan in the first temptation by totally trusting in God. This time, Satan used His trust in God to try and get Him to force a miracle.

Jesus responded again with a quote from Deuteronomy, this time Deuteronomy 6:16, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”. We trust totally on God for our needs as we do His will. But we are testing God when we create a crisis of our own design and then demand that God get us out.

Satan was not easily overcome. He next took Jesus to a high mountain for a final challenge. Showing Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world, he offered them to Him. All Jesus needed to do was to bow down to Satan — once! This temptation was akin to the desires of the eyes — he was trying to tempt Jesus by what looked good to Him.

Satan offered Jesus a shortcut to glory. No longer would He need the three-plus years of ministry, concluded by the suffering on the cross. He could have the worship of the entire world immediately!

This is also the boldest of Satan’s temptations. He no longer couched his suggestions with “since your are the Son of God…” Now, he directly insisted that Jesus bow down to him.

Jesus’ response to Satan was decisive and direct. He quoted Deuteronomy 6:10, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”It was wrong for Jesus to try and shortcut God’s plans, but it was especially wrong to ever bow down to Satan!

Jesus also finally commands Satan to leave him, “Be gone, Satan! ” Satan then left Jesus for a more opportune time.

Jesus was attacked in every way by Satan’s temptations, but he emerged victorious! Jesus never disobeyed God, and when challenged, he always answered His challenges with God’s word.

What can Jesus’ example teach us about temptation?

 

Expect temptation to come!

Temptation is a part of our life when we belong to Jesus Christ. The closer we get to Him, the more Satan will attempt to pull us back.

But we need to anticipate the temptations, knowing that we can win. Defend yourself when you are weak, and be ready to answer back when temptation comes.

1 Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

 

Answer temptation with God’s Word!

Jesus relied totally on God’s word when confronted by Satan. Immerse yourself in God’s word, keeping Him on your mind and heart for when the tempter comes.

Psalms 119:11
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.

 

Resist the devil!

Jesus sent away Satan after the attack. We have the same promise that he will flee from us when we resist him. Note, however, that it is not enough to simply stand up against the devil. We need to first submit to God. We need to let God fill the place in our life that was formerly taken over by the devil.

James 4:7
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

 

Pray!

Jesus went through the same temptations as us, so He understands when we are tempted. We need to make it a habit to first come to God when temptation comes. Stay close to Him and ask Him for the grace and the strength to get through it.

Hebrews 4:14-16
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

 

Previous post: The Initiation of the King

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June 5, 2018

The Initiation of the King

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Knaus @ 11:11 pm

A modern baptism in the Jordan River

 

Thoughts from Matthew 3…

 

A few years ago, I had the privilege of traveling to the Jordan river and seeing the traditional site where Jesus was baptized. The river was actually very small in that area, but there were several markers to commemorate the spot. Shrines and churches filled the landscape, allowing people of all denominations to come and worship.

Most of us have heard about the scene where Jesus came to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. There are pictures in children’s books and artist renderings, all seeking to capture the moment where God the Father spoke from heaven and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him.

About 30 years have passed since the times when Jesus was born (Matthew 1), and when He was visited by the wise men (Matthew 2). Jesus’ relative, John the Baptist, was preaching in the wilderness that the kingdom of Heaven was at hand. Therefore, the people needed to repent, and to be baptized in order to show that they were part of this kingdom (see here).

It was during this time that Jesus left his hometown of Nazareth, in Galilee, and came to the Jordan River in order to be baptized by John.

John had been preaching that the King was coming, but when he came face-to-face with Jesus, he refused to baptize him. Jesus was greater than him, and John did not consider himself worthy to baptize him. John only consented when Jesus told him that it was necessary in order to “fulfill all righteousness”.

What does this mean? Why did Jesus come to be baptized? Why was this necessary for Jesus, and for that matter, for John?

Bible scholars have long considered these questions and have produced a very large list of answers for why Jesus came to be baptized. The many explanations range from the very simplistic to the very complex, from the logical to the almost mystical. Many see in Jesus’ baptism a preview of His ministry to come, including identification with sinners, anticipation of the cross, his burial and resurrection, the preview of Christian baptism, and the validation of John’s ministry. 3

These explanations contain excellent theology and have been put forth by some of the finest Bible teachers of our time. But they are all deficient for a number of reasons.

First, they fail to explain why this was necessary for both Jesus and John, in order to for fill all righteousness. Why is John’s role important here?

Second, these answers are all based on assumptions, not from the text itself. These assumptions are based on the explainers’ understanding of theology and how the ministry of Jesus Christ unfolded. None of these explanations are given by Matthew, Mark, nor Luke at the time of Jesus‘ baptism.

Finally, these explanations are difficult to reconcile with Jesus being both fully God and fully man.

Matthew 1 (see here) shows that Jesus was born fully human, and he was also fully God. We cannot fully comprehend how an infinite God can live within the confines of finite humanity, yet this was the life of Jesus Christ on earth. The gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all show this in Jesus’ life. He was holy God, and so he was unblemished by the sin that has plagued the human race. Yet he was a lowly human, so he could be the perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind.

Jesus lived with all of the authority and power of God himself. As it says in Colossians, “in him is all the fullness of God” (Colossians 1:19).

Yet Jesus was also fully human. As it says in Philippians 2, he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. Jesus Christ, the Almighty God, laid aside the voluntary use of his attributes, living fully in the form of finite mankind, relying totally upon the Holy Spirit.

How could Jesus be both divine and human? This paradox is difficult to reconcile. Many theologians and Bible scholars have sought a simple explanation by emphasizing either His divinity or His humanity.

There are those who have elevated Jesus’ humanity at the expense of His deity. Some have either minimized it or outright denied the fact that Jesus was God. They portray Him as a normal human going through daily life with the same weaknesses and failures as you and I. But to deny Jesus’ deity is to deny the words from the New Testament Gospels and the Epistles. The Gospel of John starts out with, “the Word was with God, and the word was God” (John 1:1). Jesus said about himself, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus also taught that he descended from heaven (John 3:13), and Jesus’ prayer in John 17 tells of His oneness with the Father (John 17:20-21). One of the most eloquent sections of the epistles that tell of the greatness of Jesus Christ is Colossians 1:15-20, where Jesus is above creation, the author of creation, the head of the church, and in Him is all of the essence of deity. Both His followers and His enemies recognized that Jesus said that He was God (Matthew 16:16-17, John 5:18). You cannot deny His deity.

But others have focused on Jesus’ divinity, forgetting that he was also very much human. He was hungry, thirsty, tired, and he felt physical and emotional pain (e.g. Matthew 4:2, John 4:6-7, John 11:33-35). We see Him act with apparently limited knowledge, such as going to a barren fig tree when He was hungry (Matthew 21:18-19), or by leading his disciples to a quiet retreat, only to be surrounded by over 5,000 people who followed him from the city (Mark 6:30-44). The simplest explanation is that Jesus’ knowledge was limited while He was on earth. He had set aside His omniscience and was relying totally on the direction and empowering of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus grew up in Nazareth, growing in both wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52). The best understanding of why Jesus came to John’s baptism was not because He was orchestrating all of the finer points of theology, but rather that he had submitted fully to God. God had led John to baptize and Jesus was prepared to follow everything that God had instituted. John preached about the kingdom of heaven and offered baptism to identify those who were ready to be part of this kingdom. Hence the reason to “fulfill all righteousness“, was that it was right for John to baptize Jesus. It was the right thing for them to do.

Toward the end of his ministry, Jesus was challenged by the Jewish Priests who asked him by what authority He was teaching? Jesus answered them with a question of His own, “The baptism of John, was it from heaven or from man?“ (Matthew 21:23-27). The rhetorical answer was that John’s baptism was from heaven.

After Jesus was baptized, His ministry showed the results of his baptism. It was the last act of His private life and the beginning of his public ministry. Jesus was personally verified by God the Father. The Holy Spirit came to rest on Him, and would direct and empower Him for the rest of his life on earth.

All of the theological facts pointed out above came about as a result of Jesus’ baptism. He identified with believing sinners, He validated John’s ministry, and His ultimate sacrifice allowed any who believed in Him to become sons of God (John 1:12). The present Christian baptism does not identify with the baptism of John, but rather illustrates the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

Remember!

Jesus Christ is beyond our understanding!

The scenes of history may be interesting, but let us not forget Jesus Christ Himself! He is the most important one!

 

Hebrews 12:1-2
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Previous post: The Herald of the King

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May 25, 2018

The Herald of the King

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 12:38 am

Thoughts from Matthew 3 …

I remember many of my children’s books that I had when I was younger.  There were colorful Bible Story books, showing scenes and characters from popular events.

But there was one character that I always loved to see. They always pictured him in a faraway place, holding a long staff and wearing strange clothes. He had to be the strangest man that could ever think of:

He lived in the desert!

He dressed in camel hair (my picture books always showed him wearing some strange, hairy toga)!

He always had a big beard (in all my picture books)!

HE ATE BUGS!!

My Bible Story books showed people coming from far and wide to hear him. They would go into the desert to listen to this strange man preach. He would then lead them into the Jordan River where he would baptize them.

As I grew older, I saw many movies which dramatized the life of this man in the desert. He was no longer just a picture in a book, but a live person walking through my TV screen. It seemed like all the movies depicted this person, John the Baptist, as a very angry man. He was always shouting at people, trying if he could to scare them into repentance.

As we look at the Bible says, the picture of John the Baptist emerges as a very important man. Jesus would later describe John as the greatest man who ever lived (Matthew 11:11)!

Jesus Christ, the King of the Jews, was about to arrive. John’s message had the following parts:

First, the king is coming! The long-awaited Messiah was about to be here! He would come and set up His kingdom on earth as the prophets foretold.

Second, the people were not ready. They needed to repent!

Finally, if their repentance was true, then they needed to come into the Jordan River with John. They would put their heads under the water and demonstrate to the world that they were now ready for the kingdom.

What does it mean to repent? It is much more than simply being sorry for disobeying God. Repentance involves both the knowledge and the sorrow that you have violated the law of a Holy God. It then involves a conscious act to turn away from your disobedience and to turn to God.

“Repentance means that the natural man takes God’s side against himself.” – H.A. Ironside 6

This was John’s message, but he had opposition. The religious leaders came to see why he was upsetting the status quo. John compared them to deadly snakes and urged them to flee from the fires of God’s judgement.

These religious leaders were caught up in their own imaginations about what it meant to be right with God. They believed that they were safe from God’s judgement because of their family relations — they were descendants of Abraham! They also believed that God would look favorably on them because they worked so hard to keep the law. But John said that all of these things — the family connections, their own good deeds — they all were worthless to God. They needed to come back to Him.

There was no longer any time for middle ground. You need to either repent and join the king, or be swept away in God’s wrath.

The people were impressed by John, but he always deflected their praise (see also here). He was not the king, he was simply the announcer for the king. When the king comes, John did not consider himself worthy to wash his feet!

 

Remember!

Most of us have head of John the Baptist before this. The story of his life may not give you any new information. However, don’t forget some of the things that God is showing us through his life:

  • If you have not turned to God, then the time is now! Repent and join Him! You may not have another chance!
  • If you already belong to God but are not obeying Him, then you too need to repent. Don’t let this day go by before you get right with God!
  • Don’t stop at the inward steps of repentance, but show it in your life. If you really have turned from your disobedience and turned to God, then there will be real, tangible changes in your life.
  • Don’t let your pride or preconceptions stand in the way of getting right with God. Very few of the religious leaders believed John because they thought they knew better.

2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

 

Previous post: Friends and Enemies of the King

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May 13, 2018

Friends and Enemies of the King

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 12:58 am

Thoughts from Matthew 2…

Matthew’s second chapter continues his account of the promised King.

 

Who was this king? Who is this person that Matthew was writing about?

Matthew’s first chapter told of the heritage and birth of the new king. He has the heritage and the rights of the great dynasty of Israel, going back to King David himself. His birth was a miracle, born to a poor unmarried woman and her betrothed husband.

But why should we care? Why should our modern world care about an ancient Jewish king?

Because He is much more than that. He is not simply some distant story. He was God Himself, come to mankind!

Matthew’s account is clear: He was born to a human mother among a human family. He was very much human (see here).

But His father was God (see here, here, and here). Therefore he was also very much God.

And He came for a purpose. Matthew stated His purpose in his first chapter, “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). He will save His people from their sins. He was the promised one that the Jews had been waiting for, their Messiah!

But Matthew then showed that Jesus did not only come for the Jews. He was born to a Jewish family, but some of His first attendants were outsiders, or Gentiles.

Jesus was still a young child — probably only a few months old — when He was visited by dignitaries from far away. These visitors, or Magi, had learned of the new king and come to worship Him.

Even at the start, Jesus’ own people didn’t care for Him (see here). The religious leaders knew exactly where He would be. They even gave directions for the Magi but they never came.

The king over the Jews saw Him as a threat. King Herod knew that this was the long-awaited Messiah, and he tried to kill him. At first he tried to use deception to find the baby. When that failed, he resorted to massacre. He sent his soldiers to murder all the young boys in Bethlehem!

But it was these outsiders, the ones who should have never cared, who came to worship Jesus the Messiah. The Magi used their own resources to travel a long and dangerous road, carrying priceless gifts, unsure of the final destination.

God had given them a glimpse of His glory, in the form of a bright light, in their home country of Babylon. That vision caused them to come to Jerusalem, seeking the new king of the Jews. They were then directed to the nearby village of Bethlehem, where they again encountered God’s light. They found the new king and worshipped Him, giving their gifts.

Remember!

Most of us have heard about the “wise men” as part of the Christmas story. It can seem distant, exotic, and very removed from our present lives. But we should take time to remember some of the lessons from these wise men (or Magi):

  • The Magi knew very little about God, but they followed what they knew. They didn’t know His location but they came gladly to worship!

  • You don’t need a Jewish heritage to worship Jesus Christ. You only need to follow Him.

  • God does not look for those who are especially powerful, religious or smart. The educated priests ignored Jesus Christ and the powerful king wanted to kill Him!

  • God will protect His own! He directed Joseph to take Jesus and Mary away to Egypt when Herod wanted to kill him, and then back to Israel when it was safe to return.

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May 2, 2018

The Birth of the King

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 1:03 pm

If you were to tell the story of a great king, what would you tell about his beginning?

Most stories have the king born amidst splendor, with the great people of his day. Others may tell a great “rags to riches” story, how the great king emerged from such a humble start.

But for the King of Kings, the truth is greater than any fiction that we could imagine! Jesus Christ Himself came to earth, born of a poor village girl, in the middle of a terrible scandal.

His mother, Mary, became pregnant out of wedlock. She had had no relations with a man — there was no human father. The baby was a miracle from God Himself.

Mary was away for several months, visiting her cousin Elizabeth. She returned to her conservative, religious small town of Nazareth, showing that she was obviously pregnant. Nobody believed her.

Her own husband didn’t believe her. She was betrothed to Joseph, anticipating the great celebration where they would fulfill the ceremony and become man and wife. But all Joseph could see was that his wife was unfaithful to him. He cared enough for Mary to not make a public scene, but he could never marry her after what she had done. He opted for a quiet divorce.

This was the beginning of the life of the King of Kings. Born to a scandalized mother and a heartbroken father.

But Matthew’s account is not about Mary, nor is it really about Joseph. This was about the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit created the embryo in Mary’s womb. He also sent an angel to direct Joseph. There were things that Joseph needed to know about the child, and things Joseph needed to do.

Joseph needed to complete the marriage. Mary was not unfaithful and she was his wife.

The child was the work of the Holy Spirit. God was directly intervening with mankind, and the result was the baby who was growing in Mary’s womb.

Joseph was to name the child Jesus, meaning, “Jehovah is Savior”.

This baby has a special purpose. He will save his people from their sins. He will be the long awaited Messiah!

Matthew shared the beginning of the life of Jesus Christ on earth, showing a sharp contrast between what the world sees as opposed to but God sees.

The world saw Mary as an adulteress, who had a baby without a husband. God saw her as a pure woman who was willing to follow and obey Him regardless of the cost (see here).

The world saw Joseph as a poor carpenter who was either complicit or the cause of Mary’s adultery. God saw him as a man willing to follow Him in protecting and caring for the young Messiah.

The world saw Jesus as an illegitimate child. God knew that he was a miracle of the Holy Spirit, and the One who would be the Saviour of the world.

The apostle Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians that the wisdom of God is seen as foolish to the world, yet the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God. It is so easy to see ourselves and others as what the world sees us. We need to look at people the way God sees them.

Finally, we should never go to Matthew’s gospel account without being challenged to renew our appreciation for Jesus Christ. He is the King of Kings; He is the long awaited Messiah to the Jews; He is the one who will save the world from the curse of sin!

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April 25, 2018

The History of the King

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 11:16 pm

The New Testament opens with a message for the Jewish people. It is a message that they will not accept, given by one of the most hated people.

The Romans in the first century relied upon a hierarchy of publicani, or tax gatherers, in order to collect taxes for the empire. Local merchants would pay for the privilege to collect from their countrymen. These local tax gatherers would often add on a large percentage of taxes for themselves, thus becoming both very wealthy and very hated by the local people.

The tax gatherers were considered the worst of society. They were often used in the gospels to illustrate bad people, with the synonymous term, “tax gatherers and sinners” (e.g. Matthew 9:11, Mark 2:16).

Matthew (also known as Levi) was such a tax gatherer who left his business to follow Jesus (see the passages here).  Matthew turned from his old life to become one of Jesus’ twelve apostles (see here).

Matthew’s message to the Jewish people is that Jesus is the Messiah. He is the long-awaited king who has come to save His people (see here).

Matthew’s gospel account begins by showing that Jesus deserves the title of king. Jesus is the descendent of David and heir to the throne over all Israel.

The first part of Matthew’s gospel account traces Jesus’ family tree back to Abraham. This family tree dates back for 2,000 years and includes many heroes of Old Testament history, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, and many of the kings of Judah. This list includes some of the greatest men to have ever lived.

This list included some very evil men. Rehoboam was the foolish king who divided his father’s kingdom. Manasseh was so wicked and violent that God promised to remove the kingdom because of him. Jeconiah was cursed to never have a descendent to sit on the throne of Israel (see Jeremiah 22:30).

This list included scandals. Judah fathered Perez because his daughter-in-law disguised herself as a prostitute. David took Bathsheba as wife after adultery and murder. Jehoshaphat married his son Jehoram to the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, setting up two generations of family murder and intrigue.

This list included foreigners and women. Rahab was the Canaanite prostitute who rescued the Israelite spies and turned to follow their God. Ruth was the Moabite widow who chose to remain faithful to her destitute mother-in-law.

The list ends with Joseph, who would be the legal guardian of Jesus the Messiah.

What is the point of this history lesson? Is it simply a chance to reflect on history, with perhaps a chance to walk down memory lane?

Of the many lessons that we can gather from this passage, remember the following:

 

God can use broken people!

The family history of Jesus Christ is full of fallible humans. Even among the great figures in history:

  • Abraham lied and tried to build his family through a slave girl
  • Isaac was partial to one son over the other
  • Jacob was a liar and a deceiver
  • David was an adulterer and a murderer
  • Solomon was a polygamist
  • Asa would not trust God
  • Jehoshaphat befriended the evil kings of Israel
  • Uzziah tried to become a priest
  • Hezekiah bargained with God for his life
  • Josiah had three wicked sons

If God was able to use broken people in past, He is just as able to use you and me, despite our failures.

 

God’s plan is not broken by evil people!

The bloodline of Jesus Christ was never broken!

  • Even when Jehoram was murdering his brothers and Athaliah was murdering her grandchildren, God’s plan never failed.

  • Even when Manasseh was searching Jerusalem so that he could murder anyone who was faithful to God, His plan never failed.

  • Even when the Babylonian army was burning the temple and taking the people into exile, God’s plan was never broken.

If God’s plan never failed through the worst of ancient history, He is fully able to keep his plans today, despite anyone who rises to oppose Him.

 

Jesus is king!

Jesus is the king, not only over ancient Israel, but over the world today. He has all authority over heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18).

Jesus still has just as much authority today as He did 2,000 years ago. We can know that, through all of our uncertainties, He is still king!

 

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April 18, 2018

Who is Jesus?

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 5:50 pm

I encountered this question almost four years ago, as I was starting out on a study on the Gospel of John. I have recently started to study the Gospel of Matthew and hope to use this blog as a way to share my discoveries from Matthew’s gospel account.

Matthew’s objective is different from John, and he is writing to show that Jesus is the King. Although Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience, he also shows that the kingdom of Jesus Christ includes all people.

Sapphire Sky

Who is Jesus?

There may be no one in history with more written about than this man.  Authors have been busy for almost 2,000 years writing pages and volumes that reflect their thoughts of Jesus Christ.

Like the people who lived 2000 years ago, everybody today seems to have an opinion.   He is often called a great teacher, a miracle worker, a martyr. Some say that he was God.

The more I hear from people, the more I see that most people are trying to reinterpret the life of Jesus Christ into a person that they would like to see based on their own wants and needs. Lonely people want a friend. Hurting people want a miracle worker. Liberals like the one who opposed the religious and political establishment. Conservatives like the one who promised to uphold the law. Everybody likes the message of love, although few agree on what it means. The list goes…

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April 14, 2017

Who are you?

Filed under: theology — Tags: , , — Christ Ranger @ 1:55 pm

Our Savior, Christ Jesus … has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.  2 Timothy 1:10

“I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”  John 11:25-26

But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.  Luke 23:34

It is the week we celebrate the passion, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Who was He? Who am I?

He is the omnipotent, infinite, omnipresent and eternal God of all that is seen and unseen, who took the form of human flesh in His creation.

Instead of the heraldry due the arrival of the eternal King, He arrived as the apparent bastard son of a peasant woman in a formerly nomadic tribe somewhere in the west-Asian backwaters of the Roman Empire. The God who spoke reality into existence ex Christnihilo was born amongst the filth and squalor of livestock. His first visitors were sheep herders who were roughly the social equivalent of today’s garbage collectors. To further emphasize that God does not do it “our way,” he was born to a virgin. This promised deliverer grew up in obscurity. He befriended prostitutes and tax collectors.  His public execution was a mocking spectacle.

And He rose from the dead and forever changed the world.

This king conquered by being beaten, tortured, and slowly and painfully murdered on a cross by the hated Roman pagans. Killed by those He created. In the midst of his agony, Jesus asked for their forgiveness. Three days later, he rose again, and after a short period of teaching, ascended into the heavens. He then sent his Spirit to dwell with those who put their faith in His sacrifice.

Billy Graham adroitly observed the many ironies in the life and legacy of Christ:

It has often been pointed out that Jesus lived in a small country and never went beyond its borders.  He was so poor that He said he had nowhere to lay His head.  His only pocketbook was the mouth of a fish.  He rode on another man’s beast.  He cruised the lake in another man’s boat. He was buried in another man’s grave.  And He had laid aside a royal robe for all this.

He never wrote a book.  His recorded words would hardly make a pocket edition. Yet if all the words that have been written about Him were brought together, they would fill a thousand libraries.

He never founded a college to perpetuate his doctrines.  Yet His teachings have endured for more than two thousand years.

He never carried a sword, He never organized an army, He never built a navy, and He never had an air force.  Yet he founded an empire in which there are millions today who would die for him.

Billy Graham, Wisdom for Each Day.  The Pharisees could not stop the testimonies. Roman gladiators and lions could not execute Christianity.  Islamic jihad did not overcome the Gospel.  Christianity buried the Roman Empire, the Reichskirche and the Soviet Union .  Tens of millions of Christians now live in atheist communist China, which is on pace to soon have the largest population of Christians.   Most importantly, death itself did not stop Christ.  Through his conquering death, we have the faith and hope that he conquered death for us as well.  He paid an infinite, perfect price for our transgressions against the infinite and perfect God.

Jesus Christ was, is and forever shall be the Alpha and the Omega. Timeless. Eternal. Holy. True, honorable and just. He is love.

He is Lord of creation and savior of humanity.

Pastor Stephen Davey introduced his Palm Sunday sermon last week with the story of WWI French soldiers who suffered war induced amnesia and the story of how the nation recovered the identities of these the living unknown soldiers.  Pastor Davey asked us what is our true identity?

Who am I?

I am a son of Adam. I am the wanderer without a land who forgets God after He delivers me from captivity. I am God’s anointed king who murders his loyal supporter to take his wife.  I am the thief on the cross and an apostle who falls asleep while He suffers alone in the dark.  I am one of the many cowards who fled when the soldiers came for Him.  I am His friend who denied knowing Him during His hour of persecution when I was confronted in the courtyard of His trial.  I’m the tearful prostitute and the traitor tax collector.  In the light of the Holy God, I am a sinful man.

Through Christ, I am also forgiven, a new creation and a reborn man.  I am saved.  I have a new identity.  A new birth.  The mystery of Easter: why the eternal creator God would die for a wretch like me, even while I still rebelled against Him.

I am a Christian.  A follower of my creator God and savior. He gave us the free gift of life and offers to all the free gift of eternal life to those who will believe and put their trust in Him.  When I followed Him, He changed my life.  He changed me.  He changed who I am and I am grateful.  He promises eternity. Christ provides strength, peace and hope.

As cogently described by A.W. Tozer, the walk defies worldly wisdom.

A real Christian is an odd number anyway. He feels supreme love for one whom he has never seen, talks familiarly every day to Someone he cannot see, expects to go to heaven on the virtue of Another, empties himself in order to be full, admits he is wrong so he can be declared right, goes down in order to get up, is the strongest when he is weakest, richest when he is poorest, and happiest when he feels worst. He dies so he can live, forsakes in order to have, gives away so he can keep, sees the invisible, hears the inaudible, and knows that which passeth knowledge.

A.W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous.  

Who are you?

January 28, 2017

The Coming King

Filed under: encouragement, theology, Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 9:48 pm

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“And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.”

Jesus spoke these words to his closest friends shortly before leaving earth (John 14:29).

Within hours, Jesus Christ would be arrested by the Jewish authorities, tried by an illegal court, and crucified like a lowly criminal.

He was the one sent by God to save His people. He was the chosen one, the “anointed one”, or as is said in Hebrew, he was the Messiah.

To the religious Jews of Jesus’ day, this was preposterous. This man could not be their Messiah. They were looking for a commanding king who would validate the true children of Abraham and lead them in victory over their Roman oppressors.

Instead, they found a country preacher. He didn’t revere their nationality. He didn’t obey their Sabbath traditions. He didn’t respect their temple hierarchy. He told them that they were wrong!

So they killed Him.

But these men knew their scriptures. They studied the law and the prophets as they looked for their Messiah king. How could they know that it was Jesus?

Almost 600 years earlier, one of their greatest prophets wrote about the Messiah. Daniel was one of the wisest men of his day. He was revered by counselors, wise men, kings, and emperors.

But Daniel was also a man of prayer. He prayed every day, even if it was against the law (see here). He prayed earnestly for his people, taking responsibility for their failures, and imploring God for forgiveness (see here).

God answered Daniel’s prayer in ways that no one else had ever seen. His answer was immediate and very specific. Daniel asked God about the seventy years when his people had been captive in Babylon. God’s answer was that there was yet another seventy times seven years for His people. God had reserved this time for the Jews to end their wickedness, pay for their sins, commission the perfect sanctuary, and to bring in the perfect kingdom.

During this seventy times seven years:

  • His people, the Jews, would return back to their native land. They would rebuild their city and the temple.

    There were (at least) four edicts by the Persian emperors, allowing the Jews to return to their homeland. The first edict would have happened shortly after Daniel’s prayer in 536 B.C., and the final culmination would have been the command to restore both the city and the temple in 444 B.C.

  • They would live in their city for 69 weeks (483 years), through times of trouble.

    The Jews returned to their homeland, but they were persecuted under both the Greek and the Roman rulers during the final four centuries B.C.

  • The Messiah, the anointed one, would come to his people at the end of the 483 years.

    Jesus came into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday in 33 A.D., exactly 483 years after the edict of 444 B.C. (see below).

  • After the 483 years, the Messiah would be executed like a criminal (see here and here).

    Jesus Christ was crucified by the Romans within a week after His entry into Jerusalem, in 33 A.D.

  • Also after the 483 years, people would destroy the city and the temple.

    The Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D.

  • A future prince will make a treaty with the Jews for seven years, and then break his promises after three and a half years. This is still in the future.

Daniel was shown 70 “weeks” (groups of seven years). 69 of these weeks have already passed, and the 70th week is still to come.

We can fall in the same trap as the religious Jews of Jesus’ day. They knew their Bible, but they only looked for what they wanted to see. God came to earth, as He promised, and they completely missed Him!

John 5:39-40
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

The prophecy of the “seventy weeks” in Daniel 9 is very popular among theologians and religious speculators. There are countless predictions, interpretations, and speculations about what everything can possibly mean. False teachers have used Daniel 9 as a means to authenticate their own beliefs, leading to such sects and cults as the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Branch Davidian.

So how are we supposed to read this prophecy and not be caught up in some twisted teaching? Can we really understand it?

The answer is actually very simple. Like all of God’s word (scripture), we need to simply read it. Set aside our own preconceptions on how a prophecy should all fit together, and trust that the words mean what they say.

Above all, have the humility to admit that you won’t have it all figured out. Even the prophets themselves did not fully understand what they were writing:

1 Peter 1:10-11
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.

See the section below for more detail about basic rules for understanding Scripture.

What is the main point of prophecy? Going back to Jesus’ words to His disciples, one of the most important points about future prophecy is to remind us that God is in control. He shows us what is happening before it takes place so that we can know that He is not surprised by these events.

 

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December 28, 2016

Do We Pray?

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 1:09 am

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We live in a fallen, broken world that can overwhelm us. The pressures and the hurt that we see every day can often make us lose sight of our great and glorious God.

Many of us struggle to just make it through each day. Too many times, the people near us only make things worse.

Yet, through all of our struggles and our difficulties, we often forget how God tells us to respond. Indeed, this is one of the most neglected parts of our life: we need to be praying for each other!

The formal word is intercession. It is much more than simply coming to God with a list of requests. Intercession is coming to God on behalf of others. Jesus promises to be praying for us in the same way (Hebrews 7:25).

We do not pray for each other in order that their lives become better or more appealing to us. Instead, we need to be praying for each other until we understand God’s perspective toward them. In the words of Oswald Chambers, “Intercession means that we rouse ourselves up to get the mind of Christ about the one for whom we pray.”1

As we are given insight into another’s life, it is easy for us to use this insight as an opportunity to feel grateful, superior, compassionate, or simply to try to figure them out. Instead, we should take these opportunities to specifically pray for them. We need to pray that God will use these events to bring us closer to Himself, and that we may show God’s greatness.

I am challenged by the example of Daniel as he prayed for his people. Daniel records an event in his life when he saw that the time for his people’s punishment was almost over. He then records (in Daniel 9:1-19) his reaction and his prayer.

 

Daniel prepared for prayer

“Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.” (Daniel 9:3)

Daniel approached God with fasting and mourning. We say that we are serious with God, yet how often do we put aside our personal comforts in order to seriously seek Him?

 

Daniel took personal responsibility for the people’s failures

Ezekiel 14 lists Daniel as one of the most righteous men in history, yet Daniel here takes personal responsibility for all of the failures of his people. He includes himself with all of their failures and wickedness:

I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession” (Daniel 9:4)

we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.” (Daniel 9:5-6)

 

Daniel saw their failure in contrast to God’s greatness

God is faithful, but they have rebelled:

O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules.” (Daniel 9:4-5)

God warned them, but they refused to listen:

“We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.” (Daniel 9:6)

God is righteous, but they deserve public humiliation:

“To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you.” (Daniel 9:7-8)

God is mercy and forgiveness, but they have rebelled and disobeyed Him:

“To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.” (Daniel 9:9-10)

 

Daniel agreed that they are receiving the punishment they deserve

They all knew that God’s law promised severe punishment for those who disobey, yet they refused to listen:

“All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him.” (Daniel 9:11)

God is only fulfilling what He promised (in Deuteronomy 28):

He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity.” (Daniel 9:12)

 

Daniel confessed that they are still not listening, even when they are punished

Even after God punished them, they still refuse to come to God:

“As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth.” (Daniel 9:13)

 

Daniel pleads to God because of His greatness

There is nothing good from them, nor are they deserving of any favor from God. Yet because of God’s greatness, Daniel pleads for His favor and forgiveness.

Knowing God’s righteousness, Daniel asks Him to turn away His anger from Jerusalem:

O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us.“ (Daniel 9:16)

Because of God’s mercy, Daniel asks Him to show favor on His temple:

“Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate.” (Daniel 9:17)

Because of God’s great mercy, Daniel asks Him to restore His city:

“O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy.” (Daniel 9:18)

Because of God’s reputation (for the sake of His name), Daniel asks Him to hear and to forgive His people:

O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” (Daniel 9:19)

 

How does this apply to us?

We are not in Daniel’s captive nation of Israel, yet we have all turned away from God’s perfect way. We often focus on how others have failed us, but we have all failed to obey God.

We all deserve a terrible punishment for turning away from God.  Even when God punishes us, we still refuse to listen to Him. It is only by His mercy that He has given us any favor (see Romans 5:6-8).

We need to pray for each other with this perspective. We need to seek the mind of Christ so that He would draw the others closer to Himself.

“We cannot dissociate ourselves from other Christians. We have to take our place with them, bow our heads in the presence of God, and own that we have sinned. If we could but remember this always, it would cure us of railing against the people of God who have less light than we have, or than we fancy that we have.” – H.A. Ironside6

“Are [circumstances] badgering us out of the presence of God and leaving us no time for worship? Then let us call a halt, and get into such living relationship with God that our relationship to others may be maintained on the line of intercession whereby God works His marvels.” – Oswald Chambers2

Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
James 5:13-16

 

Previous post: The Ram and The Goat

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December 9, 2016

The Ram and The Goat

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 10:18 pm

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We used to raise goats, and this passage reminded me of how difficult, stubborn, and hostile a male goat can be!

But to Daniel, the vision in chapter 8 was a terrifying preview of what was to come.

Daniel was working for the king during the declining times of the Babylonian empire when God gave him a vision of a great ram. The ram had two horns and stood on the banks of a canal, defeating anyone and anything that came against him.

Then, a large goat with a single horn between his eyes came out of the west after the ram. The goat attacked the ram, broke his horns, and trampled him.

Then the goat’s horn broke and was replaced by four smaller horns.

Then a fifth little horn grew out of the four horns. This little horn became great and dominated the Holy Land. It trampled some of the stars and considered itself to be as great as God himself. The little horn overthrew the sanctuary of God and stopped His offerings. This little horn would have power for just over three years.

The great and wise Daniel tried to understand this vision but it was beyond him. He saw the vision (8:2), he considered what he saw (8:5), and he sought to understand it (8:15). Finally, Daniel fainted when the angel Gabriel came to help him!

Gabriel woke Daniel and told him the explanation. The ram was the kings of Media and Persia. We know from history that Media and Persia form an alliance shortly after this time. In about ten years, the Median and Persian alliance would come and defeat Babylon (Daniel 5).

The goat was the king of Greece. We know from history that Alexander the Great came 200 years later, quickly conquering the Medio-Persian empire. Alexander would later die at the height of his power, leaving his great empire to four lesser leaders.

So far, this vision has been very close to what was shown in the previous vision (see here). Both visions predicted the rise of the Medio-Persian and the Greek empires, but this vision showed Daniel one of the greatest horrors that would befall his people.

A ruler would emerge from the Greek empire. He would grow his empire toward the Holy Land and dominate the Jewish people. He would kill many people and oppose God himself. He would stop the sacrifices and persecute God’s people for three years.

This prediction was fulfilled with the rule of Antiochus IV, who ruled the Seleucid empire from 175-163 B.C.3 Antiochus gave himself the title “Epiphanes”, meaning, “manifestation of God”. He was determined to force Greek culture (Hellenize) upon his Jewish subjects. This included Greek language and way of life, but also required the Jews to worship the Greek gods.

Antiochus returned from a humiliating defeat in Egypt in 168 B.C. and vented his frustration on the Jews, sending his troops to seize Jerusalem. The Jews were banned, under penalty of death, from offering sacrifices or performing Jewish rites. Antiochus went even further and desecrated the temple by placing an idol of Zeus in it and offering a pig on the altar. This became known to the Jews as the “Abomination of Desolation”.

But the vision also gave Daniel hope. The persecution of God’s people would only last for three years. After this period,the temple would be restored to its rightful state.

There was a faithful priest who lived during the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes. This priest, Mattathias, fled to the wilderness with his five sons and fought back against the Greek rulers. His son Judas led an uprising against the Greek rulers and was given the title, “Maccabaus”, or “the hammer”. Under Judas’ leadership, the Jews retook Jerusalem and restored the temple. The Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates this occasion when, on December 25, 165 B.C., the faithful Jews rededicated the newly cleansed temple. This was exactly three years after Antiochus desecrated the temple.

God also promised that this ruler would be destroyed without human hand. Historians recorded that Antiochus died suddenly of a mysterious illness (probably cancer), shortly after his defeat in Jerusalem, and the temple was restored.

But there was more to what God was telling to Daniel. Antiochus Epiphanes would be a cruel, wicked tyrant. He would kill and persecute many of the Jews, but Antiochus was only a preview of what is still to come. In terms of history, Antiochus was a petty Greek ruler, but there will come a ruler with the same evil and intrigue as Antiochus, yet with much more power. This ruler, also known as the Antichrist, will declare himself to be God and will destroy many people.  He will rise up against God and will have power for a limited time. Yet in the end, he will be destroyed by God Himself.

Warren Wiersbe’s commentary on Daniel lists the characteristics that both Antiochus and the Antichrist will share:3

  • Both begin modestly but increase in power and influence.
  • Both blaspheme God with mouths that speak great things.
  • Both persecute the Jewish people.
  • Both claim to be gods and put images in the temple.
  • Both impose their own religion on the people.
  • Both are opposed by a believing remnant that knows God.
  • Both are energized by the devil and are great deceivers.
  • Both appear to succeed marvelously and seem to be invincible.
  • Both are finally defeated by the coming of a redeemer.

 

Remember!

What does this story have to do with a reader in the 21st century? We live thousands of years after Alexander and Antiochus. It is a compelling story of history, but God has a lot more to tell us!

First, remember that God may delay his judgement, but he does not forget. This final king will rise in the latter times when “transgressors have reached their limit” (Daniel 8:23). If you are running from God, He is waiting for you to come back. But don’t exhaust His limit! If you keep running from Him, judgement is coming!

Second, remember how little we are in God’s sight! Daniel was one of the greatest and wisest men of his day, but this vision left him completely undone! He could not understand the meaning of the vision, and he fainted in the presence of the angel. Gabriel gave Daniel the final explanation, and it left him sick for days!

Finally, remember that God is in control, even through the darkest times of history. It must have been a great comfort to the Jews under Antiochus, knowing that his time would be limited. We may not have a specific prophecy for our own struggles in life, but God has not forgotten about us! God knows the end of our struggles!

 

Previous post: The History of the World

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November 6, 2016

The History of the World

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 8:30 pm

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History books intrigue me, especially the stories of kings and empires.

It is interesting to imagine yourself in another time, to try and picture life in those days.

Daniel lived in the 6th century B.C., yet he saw a view of the entire world history – especially the parts that had not happened yet!

Daniel’s first vision tells of the world empires. God had given the same message through pagan King Nebuchadnezzar over 50 years earlier (see here), but this time He sent His message directly to Daniel. While Nebuchadnezzar saw a beautiful statue composed of precious metals, Daniel saw four terrifying monsters.

The first monster was like a lion with eagles’ wings. The wings were plucked off, the monster stood up and was given the mind of a man. This was the same head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and it depicted the Babylonian empire.

The second monster was like a lopsided bear. This was the same silver arms and chest in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and it depicted the Medo-Persian empire.

The third monster was like a four-winged leopard with four heads. This was the same bronze belly and thighs of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and it depicted the Greek empire.

The fourth monster was beyond description. It had iron teeth and was “terrifying and dreadful”. This was the same iron legs and feet in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and it depicted the Roman empire.

Daniel may have recognized this series of empires from when he was a young man. If the vision ended there, it would have been an interesting lesson in future history.

But then things got weird.

The final monster had ten horns. Then an eleventh horn grew up, pushing out 3 of the older horns. This new horn had eyes and spoke. It spoke against God. The horn fought against the people of God and won. All this time the horn kept boasting great things about himself.

The scene shifted. Daniel was no longer looking at the terrifying monster with the weird horns. The little horn’s ranting and expletives faded to background noise, and Daniel was in the throne room of God the Father. Who cares about that little horn when you are in the presence of God!

“As I looked,
thrones were placed,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued
and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.

The little horn continued to curse until the Almighty God delivered the judgment. The monster was killed and its body destroyed.

But then, one is presented to God the Father. He is from mankind, yet he is eternal. He is given a kingdom that will never end!

“I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And 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 one
that shall not be destroyed.

Over 450 years later, a teacher rose up among the Jews. No one knew what to do with this new teacher, and he spoke like no one else. He taught that he was bringing a kingdom. He required total submission from anyone who would follow him. Above all, he had one phrase that he would use to describe himself:

“The Son of Man”

I don’t know if Jesus had a favorite verse, but this was one of the scripture references he used the most. When He talked about Himself, He would start with Daniel 7.

The world produces rulers and great men who fight against God. But the greatest of them is nothing more than a little, noisy horn.

While the little horn prattles on, the Ancient of Days sits in judgment. There will come a time when He will come and destroy the little horn.

The Son of Man – Jesus Himself – will rule a kingdom that will never end!

 

Remember!

The message of Daniel always comes back to perspective. God is not shaken by world events!

Jesus Himself will return some day and bring in a kingdom that will never end! May we look forward to that day!

Are we focused on the little horn or the throne room? While people shake their fists at God, He is sitting on his throne of fire!

 

Previous post: Politics and Bad Coworkers

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October 28, 2016

Politics and Bad Coworkers

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 10:05 pm

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Daniel chapter 6 closes the narrative of one of the most distinguished men in Old Testament scriptures. Daniel had the courage as a teen to stand up for God’s law, even when it could cost him his life (see here). Daniel had the wisdom as a young man to approach a furious king and interpret his dream, thereby saving his own life and the lives of the king’s wise men (see here). Daniel had the leadership as a middle-aged man to encourage his friends to bow only to God, regardless of the consequences (see here). Daniel had the kindness as an older man to counsel the king to turn from his pride (see here). Daniel had the boldness as an old man to rebuke a wicked king, telling him that his destruction was coming (see here).

Now, in the last chapter of his life, Daniel was once again pressed into service for the king. The new king, Darius, set up new leaders over the country with Daniel in charge. Instead of finishing his days in peace, Daniel faced the resentment and jealousy of colleagues who are angry that an outsider was promoted above them.

Don’t miss an important point in this chapter – very little of the action was by Daniel. There was no dramatic show of wisdom nor dream interpretation in Daniel 6. Daniel simply remained faithful to God through the chaos of his world.

This aspect about Daniel is what makes this passage especially encouraging. Daniel faced intrigue, politics, lies, and laws that challenged his fundamental beliefs. Yet through it all, he simply followed God. Constantly. Faithfully.

Daniel’s rivals scoured through his long history to find any “dirt” on him, yet his record was clean. They ended up resorting to a religious law which required everyone to pray only to the king for 30 days. The flattered king signed it into law, with no idea that he had just set the trap for Daniel.

Daniel responded to the anti-prayer law by going to prayer. Daniel would not allow his relationship with God to be blocked by the laws of men. This relationship was the basis for Daniel’s entire life.

Daniel’s prayer served as sufficient ammunition for his enemies, who had Daniel arrested at once. The penalty was to be eaten by hungry lions. The king himself tried to save Daniel, but the law was clear.

Note that Daniel did not speak in his own defense. He was ready to die.

The execution was carried out. Daniel was taken at sunset and put into the cave of hungry lions. The door was closed and sealed, and everyone went off to bed.

The king could not sleep that night and hurried to the cave in the morning. Daniel claimed to serve a very powerful God, but could this God save Daniel? The king was anxious to know if it was possible!

Somewhere, from inside the cave came the voice of an old man. God had sent an angel to stop the lions because Daniel was blameless. The king joyfully brought out Daniel and ordered his accusers to be executed in his place.

The passage concludes with an edict from the king. All people everywhere are to tremble in fear before the God of Daniel. He is the living God! His kingdom endures forever and he acts to save those who truly worship Him!

 

Remember!

God will save all who trust Him, although the rescue may not be as dramatic as Daniel.

God can send an angel to save us like he did for Daniel, or like he did for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (see here).

God may also save us through His providence, where He causes circumstances to come together for our rescue. This was the case of Joseph and his brothers, when God put Joseph in in Egypt during the famine (see Genesis 45:5-8). This was also Ezra’s belief when he refused the king’s protection for the return back to Jerusalem (see Ezra 8:21-23).

God may also save us through death. God’s plan is not always to rescue everyone at once; some will only be rescued when they see God face to face. This was the thought of the writer of Hebrews when he spoke of the martyrs for the faith in Hebrews 11:35-38. They are described as, “of whom the world was not worthy”.

 

Lessons from Daniel’s Example

  • Don’t compromise when it is under your control. (Daniel 1)
  • Be gracious to those over you, even in the face of hostility. (Daniel 1 and Daniel 2).
  • Take opportunities to use your gifts from God. (Daniel 2)
  • Don’t break God’s law – even when the consequences are terrible. (Daniel 3)
  • Answer with care and sensitivity. (Daniel 4)
  • Answer directly and truthfully. (Daniel 5)
  • Don’t compromise your walk with God, even under intense pressure. (Daniel 6)
  • You cannot control the attitudes are the actions of others, but you can remain faithful to the Most High God. (Daniel 1–6)
  • God is totally capable of defending himself. You don’t have to fight His battles!
  • Keep an attitude of thankfulness and prayer, regardless of the circumstances. (Daniel 6)
  • God can use you in all stages of your life. He used Daniel as a teen, a young man, in his middle age, and as an old man.
  • The Most High God transcends kings and kingdoms. He kept Daniel through all of the Babylonian kings and into the Persian empire.
  • Never lose focus on what is most important! (Daniel 1)
  • God’s law is more important than the laws of men. (Daniel 6)
  • True faith is when you commit to obeying God – even if he does not save you! (Daniel 3)

 

What Daniel teaches us about God

  • He honors those who are faithful to Him (Daniel 1)
  • He is greater than any kingdoms or empires of mankind. (Daniel 2)
  • His kingdom endures forever! (Daniel 2 and 6)
  • National disasters do not take God by surprise. (Daniel 2)
  • He sets up and takes down rulers of men. (Daniel 4 and Daniel 5)
  • All power of mankind, even the greatest of kings, is on loan from God. (Daniel 4 and Daniel 5)
  • Personal pride is abhorrent to the Most High God. (Daniel 4)
  • The Most High God holds our very breath in his hands! (Daniel 5)
  • He is to be respected and feared! (Daniel 6)
  • Nothing is impossible with God!

 

Previous post: The Final Party

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October 12, 2016

Good Arguments in favor of Adoption!

Filed under: adoption, encouragement, love, marriage and family, video — Christ Ranger @ 1:07 pm

October 7, 2016

The Final Party

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 6:32 pm

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Belshazzar’s Feast”, by Rembrandt (c. 1630)

What will be your final warning?

As I studied the account of the final king of Babylon, several words came to my mind. How would you describe this man?

Stubborn.

Reckless.

Careless.

Hedonist.

Self-indulgent.

Self-centered.

Self-confident.

Over-confident.

Proud.

Arrogant.

Refusing to listen.

Refusing to learn.

Sinful.

Foolish.

Stupid.

The part that scares me is how much these words also describe me.

It is easy to look down through history and criticize king Belshazzar. He was a classic fool and he paid dearly for it. He lost his kingdom, his empire, and his life.

But before we look more closely at Belshazzar’s final days, we need to be sure that we are not guilty of the same failures. At the core of it all, Belshazzar knew about God. He knew all about Him, yet he chose to reject God.

The Most High God holds our very breath in His hands, yet we do not honor Him!

“…the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.” – Daniel 5:23

The scene in Daniel 5 opens up to a great party. It has been over 30 years since Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in the previous chapter (see here). Nebuchadnezzar has died and there is a new king in Babylon. Daniel is now an old man and has retired from serving the king.

There is also a new enemy outside the city gates. The Medio-Persian army has conquered every nation in its path and has come for Babylon. The king of Babylon fought against them and completely lost. He was captured and his army was destroyed.

The king’s son and co-regent, Belshazzar, was still in control of the city. Babylon was the greatest fortress in the world, and he knew that the Medes and the Persians could never get inside. They have plenty of water and enough food to last for 20 years! They can simply wait for the Persians to leave.

At the time of Belshazzar’s party, the Medio-Persian army has been camped outside the city of Babylon for four months!

Daniel’s God had given the king a message. He told the king three times that the kingdom of Babylon would end and that it would be replaced by the Medes and the Persians. The army outside the gates would win.

God had also given the same message through other prophets. Both Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied that Babylon would fall to the Medes (see here and here). Isaiah’s prediction was over 200 years earlier!

Belshazzar knew what God had said, but he felt safe inside his city walls. In a final act of defiance, he threw a great party. As he began to get drunk, he called for the holy vessels of this God of Jerusalem. He drank from the golden cups of the temple and offered them to his Babylonian gods.

Immediately, the fingers of a human hand appeared, writing mysterious words on the wall next to the king. It terrified the king! He called for his wise men, but they could not understand what was written.

In the midst of the confusion, the king’s mother arrived and offered good news to the king. There was a man who served his grandfather who had the “spirit of the holy gods” and could explain great mysteries. Surely this man—Daniel—could interpret this mystery to the king.

Daniel came at the king’s request. He first reminded the king of his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar. God brought Nebuchadnezzar low, making him live like an animal when he became proud (see here). Belshazzar knew all this, yet he refused to humble himself before the Most High God. He taunted the very God who holds his breath!

Therefore, God  sent this final message:

  • Mene: God has numbered the days of his kingdom and brought it to an end.
  • Tekel: Belshazzar has been weighed (evaluated) and came up short.
  • Peres: The kingdom has been taken from Belshazzar and given to the Medes and the Persians.

This was one last chance for Belshazzar to repent, yet he refused. He awarded Daniel with the honors of interpreting the writing, sent him off, and resumed his party.

The Medio-Persian army had diverted the waters of the Euphrates river. Unknown to the drunk Babylonians, they lowered the water level and waded under the river gates, into the city. They found king Belshazzar and all of the leaders of the city at the party and killed everyone.

The account in scripture puts it bluntly, “That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed.” (Daniel 5:30).

 

Remember!

  • God will judge those who refuse to obey Him. He is patient, but He will not forget.
  • Don’t refuse to listen to God! He will warn you, but one day it will be too late!
  • He is the Most High God and He holds our very lives! Give Him the honor that He deserves!

 

Previous post: How Big Do You Think You Are?

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September 25, 2016

How Big Do You Think You Are?

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 6:37 pm

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You need to have self-respect.

Take pride in your work.

Don’t have a low self-esteem!

You need to start by loving yourself.

Don’t let anyone make you feel like you are less of a person.

Look out for number one!

These are the positive messages that we hear every day. You need to take care of yourself. Be nice about it, but you need to have pride!

It is socially acceptable to be proud. It is even encouraged – so long as you’re nice about it – to have pride.

These messages are popular and many of them are well meaning. But what does God say?

All through the Holy Scriptures, God has one message about our pride. Our self-esteem. Our love for ourselves.

There is no doubt. God hates our pride.

The very first of the 10 Commandments says, “You shall have no God before me”. God alone needs to be the center of our worship. Our pride pulls God away and puts ourselves in His place.

Proverbs 6 tells of seven things that The Lord hates, with pride being first on the list.

Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 tells about how the most beautiful angel, Lucifer, was lifted up with pride. He thought he was so elevated, yet he was cast down to earth.

In the New Testament, Acts 12 tells about the wicked king Herod being especially judged by God for being proud (he was eaten by worms).

But there may not be a more vivid example of pride than King Nebuchadnezzar.

Nebuchadnezzar had it all! He had conquered all of his enemies. He was king over all of the known world. He personally led the construction of the great city of Babylon, one of the wonders of the ancient world. Now, later in his reign, he could finally rest and enjoy life.

It was at this time that Nebuchadnezzar had a terrifying dream. He saw a great tree which was tall and visible for all too see. The tree provided shelter and food for all living things. But then an angel from heaven came with an announcement. Chop down the tree and cut off its branches, but leave the stump protected. He will lose his sanity and live like an animal for seven years, until he knows that the Most High has all authority over the kingdom of men.

Anxious to know the meaning of this dream, the king called all of his advisors. Only Daniel was able to give an answer. Nebuchadnezzar is the great tree. He will soon lose his sanity, be driven from people, and will live like an animal. He will in that state for seven years until he recognizes the Most High God. Only God rules over the kingdom of men and gives the authority to whomever He wants.

Daniel followed his interpretation with advice to the king. Nebuchadnezzar needed to stop disobeying God and show justice and care for others. He needed to change his attitude and God might delay the impending disaster.

We do not know if Nebuchadnezzar showed any change of heart after this dream. Any remorse or changes in Nebuchadnezzar were only temporary. Exactly one year later, Nebuchadnezzar was on his rooftop looking at the great city of Babylon. Filled with pride over his accomplishments, he said, “Is this not my great Babylon, that I have built for myself and my own greatness?”

No sooner had the king of Babylon finished these words when there was a voice from heaven announcing the judgment from the Most High God. Nebuchadnezzar immediately lost his sanity and he was driven from the palace. The great king was reduced to living in the wild and eating grass for seven years.

Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity returned after seven years. Ha received back his mind, his kingdom, and his glory, but he learned his lesson. It was no longer all about him. From his own words,

I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,
for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”

 

Remember!

  • No matter how great we think we are, we are nothing compared to the Most High God!
  • Our pride is an offense to God. When we lift ourselves up, we are not humble before God, nor are we giving Him the proper credit and glory.
  • Every chapter in Daniel reiterates the same theme. God is the greatest. He is greater than any political, intellectual, or military power in this world. God wins!

 

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” – 1 Peter 5:5

 

Previous post: Who is the Greatest?

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September 10, 2016

Who is the Greatest?

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 11:04 am

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The account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is one of the most well-known “Bible stories“. Generations of children have heard this account told to them in Sunday School, about the three young men who refused to the bow to the king’s image.

The narrative is simple and dramatic. King Nebuchadnezzar built a massive golden image and brought all of his officials to the ceremony so that they would bow down and worship. The penalty for not obeying the king was to be burned alive in a fiery furnace.

At the king’s command, the music played and everyone bowed down. Everyone worshipped the image except for three men who refused, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These three were brought to the king where they were given an opportunity to recant, but they told the king that they will not bow down to his image.

Their refusal to bow threw the king into a rage. He ordered the furnace to be super-heated and then for the guards to throw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the flame. The furnace was so hot that it killed the guards who took them.

After carrying out the sentence, the king looked into the fire and jumped up quickly. “Did we not throw three men into the fire?”, he asked. “Then why are there four men walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like one of the gods?”

Nebuchadnezzar called the three men out of the fire and they emerged from the flames unharmed. Their clothes did not even smell like smoke! The event concludes with the king blessing the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and making a royal decree against anyone who dared to speak against this great God!

This event is a great encouragement to stand for your beliefs, even under intense pressure. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego opposed the king, even when they knew the consequences could be fatal.

But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did more than just stand up for their beliefs. They knew God’s law, and His first two commandments were to stay away from idols (Exodus 20:1-6). Their response to the king showed that they did not know what God would do. God may save them or He may let them burn to death. But regardless of the consequences, they would not dishonor God and would not worship the king’s image.

Don’t miss the statement of their belief, “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire … 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.” (Daniel 3:17-18).

These men showed courage and were honored for their faith. But the main point of this passage goes beyond the three courageous young men on the plain of Dura. It goes beyond the selfish king who thought that he could unite his empire under the state religion. The main point of this passage is that the God of heaven, the God of these exiled Jews is greater than anything made by mankind. He is greater than the king or his empire.

Nebuchadnezzar thought he could challenge God when he said in his anger, “And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”

At the end, Nebuchadnezzar saw that his power was worthless. God has power over the flames and over any nation. Nebuchadnezzar ended the scene with blessing to this God.

He is the Most High God! (Daniel 3:26)

 

Remember!

  • God is able to rescue us from our troubles, but can we have the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to commit to Him regardless of the consequences?
  • God is greater than any king, any power or any nation. In our modern American society, He is greater than any leaders, politicians, or laws in our land!
  • The entire message of Daniel is a reminder that God had not forgotten His people. God has not forgotten us!

 

Previous post: His Kingdom is Forever!

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August 28, 2016

His Kingdom is Forever!

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 3:36 pm

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“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
he reveals deep 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 might,
and have now made known to me what we asked of you
for you have made known to us the king’s matter.

We look at the American political system today and it is easy to get discouraged. None of the major political candidates show any wisdom to lead a country. They all look like they are more consumed with self-serving interests than to care about the future of the country.

To be an American Christian today likely means that you will be labeled as a bigot, ignorant of science, or out of touch with reality.

The situation is much worse in other parts of the world. Russia has recently passed laws that prohibit worship in any other place but the state-sanctioned churches (see here). The World Watch List lists 41 countries in the world which have moderate to extreme persecution of Christians. Many Islamic nations have a death penalty for anyone who converts from Islam. North Korea is ranked again as the most dangerous country for a Christian, for 14 years in a row!

It is easy to become discouraged and to start to wonder. Is God really in control?

God gave a message to His people in the sixth century B.C. This was a time of the terrible crisis for the surviving Jews of that day. The northern nation, Israel, was completely destroyed a century earlier. The southern nation, Judah, had lost their independence, and were now slaves to whatever world powers would dominate them.

The king of Egypt had come in 609 B.C., killing the king and setting up his own vassal king over the country. The king of Babylon then came four years later, setting up his rule over Judah and taking captives back with him to Babylon.

The situation would only get worse. Babylon would return 17 years later to destroy Jerusalem, burn the temple, and carry away all of the inhabitants to exile. The Jewish nation would cease to exist for 70 years.

Where was God during this crisis? God gives His answer in the Book of Daniel.

God is all-wise. God is all-powerful. The great God who can change the seasons can raise and lower kingdoms.

The kingdoms of this world do not have any power over the God of the Universe!

The scene of Daniel 2 opened in the emperor’s bedroom. King Nebuchadnezzar had just awakened from a terrible dream. He was greatly disturbed by what he saw, yet he could not remember the dream!

The king urgently summoned all of his advisors and wise men, demanding that they tell him the dream and its interpretation. These wise men were very skilled in interpreting dreams, but this was new to them – never before were they asked to tell the dream itself!

They begged the king to tell them the dream but their entreaties only made the king more angry. When they failed to tell the dream, the furious king demanded that all of his wise men be executed!

The king ordered all of the wise men in Babylon to be killed. This included the Jewish slaves who had only recently graduated from their training (Daniel 1). When the executioner came for Daniel and his companions, Daniel requested time so that he could provide an answer for the king.

Daniel returned to his house and discussed the matter with his companions, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Together they asked God for mercy so that He might show them the mystery.

The prayer above was Daniel’s response when God showed him the dream and its interpretation. His praise to God declared that the God of heaven has the power over time, seasons, and over kingdoms. God had shown the deep mysteries and had given Daniel the wisdom to show the answer to the king.

Daniel requested to be brought to the king. He made it clear that no human could answer his request, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries and has shown the king what will happen in the latter days.

Daniel then told the king his dream. He dreamed of a massive image that was overwhelming in its appearance and brightness. The head of the image was made of gold, the chest and arms of silver, the middle and thighs of bronze, the legs of iron, and the feet of iron and clay mixed. A stone was then cut without any human hand and struck the image in the feet, destroying the entire image. The stone then became a great mountain and filled the earth.

Daniel then told the interpretation of the dream. The five elements of the image were five empires (kingdoms) that would rule the earth. Nebuchadnezzar himself represented Babylon, the head of gold. After him would be three other kingdoms, successfully representing the silver, the bronze and the iron. The final kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle, like the iron mixed with clay. During the days of the final kingdom, the God of heaven will destroy the kingdoms of the world and set up a kingdom himself that will never end.

In our current point of history, the kingdoms of Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Iron have all come and gone, as the empires of Babylon, Medio-Persia, Greece, and Rome have come through history. We are still waiting on the final events of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, where the kingdom of iron and clay rules the world.

But more than that, we know that there will be a day when God’s kingdom will come and destroy all of the powers of this world. He will set up his own kingdom which will never end!

 

Remember!

  • He is the only wise God (Romans 16:27). God has not made a mistake in these troublesome times. None of these world events take Him by surprise!
  • He is the all-powerful God (Revelation 1:8). He removes kings and he sets up kings. No nation or its power is greater than God!
  • All of our world powers today are only temporary, but the kingdom of the Almighty God will last forever!

 

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