POWER

POWER

As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed (Daniel 7:13,14).

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely…” wrote Lord Acton in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887. Human institutions and governments don’t give us cause for optimism. No matter how well intentioned, none is perfect. Is there any hope for the future?

The prophet Daniel says, Yes! There is hope – in God, the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man, whose kingdom will endure forever.

Daniel 7 is different in both style and content from the preceding chapters. Apart from a reference to Belshazzar in the opening line, there is no other specific historical reference.

Whereas Daniel 1-6 names rulers, chapter 7 speaks of beasts with malevolent intent. But also introduced is a Gandolph-like supernatural figure whose position and power are immense. It’s as though Daniel has moved from the stage of history to the world of sci-fi.

Daniel 7 lays out a vision that is pessimistic about human leadership and power, but optimistic about a kingly power that is greater than any other power. So, in Daniel 7:13-14 we read of One whose powerful rule is not only without equal but will last forever. Enigmatically this ruler is called the Son of Man – in Hebrew, ben Adam (son of Adam).

This phrase could be a substitute for the personal pronoun ‘I’, as in I am a man. It could also refer to the people of Israel. Hosea 11 speaks of God’s people, Israel, as ‘God’s son’. But there is something else: Son of Man was also used as a reference to a king. Psalm 2 speaks of the king of Israel as ‘son of God’.

When we turn to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we find that Jesus spoke of himself as the Son of Man. He used the phrase to refer to his humanity as in: ‘I am a son of Adam.’ Significantly, he also used it as a reference to himself as the Messiah – God’s unique, anointed king.

Indeed he put these ideas together at his trial when the High Priest, as Judge, asked him if he was “the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed.” Jesus replied, “I am.”  He shocked everyone by then quoting Daniel 7: “And you will see the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61). ‘I am a not only a man,’ he was saying, ‘I am uniquely God’s Son and God’s King. One day you will see how true this is.’

Where is our hope for the future? Daniel tells us our hope is in his God – the Ancient of Days (God) and in the Son of Man whose kingdom will endure forever. The Son of Man will overthrow all opposing powers with their menace and corruption, including the power that frightened him so much.

Daniel’s words here could be a reference to Jesus’ defeat of Satan at Calvary. Satan’s sting is still evident, but he is now a mortally wounded beast – defeated, but not finally dead, lashing out trying to create as much havoc as he can before his end. That is probably what Daniel is speaking about towards the end of chapter 7. He sees the arrogant, foul, aggressive ‘little horn’ defeated, but still perpetrating his corrupt, awful schemes.

Against this, the very last verse gives us confidence: But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever (Daniel 7:18). The day will come when God will publicly step on to the stage of human events and rescue his people, promoting them to reign with him forever.

We have every reason to be optimistic, not because of human institutions, but because of the God of the ages who holds all things in his hands, who stands in the wings of history, quietly, persistently working out his purposes. Jesus’ resurrection points to the reality of this.

And we should not forget the privilege God has given us now. He calls on us to work with him as he pursues his purposes for his people. What we do in this world changes things; what we do in the service of Christ in this world lasts.

Paul speaks of this in the conclusion to his great chapter on resurrection: Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Optional – you may like to read Daniel 7; Mark 14:53-65.

TRUSTWORTHY

TRUSTWORTHY

Daniel then said to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong.” (Daniel 6:21,22).

Many New Yorkers, together with many in the West, follow a fashionable mantra: ‘All religions are the same’. This popular form of pluralism seems to make sense, but it fails to account for the many significant differences between the world’s great religions.

Indeed, a more sophisticated form of pluralism argues that there is a deeper, grander ‘truth’ made clear by all religions. This ‘truth’ has little to do with Allah requiring five daily prayers, or Buddha advocating the subduing of the emotions, or Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of the world. It simply points to a greater ‘truth’ that there is an indefinable ‘reality’ drawing the world to itself. In other words, this view of pluralism claims to have discovered a greater ‘truth’ that none of the world’s religions have found. 

However, this more sophisticated form of pluralism has no response to questions such as the certainty of such a ‘reality’ or that such a ‘reality,’ if it exists, has not already been identified.

Daniel’s rescue from the lion’s den assures us there is a sovereign God who not only exists but uniquely wields awesome authority over every aspect of his creation. He is the trustworthy Lord, working out his great purposes throughout creation. In terms of Daniel 6, he can turn hungry lions into docile pets, overcome cunning, corrupt public servants, and overturn the supposedly unchangeable laws of a King.

We see a further example of God’s purposes and power at work – overcoming the powers of sin, of human institutions and of death itself – through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

That does not mean that every time God’s people stand up for Him, he will step in and work a miracle. Hebrews 11 provides many examples of God’s people who were not rescued but were commended for their faith.

Reflect. Daniel 6 reminds us of the reassuring truth that there is a sovereign God who has authority over every human institution. It also reminds us of our need to honor God, whoever we are, and wherever we are. He is trustworthy.

We need to ask God to enable us to stand firm in our faith in Jesus Christ. We also need to pray for wisdom – to know when and how to speak up for him. Every week we all have opportunities.

In Acts 5:27- 32 we read: “When they (the temple police) had brought them (Peter and John), they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.’ 

“But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, so that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.’”

Optional – you might like to read: Daniel 6; Acts 5:27-42.

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© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com

WARNING

WARNING

And this is the writing that was inscribed: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin (Daniel 5:25).

Most of us find ourselves in situations where the name of God is mocked and the values that for so long have undergirded Western culture and behavior, promoted.

In Daniel 5 we read of a great feast hosted by Belshazzar who sat on Nebuchadnezzar’s throne. Yet on the night he was feasting, drinking from the vessels that had been brought from the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, Persia under the military leadership of Cyrus, was threatening Babylonia’s empire.

Indeed it was at the time of a significant Medo-Persian victory that Belshazzar was partying until a finger started writing on the wall: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin.

Mene, Tekel, and Parsin were small weights, in descending order, used in the marketplace. Here they are metaphors for God’s justice.

Daniel interpreted them, saying, ‘Belshazzar, mene means your days are numbered; tekel, ‘weighed’, means God has weighed your life, and found it short on goodness; parsin, means your kingdom is divided and given to others. Tonight God will remove both your kingdom and your life.’

Denying the prophecy, Belshazzar commanded that Daniel be honored. But no last minute compliment to God’s man was going to provide a reprieve. Humility and repentance towards God were far from Belshazzar’s heart. That night he was slain and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom.

What Belshazzar failed to learn while he had the opportunity, was that everyone is accountable to the God who made us all. It is only by God’s grace that we enjoy whatever good things, power or position we might have. Nebuchadnezzar had learned the lesson, but Belshazzar had not.

As well as this warning, there is also encouragement for us: God will always have the last word. The writing was on the wall, not just for Belshazzar, but for everyone who thinks they can trample on God’s name and his ways with impunity.

Today Christianity is lampooned by television comedians, dismissed by the gurus of radio and marginalized in the corridors of political power. Many of us feel isolated – in the office, in the professional world, in the classroom, and even in our family.

But no matter what happens, we can be confident. ‘Be assured’, Daniel 5 tells us, ‘the writing is on the wall. God will have the last word.’

In Acts 17:29-31 we read: “Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Reflect. What does accountability to God – the Lord Most High – mean for you? Do you carry this truth into your prayers for others who mock your walk with the Lord Jesus Christ? 

Remember Paul the Apostle’s words: For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness”, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Optional – you might like to read: Daniel 5; Acts 17:22-31.

COURAGE

COURAGE

“…Be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:18)

It takes courage to stand up for what you believe to be the truth. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were, like Daniel, exiles in Babylon at the time of Nebuchadnezzar. Like Daniel they enjoyed the privilege of Babylonian education and a place in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. However, encouraged by those around him, Nebuchadnezzar had constructed a huge golden statue that he commanded everyone to worship. The three Israelites, despite certain death, refused.

They were intelligent, highly educated, articulate young men who held office in their land of exile at Nebuchadnezzar’s pleasure because of their abilities and leadership qualities. However they knew that now they had to take a stand.

Nebuchadnezzar needed to know the God of Israel was not only the God of the Jewish people. He was not simply another God in the pantheon of gods for the Religious Departments of universities to analyse. He alone is God. There is no other.

They spoke of God as, “our God whom we serve”: they had a personal relationship with him built on trust. They were confident that God had the power to deliver them from the fiery furnace they faced. But if he chose not to protect them they would still trust him.

For the Jewish readers of this book who were also in exile, the examples of men like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Babylon were significant. They had to ask to what extent they should get involved in this foreign country: would it compromise their faith? The Book of Daniel’s answer is, ‘No! It won’t, providing you continue to trust and serve God’.

This question is important for us too. Some of God’s people say they can only fully serve God if they become a Christian minister or missionary. But that is not how God works: he involves all of us wherever we are. And he expects us to continue to trust and serve him in the secular, neo-pagan world of our day.

In Romans 12:1-2 Paul the Apostle writes: ‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect’.

Reflect. Do you pray for opportunities to talk with others about your faith? As you do, ask yourself what opportunities you have had. Pray for those with whom you have chatted.

Optional. Read Daniel 3; Colossians 4:2-6.

A DREAM

A DREAM

Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night… (Daniel 2:19)

Dreams fascinate us. They can tease us with the hope they may come true, but they can also terrify. In the past, as in some cultures today, dreams were often treated as portents of the future. So people called on the ‘wise’ and fortune-tellers to interpret their dreams. These days modern psychology suggests that dreams can reveal our subconscious desires and fears. However, there are well-documented occasions when individuals have had some kind of premonition of the future – particularly of disaster.

Daniel chapter 2 records a dream that King Nebuchadnezzar experienced. It was so real that he called in his wise men and scientists, wanting them to tell him the meaning. However he had forgotten what it was and threatened them with death if they couldn’t interpret the forgotten dream, Daniel was called in. On being told of the situation he called on his three companions to pray. Prayer was an essential part of Daniel’s life. He prayed because he trusted God.

God answered that prayer, revealing both the dream and its meaning. In essence, God showed Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel and the Israelite exiles in Babylon that there would be the rise and fall of four great empires (Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome). But overall and throughout it all, God would be there, working out his great purposes for his people.

The purpose of the dream was to encourage God’s people to persevere. They were going through dreadful times. Exiled from Jerusalem, they had lost all that was dear to them. ‘Never give up,’ God was saying to them. He says the same to us today: ‘Don’t give up your trust in me, your prayer, or your courage to serve.’

We who live on the other side of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, have even more reason to put our trust in the one God who has shown himself in the course of history to be true and trustworthy.

In Romans 5:1-5 we read: 1Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Reflect. We cannot live a meaningful life in the present unless we believe something positive about the future. What hope do you have for the future that keeps your life fresh and vital now?

Optional. Read Daniel 2; Romans 8:28-39

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© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com

‘UNCERTAINTY’

‘UNCERTAINTY’

The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court… But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine (Daniel 1:5,8).

During June and July, I plan to highlight principles we can draw from Daniel, chapters 1 – 7 about living in a post-Christian world.

In Daniel’s day, God’s people found themselves in a world of uncertainty and confusion. In 586BC Nebuchadnezzar had sent his army into Jerusalem; the city was destroyed and the stones of Solomon’s great temple razed to the ground. Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest had devastated the Jewish people. Their national pride was in tatters and their religious faith was challenged to the core for they believed that their God was the one true living God, sovereign over all the gods of the nations.

An important part of Nebuchadnezzar’s strategy was to take the cream of the Jewish people to Babylon and give them a top-rate education and cultural program. Nebuchadnezzar expected men like Daniel and his friends to welcome the intellectual and cultural challenges.

However, Daniel drew a line when it came to the food menu. The words, Daniel resolved…, suggest that he was wrestling with his conscience about this. The result was that he made a personal determination to take a stand on a principle.

Daniel may have stood firm on the matter of food because in diplomatic circles eating a meal with someone often implied an alliance. He knew that he was a member of a nation that was bound to Yahweh, the Lord God. That loyalty came first.

And there was probably something else: Daniel was surrounded daily by dozens of temptations to turn away from his walk with God, temptations he knew might well succumb to. If he was to remain true to God he would need great self-discipline.

He could not afford to let himself be softened up by the king’s hospitality. There may have been nothing morally wrong with enjoying the delights of the Babylonian royal cuisine, but it symbolized a threat to his own spiritual commitment.

Reflect. If we are going to live as believers in a secular materialistic society we need to have the courage to be different. Pray for God’s grace to identify where you need to make a stand.

Optional. You may like to read Daniel 1; and Ephesians 4:17-32.


© John G. Mason