INTERCESSION

INTERCESSION

Governments everywhere in the West are so dogged by division that we wonder what the future holds. In an article this week on the failure of the (US) Senate to pass a bill on healthcare reform (Trump, Obamacare and the Art of Fail), Peggy Noonan asks, ‘Is there any legitimate hope of a bipartisan solution?’ I cite this article, not to comment on the healthcare legislation, but to illustrate the challenges governments have today, for divisions in leadership tend to reflect the divisions within societies as a whole. Is there a solution? If so, where do we begin? Prayer!

How should we pray for our leaders, for God’s people, for the nations and for people in need?  Daniel’s prayer in chapter 9 sets out principles for us.

The Honor of God’s Name. Following his confession of Israel’s sin (see last week), Daniel petitions God on the basis of God’s mercy. In 9:15 we read: And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have a name for yourself,…

Daniel reminded God that his Name was revered because he had brought about the release of his people from slavery in Egypt. People knew that you didn’t mess with this God. He did what he said he would do!

And while Daniel was honest about the sin of God’s people (Lord, we have sinned, we have done wickedly), he was bold to pray: Lord, in view of all your righteous acts, let your anger and wrath, we pray, turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy mountain;… (Daniel 9:16).

Daniel didn’t ask God to put aside his righteousness and overlook the faults and failings of Israel. Instead, he asks God to act because of his righteousness.

We don’t live under same covenant as God’s ancient people. With the coming of Jesus Christ, we live under a new covenant grounded in the unchanging character of God.

In Matthew 16:18 we read that Jesus plans to build his church; in Matthew 28:18-20 we see that this involves drawing people from all nations. Indeed, we are caught up in his commission to bring others to know him, love him and honor him in their lives.

Furthermore, Jesus has opened up for us a privilege in our prayer: we can call God, ‘Father’. He also tells us that we should pray for the honor of God’s name and for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. These are promises we can take to God in our prayers for our country, our leaders and all our concerns – great and small.

We come back to the principles of prayer that we find in Daniel 9. Consider how Daniel develops his appeal to God in 9:17-19: Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his supplication, and for your own sake, Lord, let your face shine upon your desolated sanctuary. Incline your ear, O my God, and hear. Open your eyes and look at our desolation and the city that bears your name. We do not present our supplication before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay! For your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people bear your name!”

At the heart of Daniel’s intercession is the glory of God’s name. Daniel did not hesitate to remind God of what he’d already revealed in his Word and urged him to roll up his sleeves and act.

Daniel wasn’t presumptuous. He was humble, honest and contrite about his own and Israel’s sin. But this did not prevent him praying on the basis of God’s character and God’s promises.

The glorious thing about the God the Bible reveals is that he is gracious and always willing to receive people back on the basis of repentance and a commitment to start afresh. 

Daniel’s prayer challenges us to come to God, not just about the little things that concern us as individuals, but about the big things, namely governments, our loved ones and the salvation of people we know.

Prayer is a precious privilege. It brings us into the very presence of the God whose nature is honor-bound always to have mercy. Yet so often our prayer life is dead. Why don’t we pray? God is the father who loves to give.

As Phillips Brooks once commented: ‘Prayer is not conquering God’s reluctance, but taking hold of God’s willingness’.

Optional – you may want to read Daniel 9:16-19; Luke 11:1-4; Ephesians 3:14-21.

CONFESSION

CONFESSION

In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by birth a Mede, who became king over the realm of the Chaldeans… I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy… I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “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 9:1, 3-5).

In Daniel 9:1-19 we find one of the really great prayers in the Scriptures. It is a prayer that is worth reading, re-reading, and meditating upon.

The time was around 539BC and Daniel, and his fellow Jewish people were in exile in Babylon. Their country had been conquered and occupied by Babylonian forces since 586BC. Daniel had been amongst the cream of the Jewish population that had been taken into exile. And while in Babylon Daniel’s abilities and faith had shone when, at significant moments, his advice had been sought by Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius. 

Some scholars have questioned the reference to Darius because the only known ruler of the Medo-Persian empire with that name came to the throne after the return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem. However, the references to ‘Darius the Mede’ in Daniel 6 and 9:1 suggest that this man was an official appointed by Cyrus with jurisdiction in Babylon. Further, the fact that there is no particular archaeological reference to this Darius is not necessarily a cause for concern. Scholars were cynical about the existence of Belshazzar (Daniel 5) until evidence turned up about him.

Now in his 80s, Daniel had lost neither his intellectual sharpness nor his faith in God. What is more, he had not forgotten God’s promises through prophets such as Jeremiah that the period of exile in Babylon would be seventy years. Daniel was confident that God would not forget and that the restoration of his people would occur.

However, Daniel didn’t simply take life easy waiting for God’s promises to come true. He was zealous in living out God’s commands while actively praying for the fulfillment of God’s promises.

That is significant for it shows us that God’s sovereignty doesn’t take away human responsibility. God’s rule is not a mechanistic fatalism. He invites us to partner with him in the implementation of his plans.

Daniel’s prayer has two parts – confession and petition. Let’s consider his confession.

While Daniel’s confession is a general, not personal, confession, he includes himself: ‘we have sinned and done wrong; we have rebelled; we have turned away…’ (9:5).

Furthermore, his focus is God: ‘O God’ he prays: ‘we have turned away from your commands and your laws’ (9:5); ‘we have not listened to your servants the prophets’ (9:6); ‘we have not obeyed the laws you gave’ (9:10); ‘we have not listened to your voice’ (9:11); ‘we have not looked for your mercy, turning away from our sins and learning from your truth’ (9:13).

Let’s think about this. By talking about God in personal terms – ‘your commands’ and ‘your prophets,’ Daniel acknowledged the personal covenant relationship that existed between God and his people. Furthermore, the covenant had guidelines – commands and laws.

There are principles here that can apply to God’s people now. Too often we turn away from God and act independently of him. How often are we tempted to think that God’s discipline falls only on the godless and terrorists?

So we need to ask, ‘Is God pleased with the church in the West?’ ‘Are we the kind of people he is likely to revive and bless?’ Sadly, too many churches have become hopelessly compromised by the spirit of the age. How easily we absorb our culture’s desire for instant gratification.

Daniel’s prayer sets out the principle for us that we cannot fruitfully pray for our church, for our cities and our country without first confessing our own sin. That is something Thomas Cranmer understood: he included a prayer of confession in Morning and Evening Prayer and The Lord’s Supper.

Confession involves knowing the mind of God because we have listened to his voice in his Word. It involves being honest and humble, genuinely saying sorry to God for our sins, asking for his forgiveness, and the ability, by his Spirit to turn back to him and walk with him.

Prayer: Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden; cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, so that we may perfectly love you, and worthily glorify your holy name; through Christ our Lord. Amen (Collect for Purity, BCP, adapted)

Optional – you may like to read: Daniel 9:1-23; Colossians 1:9-14.

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.