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Daniel 5:1-6; Divine Graffiti and Profane Incontinence

10/10_Daniel 05:1-6; Divine Graffiti and Profane Incontinence; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20211010_dan05_1-6.mp3

History of Babylon

Nebuchadnezzar reigned in Babylon for 43 years. He died in 562, and was succeeded by his son Amel-Marduk (Evil-Merodach; 2Ki.25:27-30). After an arbitrary and licentious reign of only 2 years, he was assassinated by his brother-in-law Neriglissar, (Nergal-Sharezer; Jer.39:3,13), who reigned for three years eight months. When he died in 556 BC, his son Labashi-Marduk took the throne. He was young and inexperienced, and was assassinated after only a few months, and Nabonidus, part of the coup to overthrow him, was appointed to rule. History tells us that Nabonidus was the final ruler of the Babylonian empire, until it fell in 539 BC to Cyrus the Persian.

Belshazzar and the Nabonidus Cylinder

Daniel chapter 5 records Belshazzar as the final ruler of Babylon at its fall to Cyrus, and critics of the Bible were quick to point out this historical ‘inaccuracy,’ and the fact that a king named Belshazzar was unknown to history outside of the biblical record.

That is, until 1853. The Nabonidus cylinder was discoved in a ziggurat in Ur in, which contains a prayer of Nabonidus to the moon god Sin:

ii 3–16) O Sîn, lord of the gods, king of the gods of heaven and earth, god of the gods, the one who resides in the great heavens…

ii 18–22) (As for) me, Nabonidus, king of Babylon, save me from sinning against your great divinity and grant me a long life (lit. “a life of long days”)

“ii 23–26) Moreover, with regard to Belshazzar, (my) first-born son, my own offspring, have the fear of your great divinity placed in his heart so that he does not commit a(ny) sin. May he be sated with happiness in life.” [RINBE 2, p.163]

Since that time, several other inscriptions on cuneiform cylinders and tablets have been found in the ruins of Ur, Sippar, and Borsippa attesting to the historicity of Belshazzar (or Bēl-šarru-uṣur – Bel protect the king).

Even Babylonian administrative documents recording business transactions naming Belshazzar as the crown prince have been discovered. This clay tablets is dated to the ‘24th day of Kislimu in the 11th year of Nabonidus, King of Babylon’. It mentions a ‘slave of Bel-sharra-utsur (Belshazzar), son of the king.’ [https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/W_1898-0514-558]

Things like this are still being found. In July of this year, a 26 line inscription depicting Nabonidus was discovered in northern Saudi Arabia. This inscription has not been published, so we don’t yet know what it says.

No one today can question the existence of Belshazzar son of Nabonidus.

Proverbs 30:5 Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

We learn from the Verse Account of Nabonidus that:

… -when the third year was about to begin- he entrusted the army [?] to his oldest son, his first born, the troops in the country he ordered under his command.

He let everything go, entrusted the kingship to him, and, himself, he started out for a long journey. The military forces of Akkad marching with him, he turned to Tema deep in the west.

He started out the expedition on a path leading to a distant region. When he arrived there, he killed in battle the prince of Tema, slaughtered the flocks of those who dwell in the city as well as in the countryside. And he, himself, took residence in Tema, the forces of Akkad were also stationed there.

He made the town beautiful, built there a palace like the palace in Babylon. He also built walls for the fortification of the town and he surrounded the town with sentinels.

Nabonidus spent most of his 17 year reign in Tema in Arabia, 500 miles south of Babylon, entrusting his son Belshazzar with the responsibilities of overseeing the affairs of Babylon. Although Belshazzar does not refer to himself as king of Babylon in any of the known inscriptions, he was indeed entrusted with the kingship by his father, and it would be natural for Daniel to refer to him as king.

Cyrus’ Siege of Babylon

Nabonidus had returned to Babylon around 543 BC, so he was in the province when Cyrus attacked in 539 BC.

Josephus records for us what the ancient historian Berosus said about the attack of Cyrus on Babylon:

…but when he was come to the seventeenth year of his reign, Cyrus came out of Persia with a great army; and having already conquered all the rest of Asia, he came hastily to Babylonia. When Nabonnedus perceived he was coming to attack him, he met him with his forces, and joining battle with him was beaten, and fled away with a few of his troops with him, and was shut up within the city Borsippus. [Josephus c. Ap. 1:151-153 (1:20)]

This is the historical backdrop of Daniel 5.

Why Feast?

The night was the 16th of Tishri (October 12) 539BC, and the army of Cyrus was camped outside the walls of Babylon. Two days earlier, Belshazzar’s father Nabonidus, had led his troops to battle at Sippar, less than 40 miles north of Babylon on the Euphrates river. Nabonidus was defeated and fled.

Daniel 5:1 King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand.

When we put the historical details together, we must ask why? Why was Belshazzar making a feast in Babylon after the defeat of his father two days earlier, and with Cyrus encamped on his doorstep, preparing to lay siege?

It could be that news of his father’s defeat and of the Persian army had not reached him. It could be that he was oblivious to the threat. Or it could be that he was well aware of the imminent demise of Babylon, and he chose to ‘eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ But it seems from his actions that he was proud and defiant, thinking he was safe within the city’s walls. The feast could be a way to rally the leaders and demonstrate to them that they had nothing to fear.

Herodotus in his Histories gives us a possible explanation;

…Cyrus …when the next spring was just beginning, then at length he continued his advance upon Babylon: and the men of Babylon had marched forth out of their city and were awaiting him. So when in his advance he came near to the city, the Babylonians joined battle with him, and having been worsted in the fight they were shut up close within their city. But knowing well even before this that Cyrus was not apt to remain still, and seeing him lay hands on every nation equally, they had brought in provisions beforehand for very many years. So while these made no account of the siege, Cyrus was in straits what to do, for much time went by and his affairs made no progress onwards. [Herodotus Histories 1:190]

The walls of Babylon were massive, impenetrable. The city was built around the river Euphrates, so they had a constant supply of water. If they had stored up many years worth of supplies, they may have been confident that they could outlast any siege.

Belshazzar’s Profanity

Daniel 5:1 King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand. 2 Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. 3 Then they brought in the golden vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. 4 They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.

This is a bold act. Belshazzar is saying that he is greater than the God of Israel. He is greater than his predecessor Nebuchadnezzar.

Nebuchadnezzar had taken the sacred vessels of the Jerusalem temple and placed them in the temple of his god (1:2). There was an understanding that if I conquer you, that means that the gods I serve are greater than the gods you serve, so I take the treasures that belong to your god and put them in the temple of my god, because my god is greater. Nebuchadnezzar was great, and Nebuchadnezzar was proud, but he dared not touch the sacred vessels or use them for any common use. They were dedicated to his god, and they remained in the temples of his god.

In Numbers 18, after the rebellion of Korah, God set aside the Levites to serve alongside Aaron and his sons the priests, but he made a distinction.

Numbers 18:3 They shall keep guard over you and over the whole tent, but shall not come near to the vessels of the sanctuary or to the altar lest they, and you, die. …7 And you and your sons with you shall guard your priesthood for all that concerns the altar and that is within the veil; and you shall serve. I give your priesthood as a gift, and any outsider who comes near shall be put to death.”

Not even the Levites were allowed to come near or touch the holy vessels, or they would die. Belshazzar, under the influence of wine, orders that the holy vessels be brought to his immoral feast so they can use them to get drunk. ‘The king, and his lords, his wives, and his concubines’ is repeated to emphasize the audacity of this act.

Saying that they ‘praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone’ is a long list declining in value that may be intended to mock the inanimate and worthless gods that the Babylonians worshiped.

But Belshazzar may be saying ‘I don’t believe in any god I can’t see. I put my trust in tangible things like gold and silver; I can buy my way out of any situation. I trust in bronze and iron, tools of war. I trust in wood and stone, physical defenses, walls. I trust in what I can see, in what is real, tangible, solid, strong. I’m not superstitious. I don’t believe in any gods. I don’t believe in the supernatural.’

Divine Graffiti and the Incontinence of the King

This is when God shows up to crash his little party.

Daniel 5:5 Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, opposite the lampstand. And the king saw the hand as it wrote. 6 Then the king’s color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together.

In the excavations of the palace of Babylon, there is ruins of a room 165 feet long by 55 feet wide, and the walls were plastered. There is a recess in the middle of one of the longer walls, opposite the entrance to the room, where the king would have sat on a raised platform, illuminated by the lampstand. In the plastered wall of his party room, the king was confronted by the supernatural. His confidence crumbled in an instant. He went from proud to pale, from cocky to coward, from arrogant to incontinent, from defiant to debilitated. The ruddy color of fine wine drained from his face. The phrase translated ‘his limbs gave way’ can be literally translated ‘the knots of his loins were loosed’; very likely this means that he lost all control of his bodily functions. This one who was so self assured to defy the living God publicly soiled himself in front of his thousand party guests. God has a way of humbling the proud. And God has a sense of humor!

Back in Genesis, when all the people gathered against the Lord on the plains of Shinar to make a name for themselves, and to make a tower whose top reached to heaven, the Lord stooped down to see what it was they were building. This one who asserted his power over YHWH’s bowls lost control of his own bowels (Schwab). As Nebuchadnezzar said at the close of the last chapter, “…all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (4:37).

God will not be mocked (Gal.6:7). Biblical ‘scholars’ who accused Daniel of historical inaccuracy in fabricating a Belshazzar character are now shown to be the fools who disbelieved God’s word. Belshazzar who defied the living God and trusted in the things that were solid and reliable now has the knots of his own loins untied.

Application

What are your idols? What do you praise? What do you treasure? Delight in? What is it you value most?

Proverbs 17:3 The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts.

Proverbs 27:21 The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and a man is tested by his praise.

What are your idols? What do you praise? What are you trusting in? Gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone? In what does your confidence lie? Who or what do you rely on, depend on?

1 Peter 1:6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Take a moment to evaluate your affections. What do you love? What do you rejoice in? That which you can see, or the unseen realities? If Jesus is not supreme in your affections, your faith is misplaced.

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

October 11, 2021 Posted by | Daniel, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daniel 4; Jesus and Nebuchadnezzar

10/03_Daniel 04; Jesus and Nebuchadnezzar; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20211003_dan04.mp3

Lessons From Nebuchadnezzar

We’ve been looking for several weeks at Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar’s own account of God’s humbling him. We’ve seen that God is sovereign, that God is able to humble the proud, even a proud dictator like Nebuchadnezzar, and that that is a good and gracious gift. Repentance is a good gift that God gives to those who don’t deserve it. God brought king Nebuchadnezzar to his knees, and Nebuchadnezzar responded with worship.

Daniel 4:37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

We saw in Daniel a picture of Jesus’ teaching to love our enemies; that although Daniel had every reason to be bitter and resentful toward this arrogant and evil king, he had genuine care and compassion for him; he desired blessing and prosperity for him. He was grieved at the prospect of seeing the consequences of his sins poured out on him.

Daniel 4:27 Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”

We saw that it is the responsibility of rulers to practice righteousness and to show mercy to the oppressed. Failure to do what is right and protect the vulnerable is to sin against God. It is evidence of idolatry, that we believe others exist to be used to serve our own self interests. It seems Nebuchadnezzar was more interested in building monuments for himself than he was in doing righteousness and showing mercy.

Daniel 4:29 …he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?”

We’ve seen that his refusal to acknowledge God as God or give thanks to him was an offense against God, and that this kind of pride is insane, a loss of reason. Worship of God is the truly rational thing human beings were made for.

Daniel 4:34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever…

It’s All About Jesus!

Today I want to look back over this account of Nebuchadnezzar, and see how Nebuchadnezzar points us to Jesus, because the Bible is really all about Jesus. I wonder if on the road to Emmaus Jesus taught his two disciples about Nebuchadnezzar. We are told in Luke 24:27

Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

All the prophets, including Daniel, point us to Jesus.

How Nebuchadnezzar points to Jesus; Image of God; Dominion

But how does this evil and arrogant king point us to Jesus? Look at Daniel 4:20-22;

Daniel 4:20 The tree you saw, which grew and became strong, so that its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth, 21 whose leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in which was food for all, under which beasts of the field found shade, and in whose branches the birds of the heavens lived— 22 it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong. Your greatness has grown and reaches to heaven, and your dominion to the ends of the earth.

When we read that kind of description applied to the wicked tyrant Nebuchadnezzar, conqueror of Jerusalem, plunderer of God’s holy temple, the one who took God’s people captive, the one who heated the furnace seven times hotter and threw the three obedient Hebrews in, it makes us uncomfortable. When we read that his greatness reaches to heaven, and his dominion to the ends of the earth, we rightly feel that this greatness and this dominion does not belong to a mere man, much less a proud idolater, a man of Nebuchadnezzar’s character. Only God is the rightful ruler of all. Daniel rebukes this proud king for failing to do righteousness or to show mercy.

Nebuchadnezzar was given dominion over birds and beasts, to the ends of the earth. This is a clear connection to the creation mandate in Genesis 1; humankind, made in the image of God to reflect the glory of God, blessed to be fruitful and given ‘dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’ (Gen.1:26-28). Psalm 8 says of mankind:

Psalm 8:6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, 7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

This is what man was meant to be, reflections of the glory of God ruling his creation under him, but we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom.3:23).

One way the Old Testament points us to Jesus is to recount history in a way that leaves us longing for something more, something better. We have a sense of how things ought to be, and what we see falls so far short. That lack creates in us a hunger for the ideal, the way things were meant to be.

Provider and Protector

King Nebuchadnezzar is pictured as a beautiful tree, an abundant tree, that provides food and shelter for all living creatures. He is the source and supply, the provider and protector of all creation.

Ezekiel, a fellow exile in Babylon, was given a vision of a new and glorious temple in chapters 40-48. In chapter 47, he sees water flowing out of the temple that becomes a great river that flows into the dead sea and makes the water fresh.

Ezekiel 47:12 And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”

The Revelation of Jesus given to John picks up this theme

Revelation 22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Jesus the Lamb is the one who is to be seated with his Father on the throne. He is the true source of life and protection. Nebuchadnezzar is a dark shadow pointing to Jesus, the greater king.

King of kings

Daniel even addresses Nebuchadnezzar as the king of kings in chapter 2.

Daniel 2:37 You, O king, the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, 38 and into whose hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens, making you rule over them all—you are the head of gold.

Only God deserves the kingdom, the power, the might and the glory. We hear the title ‘king of kings’ applied to a man like Nebuchadnezzar and we shudder. But as conqueror of the world, with kings of other nations subjected to his rule, the title is accurate. This title is used three times in the Old Testament, twice of Nebuchadnezzar, (Ezek.26:7; Dan.2:37) and once of Artaxerxes (Ezra7:12). But in the New Testament, this title is reserved exclusively for Jesus who is both King of kings and Lord of lords (1Tim.6:15; Rev.17:14; 19:16). After the marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation 19,

Revelation 19:11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Jesus is the true and holy King of kings. Keep in mind, some of the kings that Jesus rules over will not willingly bow to his authority, but all will bow. If you have a view of Jesus that is exclusively nice, then your view of Jesus is wrong. He is indeed merciful, gentle and kind;

Isaiah 42:3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.

But he is also just, and he will judge and make war. His eyes are like a flame of fire. He will strike down the rebellious nations with a sword and rule with a rod of iron. He is the coming King who will right all wrongs and vindicate the oppressed and defenseless. We need a king who is strong, and who uses his strength to protect those in his care and to crush those who do evil. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

Exalted and Humbled

Daniel 4:29 At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” 31 While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you,

King Nebuchadnezzar exalted himself. He built great Babylon as a royal residence for the glory of his majesty. His heart was lifted up; he was full of himself. And he learned that ‘all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing (4:35); and those who walk in pride he is able to humble (4:37). Nebuchadnezzar was full of pride, selfish ambition, he was conceited and considered himself more significant than everyone else.

Contrast this with Jesus. Philippians 2 says:

Philippians 2:1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Nebuchadnezzar through selfish ambition lifted himself up, made a name for himself, made himself great. He refused to humble himself before God, and God humbled him.

Jesus, being eternally equal with his Father, did not cling to the glory of his position, but willingly became nothing. Nebuchadnezzar went from king of the world to a beast eating grass. But Jesus stooped infinitely lower; being Creator and Sustainer of all that exists, being one with his Father, he became human. He entered his own creation as a servant, ‘despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’ (Is.53:3). He was rejected by his own people, abandoned by his friends, falsely accused and executed as a criminal.

Nebuchadnezzar exalted himself; but Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

God humiliated proud Nebuchadnezzar, but God exalted his Son high above every other name.

Luke 14:11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Worship of the Nations

Back in chapter 3, Nebuchadnezzar demanded that all peoples, nations and languages fall down and worship his golden image (3:4-7). But in chapter 7, Daniel is given a vision of

Daniel 7:13 …one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 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.

In Revelation 5, we see the Lamb who had been slain standing, and all in heaven fell down before him:

Revelation 5:9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,

And in Revelation 7,

Revelation 7:9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn.1:29), the Lamb who was slain to ransom people for God, Jesus, the one who is God and who became man, Jesus the Lamb who died and is now alive is worthy of worship from every angel, every seraph, from all peoples, nations and languages. Jesus is worthy! Jesus is worthy of our worship!

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

October 9, 2021 Posted by | Daniel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daniel 4:1-5; God’s Good Purpose

09/05_Daniel 04:1-5; God’s Good Purpose; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210905_dan04_1-5.mp3

We are in Daniel chapter 4. Daniel and his friends, exiled to Babylon in 605 BC, refused to compromise their convictions by eating the king’s food. God gave them favor with their captors, and God gave them learning and skill in all wisdom. They proved ten times better than all the others in the kingdom.

In Nebuchadnezzar’s second year, he had a dream which none of his wise men could reveal, but God revealed to Daniel both the dream and its interpretation. Nebuchadnezzar was the head of gold, but his empire would be followed by other empires of increasing strength but decreasing value, ultimately all destroyed by the divine kingdom crushing stone. Nebuchadnezzar recognized Daniel’s God as God of gods, Lord of kings, and reveler of secrets, and Daniel and his friends were promoted to positions of leadership.

In chapter 3, rebelling against the vision he was given in chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar asserted his authority with a 90 foot image of gold, and demanded the worship of all peoples, nations and languages. Daniel’s three friends refused to bow, so they were thrown into his superheated furnace. But the flame had no affect on them; indeed, they enjoyed fellowship with the Son of God in the midst of the fire. When they came out of the fire unharmed, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged their willingness to ‘set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.’ So he issued another death decree, this time against ‘any people, nation or language that speaks anything against’ their God, ‘for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.’

Now in chapter 4 we fast forward ahead maybe close to 30 years. Daniel is probably approaching 50 years old. This chapter contains the last words we have recorded from Nebuchadnezzar, and it is his own account of his experience. It takes the form of an official edict, a letter to all his subjects, to all peoples, nations and languages. It communicates his experience with another dream that made him afraid, of the failure of his religious experts to make known the interpretation, of Daniel’s interpretation of the dream, of the fulfillment of the dream a year later, and after a seven year humiliation of the king, he now writes this letter as an expression of worship to God.

A Different King

This letter from Nebuchadnezzar stands in stark contrast to the last chapter, where he ‘sent to gather the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.’ ‘You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of … every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.’

Look at what he writes here in chapter 4.

Daniel 4:1 King Nebuchadnezzar to all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you! 2 It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me. 3 How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.

Imagine yourself years earlier as having been one of the officials from the many peoples, languages and nations in attendance at the dedication of the image, having been required to demonstrate your allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar the king of kings, having bowed to worship his image of gold. Imagine now receiving this official letter from the king. ‘Here we go again!’ But you notice the dramatic change both in tone and in focus. He begins by wishing peace on all peoples, nations and languages. He does not make one single demand on the peoples, nations, and languages that he addresses this edict to. And his focus is no longer on himself; it is all on God. It seems as if this is a different king altogether! What happened?

Signs and Wonders

‘It seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me.’ Signs and wonders is a phrase that throughout the rest of the Old Testament refers to what God did in Egypt, specifically what God did against Egypt and against Pharaoh. Here’s one example:

Deuteronomy 6:22 And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes.

Signs and wonders were done to Pharaoh or against Pharaoh and against Egypt, they were great and grievous acts of God, they were trials and great deeds of terror to demonstrate the mighty hand and outstretched arm of the Lord (Deut.4:34). And they were acts of judgment, meant to harden Pharaoh’s heart (Ex.7:3-5).

This is basically what God is doing to Nebuchadnezzar. If you’ve read ahead, you know that Nebuchadnezzar is pictured as a great tree, and the tree is cut down and stripped of its branches, leaves and fruit; the kingdom would be taken from him, and Nebuchadnezzar himself would be driven away from people and go insane, behaving like an animal for seven periods of time, likely seven years.

But notice Nebuchadnezzar’s perspective. He writes to ‘show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me.’ Not against me or to me, but for me. This is not the response of resentment or hostility; Nebuchadnezzar considered it a gift.

What is your perspective? Think of the worst thing, the most humiliating thing that has happened to you. How do you think about it? Do you feel that God is against you, do you question what kind of a God would let that happen to you or do that to you?

We are not told what he thought or even if he could think at the time, but looking back Nebuchadnezzar viewed it as God’s grace toward him, as the greatest gift, the greatest kindness God could have shown him.

Daniel 4:2 It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me. 3 How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders!

God’s signs are great and his wonders are mighty. Remember, he is talking about being cut down, destroyed, turned into an animal. Do you like to talk about your most humiliating experience? Is that the first thing you share with strangers? Remember, Nebuchadnezzar is writing to ‘all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth.’ God humiliated me; he is great and mighty.

God’s Good Purpose

Nebuchadnezzar understood that what happened to him had a purpose. A good purpose. This purpose is given in verse 17.

Daniel 4:17 …to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.’

That the living may know. This letter is his attempt to fulfill that purpose, to communicate to all the living that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will. God Most High is in control. He is in control of kings and leaders. God gives authority to whom he will. He establishes rulers and he removes rulers. He sets over the kingdom of men the lowliest of men, the basest of men. It doesn’t mean, if you have been entrusted with authority, that you are somebody great. It might actually mean that you’re the bottom of the barrel.

The purpose is restated in verse 25:

Daniel 4:25 …till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.

And again in verse 32:

Daniel 4:32 …until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.”

God is in control. The Most High rules the kingdom of men. He possesses all authority. And he chooses to give authority to whomever he wishes.

If you recall, Nebuchadnezzar was told this by Daniel back in chapter 2.

Daniel 2:37 You, O king, the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, 38 and into whose hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens, making you rule over them all—you are the head of gold.

God gave you the kingdom, the power, the might and the glory. God gave the authority over all his creation into your hand. It is a gift. You didn’t earn it, you don’t deserve it, it’s not a reward for your abilities or performance; it’s a gift. God owns all authority, and he chooses to freely entrust it to you. Daniel said it, Nebuchadnezzar heard it, but he didn’t know it.

He asked Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah ‘Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hand?’ Nebuchadnezzar found out that ‘there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way,’ but he still didn’t really know that ‘the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.’ He had been given it, and he thought he somehow earned it or deserved it.

He needed to be shown, and that meant God had to take it all away. He had to be cut down. He thought himself a god, and he had to live for a time like a beast so that he could learn what it meant to be truly human.

Kind Cutting

Remember Jesus’ story about the Pharisee and the tax collector:

Luke 18:9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The most kind and gracious thing God could do for us would be to humble us, to cut us down, to show us our need for him.

Nebuchadnezzar was told that his kingdom would not last forever. He was shown the kingdom crushing stone that would fill the whole earth and stand forever. So he made a 90 foot image of gold and demanded that all peoples, nations, and languages fall down and worship the image that he had made.

Here he acknowledges that there is a Most High God, and that God is at work in his life. He acknowledges that it is God’s kingdom that is an everlasting kingdom. It is God’s rule that will outlast every generation.

Daniel 4:2 …His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.

Prosperous Ease

Nebuchadnezzar gives us the setting for the dream.

Daniel 4:4 I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and prospering in my palace. 5 I saw a dream that made me afraid. As I lay in bed the fancies and the visions of my head alarmed me.

I was at ease in my house and prospering in my palace. He was doing well. He had what he needed. He was experiencing a measure of peace and security. He had worked hard, he had built much, and now he was finally was able to relax and enjoy it all. Isn’t that what we’re all after? Prosperous ease? We don’t necessarily want to become billionaires, but if we could just make enough to be comfortable and enjoy a measure of security… The American dream is dangerous! This is what Nebuchadnezzar enjoyed, and it was into this context that he was confronted by a dream to warn him of what was coming.

You remember what the sin of Sodom was? In Ezekiel 16, God is rebuking Jerusalem for her unfaithfulness, and he compares her with Sodom and says this:

Ezekiel 16:49 Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

Pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease. Prosperous ease sounds so appealing, but it is dangerous! It is dangerous, because we so easily slip into complacency and forget that it was all a gift and who it came from. We forget to honor God as God or give thanks to him. We want to relax and enjoy what we worked so hard to get, forgetting who gave us the ability to work so hard. We so naturally inflate our expenses to absorb any extra, rather than recognizing it as a gift entrusted to us with which to bless others.

It was when king David was enjoying some well earned rest, taking a break from the war, walking on the roof of his house, when he got himself into so much trouble.

We pursue prosperous ease, but Nebuchadnezzar had it, and he considered it a great sign and mighty wonder when God stripped it all away. He worshiped the Most High God for his sovereign ability to humble the proud.

Let’s close today with the words of Agur:

Proverbs 30:7 Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: 8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, 9 lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

September 10, 2021 Posted by | Daniel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daniel 2:24-30; The Humility of the Messenger

06/13_Daniel 02:24-30 The Humility of the Messenger; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210613_dan02_24-30.mp3

Daniel and his friends are on death row, because king Nebuchadnezzar demanded of his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and Chaldeans that they give him not only the interpretation of his dream, but he would test their authenticity by demanding they tell him the dream that he dreamed. Their response? “There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand …no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh” (v.10-11).

Dependence

But Daniel knows the God who is Immanuel, God with us.

Daniel 2:16 And Daniel went in and requested the king to appoint him a time, that he might show the interpretation to the king.

Daniel received what the king denied to his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and Chaldeans. Daniel was granted time to give the interpretation to the king. But Daniel didn’t depend on his own abilities and gifting. He sought mercy from the God of heaven. And he didn’t go it alone. He asked his friends to join him in prayer.

Daniel 2:17 Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, 18 and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night.

Grace and Gratitude

But Daniel doesn’t rush off to Arioch with the good news. He sought mercy, because he knew what he deserved. As a sinner before God he deserved hell. God doesn’t owe us anything but justice, and we don’t want that. We want mercy and we want grace. We don’t want what we deserve; instead we want what we didn’t earn and don’t deserve. Daniel understood God’s mercy, so he pursued mercy with his friends in prayer. And because he really had a grasp on grace and mercy, because he really understood what he deserved, he responds to grace with gratitude. Those that think themselves entitled to good things in this life are more prone to take for granted God’s blessings and fail to give him thanks. But Daniel had a firm grasp on grace, and so his heart overflowed with gratitude.

Daniel 2:19 …Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. 20 Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. 21 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; 22 he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him. 23 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.”

Daniel worships. Daniel received a gift he didn’t deserve, and he doesn’t fail to give God thanks and praise. He worships God for his character, and he gives him thanks for specifically answering his prayer.

Confidence and Compassion

Daniel 2:24 Therefore Daniel went in to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon. He went and said thus to him: “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon; bring me in before the king, and I will show the king the interpretation.”

Daniel showed great confidence. But he also showed great compassion. He was confident in his God, in God’s answer to his prayer. He was bold to go before the angry and very furious king rather than run away from him, because he knew God had given him what the king required. But he was also compassionate. Remember what he prayed for? ‘Seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon’ (v.18). Now he asks; rather he commands the executioner not to destroy any of the wise men of Babylon.

Daniel could have played his cards differently here. He could have anticipated that his access to the one true God through prayer would arouse jealousy in the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and Chaldeans, and that jealousy could get he and his friends in trouble; maybe thrown in a lion’s den or into a fiery furnace. Daniel could have seized this opportunity to secure his unrivaled position. God had proved the wisdom of the wise men of Babylon bankrupt, and Daniel could have used this situation to secure the destruction of all the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and Chaldeans. He could have encouraged Arioch and the king to follow through with the threat; tear them all limb from limb and bury their houses in excrement. The God of the Hebrews is the one true God and all others are false deceivers.

But instead, Daniel shows compassion. He understands the character of God, that he is ‘slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’ (Ex.34:6). He is ‘not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance’ (2Pet.3:9).

Daniel reflects the character of God here. The wise men of Babylon don’t deserve to be spared, but Daniel seeks to protect them, to extend mercy to them, to give them time to repent and turn to the one true God. He seeks to protect those who under Old Testament law deserve death.

Deuteronomy 18:10 There shall not be found among you …anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD….

Daniel understands that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Rom.3:23); that he is really no better, that he too deserves the wrath of God. And this gives him compassion toward other sinners.

The Triumph of True Wisdom

Daniel actually commands the captain of the king’s guard to disobey the orders of the king. Nebuchadnezzar had given the order ‘and commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be destroyed’ (v.12). Here in verse 24, Daniel commands Arioch ‘Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon.’ Daniel is the one with true wisdom, who is really in charge, even overriding the edict of the king.

We see the king whose spirit was troubled, who can’t sleep, who is angry and very furious, making unreasonable demands and reacting in irrational extremes. We see all the wise men of Babylon at a loss, confessing their own incompetence. We see Arioch flip-flopping, going to carry out the king’s command, but then taking orders from a captive of Israel in direct disobedience to the king.

And we see Daniel on death row, yet calm, cool and collected, answering with prudence and discretion, seeking and gaining audience with the king. Then in humble dependence, seeking God in prayer together with other believers, responding to God’s gracious answer first with worship and praise, then confident and bold, overriding the rash command of the king, requesting audience with the king to meet his demands with wisdom that can only come from the God of heaven.

Psalm 119:98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. 99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. 100 I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.

Arioch’s Power Grab

Daniel 2:25 Then Arioch brought in Daniel before the king in haste and said thus to him: “I have found among the exiles from Judah a man who will make known to the king the interpretation.”

This was a risk for Arioch; if Daniel failed, he would be putting his own neck on the line. He was himself persuaded by the confidence and compassion of Daniel.

Notice how Arioch seeks to promote himself. In haste he goes before the king and claims credit; ‘I have found a man…’ Really it was Daniel who had questioned the urgency, interrupted the executions, and offered to interpret. But such is the nature of humanity, that we seek credit when no credit is due.

The King’s Demand Re-stated

Daniel 2:25 Then Arioch brought in Daniel before the king in haste and said thus to him: “I have found among the exiles from Judah a man who will make known to the king the interpretation.” 26 The king declared to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, “Are you able to make known to me the dream that I have seen and its interpretation?”

The king wants to be sure that Daniel is not just going to feed him a standard textbook interpretation from some dream manual. He wants to know if Daniel can meet his demand that all his wise men claimed ‘no man on earth could meet …only the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.’ ‘Are you able to make known to me the dream that I have seen and its interpretation?’

Impossibility Affirmed

Daniel’s answer is shocking, and I imagine Arioch went deathly pale as he heard Daniel begin by answering ‘No.’ His jaw must have hung open as he saw the king’s rage begin to return.

Daniel 2:27 Daniel answered the king and said, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked,

Daniel affirms that what the wise men said was true.

Daniel 2:10 …“There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand, 11 …The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.

The king must have begun to seethe. ‘You delay my executions, you ask for time, and you come back with the same line that the rest of the wise men gave me?’ He may have shot a sideways glare toward Arioch who had just confidently presented Daniel as the answer to the king’s demand. Daniel admits his own incompetence, along with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.

But God

Daniel 2:27 Daniel answered the king and said, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.

But God… When there is no human hope, God steps in.

Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, … 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved—

We need to feel the hopelessness of our situation before we are ready to hear where hope can be found. None is righteous, no not one. Every mouth must be stopped (Rom.3:10, 19).

The Humility of the Messenger

Daniel wanted Nebuchadnezzar to recognize his hopelessness outside of God. There is no hope outside of God. Nebuchadnezzar was looking to his wise men, enchanters, magicians, astrologers, and sorcerers to give him what he needed. His focus now turned to Daniel, and Daniel deflected the king’s gaze from himself to God. No wise man can do this, but there is a God in heaven. He is the one to whom you must look. Don’t look at me. Look instead to God.

Where Arioch sought to grab some of the credit, Daniel refused to take any. He knew where hope was to be found, and it wasn’t in him. Daniel together with his friends sought mercy from the God of heaven, and when mercy came from the God of heaven, Daniel wasn’t about to interpose himself, as if he were the source of anything.

Daniel understood mercy. Daniel had received an undeserved gift, so Daniel first gave thanks back to God, and then Daniel showed appropriate humility before the king.

God in Heaven who Reveals Mysteries [Elah Shamayin Gelah Raz]

Daniel 2:27 …“No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream and the visions of your head as you lay in bed are these: 29 To you, O king, as you lay in bed came thoughts of what would be after this, and he who reveals mysteries made known to you what is to be.

God is the mystery revealer. God is the one who made known to the king what will be in the latter days, what would be after this, what is to be. God is history writer;

Isaiah 46:9 …I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ 11 …I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.

God can say with absolute certainty what will happen, even in the far distant future, because he is sovereign over history. He accomplishes his purpose; what he says he himself will bring about.

Liberal scholarship wants to attribute the accurate world history unfolded in Daniel to a nameless writer after the fact, at the time of the Maccabees, pretending to be Daniel and writing already completed history as if it were prophecy. But this is to deny the very character of the God who Reveals Secrets.

This is one way God shows us who he is.

Jesus gave this authentication to his disciples:

John 13:19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am [he].

Authentication. Believe that I AM, I am God and there is no other, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things not yet done. I am telling you now, before it takes place, so that when it does take place, you may believe that I AM.

We need to sit up and listen, because God is revealing to Nebuchadnezzar (and to Daniel, and through Daniel to us) ‘what will be in the latter days, what would be after this, what is to be.’ God is revealing something that spans history, up to the very end of time. The book of Revelation in the New Testament expands this vision;

Revelation 4:1 … I will show you what must take place after this.”

Not Anything in Me; Conduits of Glory

We are going to have to wait to get into the content of this dream.

Daniel 2:30 But as for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because of any wisdom that I have more than all the living, but in order that the interpretation may be made known to the king, and that you may know the thoughts of your mind.

Daniel wants to be clear; this is not about me. It is not my wisdom. It is not that I have more wisdom than anyone else. It is not that I am better than all your wise men. Listen to his tender hearted humility! God is simply using me as a conduit through which he can bring his truth to the world. We are nothing more than anyone else; mere conduits of God’s grace. May we always remember that we are only ever recipients of mercy, may he fill us with humble gratitude, and may he see fit to use us as conduits to bring his grace to a hurting and broken world.

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

June 19, 2021 Posted by | Daniel | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daniel 1:1-8; Train Up Your Children

05/09_Daniel 01:1-8; Train Up Your Children; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210509_dan01_1-8.mp3

Today is mother’s day, and we are in Daniel chapter 1, where we are introduced to four teens who have been ripped from their homes and transplanted into a society where they will be re-programmed to live and think as citizens of a country who is opposed to God and his ways. We are not told who Daniel’s parents were. We don’t know what kind of upbringing he had. But we can look at what the Bible does say about the essential nature of parenting, and I think we can safely infer some things about the upbringing of these four that we are introduced to here in the first chapter of Daniel.

Daniel 1:1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. 3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. 6 Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. 7 And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego. 8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. …

Preparing Your Children to Live as Exiles

How do you prepare your children for captivity and exile? How do you get them ready to live as strangers and aliens in a land full of false gods and deceptive temptations? Let’s say that we could predict the future and could see that America and its leadership will continue to decline, and in five years, a foreign military will march in our streets, destroy our infrastructure, take our children captive, haul them away to re-education camps where they will be taught that it is absurd and naive to believe in the existence of God. How would you parent in such a way as to prepare them to live in a society whose very moral and spiritual fiber is opposed to everything you believe and hold dear?

Or if that seems too far-fetched, lets say that in five years America continues on unchanged, and your child goes off to high school or college, where they will be taught that it is absurd and naive to believe in the existence of God. How are you preparing them to live as strangers and aliens in a land full of false gods and deceptive temptations?

Remind Them Of Their Identity

First, lets look at their identity. Verse 6 gives us their names; ‘Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah.’ If you are familiar with Hebrew names, you will hear the names of God; ‘El’ and ‘Yah’ in those names.

Daniel “God is my judge”

Hananiah “Yahweh is gracious”

Mishael “who is what God is?”

Azariah “Yahweh has helped” or “will help.”

We don’t put as much significance in a name, but these boys were given an identity. Every time they were called, they would be reminded of the nature and character of God. God is the ultimate and only judge, before whom we all will stand to give account. Yahweh is gracious; he is generous and gives good gifts to those who don’t deserve it. God is holy, unique, in a class by himself; who is what God is? There is no one like our God; he is most high over all. Yahweh will help; whenever we face difficulties or are in need, it is to him we must look. He is our only unfailing source of help.

Daily they were reminded of their identity, that they belong to God, that God is sovereign over all, that God is to be honored, that God is holy, unique, that Yahweh is gracious and that he will help all who call on him. Do you see how their parents were daily involved in reminding them of the character of God, and who they are in relation to this God?

In Babylon, their identity was stripped away. They were given new names, a new identity that replaced the names of the one true God of Israel with the gods of Babylon, Bel, Aku and Nebo. God is my Judge is renamed ‘Bel-belteshazzar’; Bel, protect his life! Yahweh is Gracious is renamed ‘Shadrach’; command of Aku the moon god. Who is what God Is is renamed ‘Meshach’; who is what Aku is? Yahweh will help is renamed ‘Abednego’; servant of Nebo or Nabu.

Parents Train Up Your Children

But these new names couldn’t erase the faithful training of faithful parents who faithfully taught them who God is, and their identity in relationship with that one true God.

Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Parents, we are to know and love the Lord our God with heart and soul and mind and strength. We are to walk in his ways, and to non-stop train our children. Whenever you’re at home, talk about the Lord. Whenever you’re out and about, talk about the Lord. When you go to bed, when you get up in the morning, love him and keep his word in your heart and in front of your eyes.

The theological training of your children can’t wait until Bible college; that may be too late. And it can’t be handed over to the church; the church doesn’t tuck your kids into bed at night and drag them out of bed in the morning. The church isn’t often in your homes or on your vacations. The church simply cannot do in one hour on Sundays and maybe an hour midweek what it is your job as parents to do day in and day out.

Remember, training is not just passing on information. Your kids will learn from how you live, the choices they see you make, your attitude, the way you respond to circumstances. They will learn from what you do much more than from what you say.

Prepared for Sacrifice

Daniel 1:3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.

The requirement of the king was among other things, that these youths must be without blemish. This is a term that is most frequently used in the requirements that both priests and sacrificial animals must be without blemish to be acceptable to God (Lev.21-22). What we offer to God must be our first and our best. What Nebuchadnezzar demanded was young men without physical defect, but this language connects us back to the sacrificial system. A lamb without blemish or spot is fit for sacrifice.

Parents, think about this. Are you preparing your children for sacrifice? Romans 12 uses this kind of imagery.

Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Are you teaching your children that they should expect the best in this life, an easy life, that they are entitled to blessings? Or are you teaching them that it is often costly to follow Jesus, but that it is worth it?

Circumstances for these families went as bad as could have been imagined. They lived under the reign of kings who did evil in the sight of the Lord. Jerusalem was given into the hand of the enemy. The temple was plundered. Their children were carried off into captivity; although we don’t know for sure, they may have been castrated in literal fulfillment of Isaiah 39:5-7. The hope of any grandchildren was lost. We aren’t told what happened to the parents, but it is likely they never saw one another again. Would this fiery trial come to them as a complete shock and surprise, as if something strange were happening to them (1Pet.4:12)? Would it cause them to doubt their faith and question the reality, the goodness, the power of their God?

Jesus promised us who follow him that ‘In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world’ (Jn.16:33), and he promises us his peace in the midst of adverse circumstances.

What are your expectations for your children? Is your heart set on the American dream, or are you preparing them to present themselves to God as living sacrifices? To endure suffering for the sake of his name?

Show Them Where True Joy Is Found

Sacrifice is difficult, so we must prepare them for suffering, but pleasures often prove more lethal than persecution. Don’t neglect to teach your children where true joy is found.

Daniel and his friends would face great temptations where it was expected they would indulge their flesh. ‘The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank.’ This was the best available. They were far away from home, out of reach of all accountability. This would appeal to all their senses. And it seems no one else was resisting. How could they possibly stand up to this kind of temptation?

The best way to inoculate our children against temptation is to expose them to greater pleasures. Psalm 16:11 says

Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore are found in the presence of God. Moses, in similar circumstances,

Hebrews 11:25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.

The pleasures of sin are real, but they are fleeting. Worldly treasures are real, but they pale in comparison to the eternal reward, against which ‘all the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom.8:18).

The king of Babylon showed them what they had to gain by allegiance to him. He invited them to feast on the abundance of his house and to drink of his own wine. But listen to Psalm 36

Psalm 36:7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. 8 They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. 9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

Is the Lord’s steadfast love precious to you? Savor the preciousness of God’s grace to you in the gospel daily, and it will put your mouth out of taste for the sweets of this world.

Psalm 119:103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Psalm 19:10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.

Psalm 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! …

You have got to taste for yourself the sweetness of God. Our kids must see us drinking deeply of the river of his delights. And we must give them the opportunity to taste and see for themselves.

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Teach them not to trust their deceitful desires (Eph.4:22); teach them where every truly good gift comes from.

The Wisdom of Humility and a Biblical Worldview

It seems that Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, and Daniel were equipped with a comprehensive view of God’s sovereignty over all things, even the worst imaginable circumstances, and they trusted that he is judge, he is gracious, he is above all other gods, and he is the source of their help. They must have had a taste of something better, so they were able to resist the temptations that appealed to their deceitful desires.

But they had been selected because they were ‘skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace.’ This was greatly flattering. They were to be taught ‘the literature and language of the Chaldeans.’

… They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king.

This was a huge boost to the ego, and an incentive to forget their pain and plunge themselves into learning and literature.

But all literature, every story, every song is leading somewhere, engaging the emotions, teaching something. Stories shape our world view. Can these four be immersed in the world view of the Babylonians without losing their own?

In verse 17 we read ‘God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom.’ God gave them the wisdom to learn what was taught, to discern what is true, and to hold fast to him.

They had been given the humility to know that what they knew was a gift from God.

Know, Love and Serve Jesus

Parents, teach your kids humility. Show them where true joy is found. Prepare them for suffering and sacrifice. Remind them of their true identity. Remind them whose they are. Prepare your children to live as sojourners, as exiles. This world is not their home. Entrust them to a faithful God who loves them more than you do and who is able to keep them.

More than anything else, here’s what I want for my kids. I want you to know and love and serve Jesus.

Know him, get to know him, enjoy being with him, be in constant communion, in communication, in relationship with him.

Love him; affections inflamed, not motivated by duty but by delight. Look! Look at the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ for you (Eph.3:18). We love because he first loved us (1Jn.4:19).

Serve him; spend your life to bring him glory and praise, to bring others into the joy of knowing him.

The order matters. I want your life and service to flow out of relationship and love, not out of obligation and duty. You have to know him and love him before you can offer any acceptable service to him.

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

May 10, 2021 Posted by | Daniel, occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 12:11-13; Signs of a True Apostle

02/28_2 Corinthians 12:11-13; Signs of a True Apostle; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210228_2cor12_11-13.mp3

We are in 2 Corinthians 12. In 2 Corinthians, Paul re-frames our thinking about ministry. He spends the first 7 chapters pointing us to the fact that authentic gospel ministry takes its shape from the gospel it proclaims; the good news of an awesome God who humbles himself, who stoops down to our level, who out of his great love for us takes our sin upon himself and suffers in our place for our eternal good. Authentic ministers carry this gospel treasure in fragile earthen containers, to put on display that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us (2Cor.4:7).

In chapters 8 and 9 he points to the practical outworking of this transformative good news, which so changes the hearts of believers that they joyfully overflow in practical generosity to others. He invites and exhorts the Corinthians to join him in an opportunity to serve the suffering saints.

In chapters 10-13 we discover that there is a sinister danger set to derail the church in Corinth; triumphalist leaders have infiltrated the church and have been building themselves up by tearing Paul down.

Foolish Boasting

Although no one ought to boast except in the Lord, and it is only the Lord’s approval that carries any weight (2Cor.10:17-18), Paul is forced to defend himself against false accusations. He is forced to boast in his own ministry over against that of the false apostles, whom he calls servants of Satan (2Cor.11:13-15).

He acknowledges that boasting in oneself is foolish. He asks them to bear with his foolishness, seeing that they all too readily bear with fools (11:1, 4, 19). He doesn’t want to be thought a fool, but since they already think so poorly of him, he asks them to indulge his foolish boasting and give him their ear (11:16-18). But he warns them that boasting in self is not according to the Lord but rather according to the flesh. As he beings his boast in 11:21, he interjects ‘I am speaking as a fool’. In verse 23 he says he is not only speaking foolishly; literally ‘without his mind’, but he is ‘out of his mind’ to boast like this.

He begins by boasting in his Jewish heritage (11:22), which he tells us in Philippians 3:3-8 that confidence in the flesh, in ethnicity and religious upbringing, is worthless, a liability not an asset, nothing but offensive filth and rubbish.

But he quickly switches gears (11:23-29) and begins to boast in his superior service to Christ, which looks like sufferings, trials, hardships, persecutions, constant and varied dangers, toils and snares.

When they would expect him to boast in his successes, in his accomplishments, he boasts that he is quite literally a basket case – having to flee for his life let down through the city wall in a grocery basket under cover of night.

When they anticipate accounts of visions and revelations (12:1-6), he switches to the third person, boasting not in himself as the great apostle, but in an ordinary ‘man in Christ’ who doesn’t know exactly what happened to him, other than that he was caught up into heaven and heard things he is not permitted to tell them about. But this surpassingly great revelation came with a thorn, a satanic emissary given by God to crush his pride and keep him humble. He prayed for deliverance, but God didn’t even answer his prayer, at least not in the way he had hoped. The answer he did receive from Jesus was that his grace is sufficient; because power finds its fulfillment in weakness.

In response to this, he is delighted to boast in his own weaknesses so that the power of Christ encamps on him.

What the Church Ought To Do

He concludes this foolish boasting by pointing to the fault of the church in pushing him to that extreme.

2 Corinthians 12:11 I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. 12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. 13 For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!

The church did not do what it ought to have done, and this impelled Paul to make a fool of himself to rescue them from the diabolical danger they were embracing. When false teachers came promoting a false gospel, preaching another jesus, encouraging them to receive a different spirit, they ought to have smelled the wolf by their life and teaching and given them no quarter. When the servants of Satan began to undermine the one who preached the gospel to them, who served them at great personal cost, who showed them what it looks like to follow Jesus, they ought to have stood up and testified in Paul’s defense. Paul looks back over this list of his own sufferings in service to Christ, and says ‘this is the script you should have read in my defense.’

I ought to have been commended by you. As he said earlier in response to their desire for letters of recommendation ‘you yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts’ (2Cor.3:2-3). You are the authenticating evidence of our ministry, you who once were immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, swindlers; you have been transformed by the gospel we preached. You were washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1Cor.9:9-11). You who were sinners have been made saints though the gospel we brought to you.

It was not only the fault of the false apostles. It was the negligence of the church to stand firm in the message that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). They should have known better. They ought not to have stood silently by while the truth of the gospel and the character of the one who brought it to them was maligned and distorted. The church is called to be the pillar and buttress of the truth (1Tim.2:15). The foolish boasting of the apostle was made necessary by the church neglecting to do what it ought to have done.

Nothing and Still Not Inferior

Because, Paul says, ‘For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing.’ Think this statement through for a minute. I am not deficient, I have no lack, I am not less than the super-apostles. Think of this in simple math terms. If he is not less than them, then he is saying that he is at least equal to, if not greater than them. And he considers himself exactly equal to zero. He is nothing. If he is not less than the super-apostles, then the super-apostles are equal to or less than zero.

But Paul, you don’t really consider yourself a zero, do you? This must be false humility at its best. I say ‘I’m a zero’ as a way to get you to affirm me and tell me how really great I am and how much I do contribute. I put myself down to get you to puff me up. Is that what Paul is doing here?

No, it’s not. Paul really and truly considered himself a zero, a nothing. He tells the Romans:

Romans 12:3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment…

He told the Galatians:

Galatians 6:3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

Our problem is not low self esteem. The temptation we all face every day is to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. We think we are something, and really we are nothing.

In 1 Corinthians 3, the church was lining up each behind his favorite leader. Paul asks:

1 Corinthians 3:5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

I am nothing. Apollos is nothing. Nothing but servants, doing what the Master assigned. We each did what we were told. God is the one who gave the growth. God is everything. I am nothing.

He goes on to warn them:

1 Corinthians 3:18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.

Again, our problem is not that we think too little of ourselves, but too much. Nobody struggles with the sin of humility. Paul writes in:

1 Corinthians 4:6 …that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. 7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

My flesh cries out ‘No!’ I’m not nothing! Look at my talents, my abilities, my accomplishments, my good looks, my charming, winsome personality. What do you have that you did not receive? The question is not whether or not you got it. The question is where’d you get it? Did you deserve it? Or is it a gift, freely given?

Here’s what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:

1 Corinthians 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

I’m unworthy. I am what I am by God’s grace. Grace, remember is God’s undeserved favor extended freely to sinners. It’s the opposite of being worthy, it’s the opposite of getting something in return for being something or contributing something. Grace is given to zeroes.

Paul says ‘I worked harder than any of the other apostles, but that was not me. That was God’s grace at work in me.’ I am nothing.

Signs of A True Apostle

He says ‘you ought to have defended me, because the signs of a true apostle were performed among you.’ What does he mean by that? What are the signs of a true apostle? We could look at Jesus’ ministry. When he was asked if he was the long anticipated one, he answered:

Matthew 11:4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.

Authenticating signs and wonders. Blind, lame, lepers, deaf, even dead people are raised. But listen carefully to what Jesus lists as the climactic sign authenticating his ministry; the poor have the good news preached to them. That’s the climactic conclusion of Jesus’ list of his own signs.

In Mark 1, after Jesus had healed many and cast out many demons so that everyone was looking for him,

Mark 1:38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”

Jesus performed authenticating signs, but that was not primary. Proclaiming the good news was primary. In fact, Jesus warned:

Mark 13:22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.

Jesus even predicted (Matt.7:22-23) that many would prophesy, cast out demons, and do might works in his name, who did not even have a relationship with him. So what are the signs of a true apostle, if false prophets will perform signs and wonders to lead people astray? How can we know what is true if both the true and the false perform signs and wonders and mighty works?

It would serve us well to pay careful attention to what Paul says here, and what he does not say.

2 Corinthians 12:12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.

The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with both signs and wonders. With mighty works. He does not say that the signs of a true apostle are the signs and wonders and mighty works. He says the signs of a true apostle are accompanied by both signs and wonders and mighty works. Remember, Paul has just been talking about power, this same word for ‘mighty works’ here.

2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

It is Christ’s power, and it is power that finds its aim and end in our weaknesses. Paul has been boasting, but he is boasting in the things which show his weakness (11:30; 12:4). Throughout this passage, he has been pointing away from supernatural signs as confirmation of authentic ministry. He carefully avoids saying anything that would cause someone to ‘think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me’ (12:6). The book of Acts records some of the supernatural signs and wonders that happened at the hands of Paul. But Paul insists that the minister be evaluated on the basis of his life and his teaching, objective findings that are seen and heard, not subjective supernatural experiences that can lie or be counterfeited.

Jesus told those who were requesting a sign from him:

Matthew 12:39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (cf. Matt.16:4)

Jesus pointed them to the greatest sign of his own death, burial and resurrection. The cross was the ultimate sign that demonstrated Jesus’ perfect obedience to his Father. In John 2,

John 2:18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

Jesus did many signs and wonders, and many believed because of them. But the sign without which no other sign mattered was the cross.

With Patient Endurance

The signs of a true apostle, Paul points out here, were performed in you or among you. This is in the passive voice. Paul doesn’t say ‘I performed (active voice) the signs.’ Rather, they ‘were performed’ – passive. God performed the authenticating signs in and through Paul.

And he says that these signs were performed ‘in all patient endurance’; with utmost patience. He uses this same word ‘patient endurance’ in 2 Corinthians 6, where he lists his apostolic credentials that commend him as a legitimate servant of God. There he said:

2 Corinthians 6:4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

There he spells out for us what he believes authenticates ministry. It is the paradox of patiently enduring great sufferings in the cause of Christ. It looks like… Jesus.

He affirms the same thing in Romans 15. He says:

Romans 15:17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ;

Any signs and wonders were not his, pointing to him; they were done through him by Christ, and pointed people to Christ Jesus. It was the power of the Spirit of God at work bringing people to Jesus. Paul’s purpose was always evangelistic; preaching the gospel of Christ; to bring the Gentiles to obedience. His holy ambition was to make Christ known, and he was willing to patiently endure suffering if that was necessary. In fact it was often through his suffering that Christ was made known.

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

March 4, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 12:7; Every Rose Has Its Thorn

02/14_2 Corinthians 12:7; Every Rose Has Its Thorn; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210214_2cor12_7.mp3

It’s valentines day, and providentially we’re in 2 Corinthians 12, the passage about Paul’s thorn in the flesh. So to make the connection I thought I’d use a corny cliché to title this message; every rose has its thorn.

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

Paul’s Parody of Boasting

Paul is engaged in foolish boasting to combat the dangerous servants of Satan that were promoting a kind of celebrity leadership based on alleged private (and hence unverifiable) spiritual experiences. God appeared to me, God told me, I had a dream, I experienced a vision, I’ve been entrusted with a word from the Lord; therefore you need to listen to what I have to say, you need to follow me, do what I say.

Private visions, private revelations may benefit the one who experienced them, but they do not establish spiritual authority. Paul does everything he does to be beneficial, useful, to build up the church. He says there is nothing to be gained from boasting in visions and revelations. No benefit to the church. It might sell a book or pack out a room, but it won’t build anyone up.

In this mock parody of the false apostles false boasting, he starts in 11:16-22 by boasting in his own heritage, but then he quickly moves to say that he is a greater servant of Christ, because he suffered more than others in his service to his Lord.

They expect divine supernatural authentication, so he brings up his Damascus experience, but instead of recounting his Damascus road vision of the risen Christ, he recounts his disgraceful and laughable escape from the city, being let down under cover of night through the wall in a basket.

In chapter 12 he lifts our expectations by saying that he will go on to visions and revelations. He gives us his experience, but in the third person; it’s not Paul the great apostle, but simply a man in Christ who was caught up to the third heaven, to paradise, who heard inexpressible words that he is not allowed to speak. He doesn’t give any description of what he saw, he can’t tell us what he heard. He doesn’t claim that in any way it authenticates his ministry; rather it is an experience that belongs ultimately to anyone who is in Christ.

Paul’s Fear

2 Corinthians 12:5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.

Paul’s fear is that if he were to boast of his supernatural experience, someone might think more highly of him that is warranted. They might think of him as larger than life, more than an ordinary Christian, more than a man in Christ. Paul is afraid that someone might attribute to him some unattainable celebrity status, lift him up because of his exceptional experience as more spiritual than others who are in Christ. Paul insists the criteria of faithful ministry must not be unverifiable visions and revelations; ministry must be judged by the objective criteria of life and teaching. What do you hear taught? What do you see in my life?

Paul’s concern is that they evaluate ministry by the wrong standards and listen to the wrong kind of leaders, who, based on their life and teaching, he calls servants of Satan. He’s concerned, because of his own surpassing revelations, that they will listen to him for the wrong reasons.

Paul’s Danger

Paul is concerned for the church. But he is also aware of another threat. He himself is in grave danger.

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

Paul was in great danger. The surpassingly great revelations given to Paul created a great threat to Paul. What he saw, what he heard, was so far beyond, so great, so intimate, that he can’t help but conclude that he is special. No one else had this privileged vision. He was lifted up by the Lord to such incomparable heights that he was in danger of being lifted up with pride in his own heart. It would be all too easy for him to think too much of himself. You hear his concern, repeated both at the beginning and at the end of verse 7; ‘to keep me from being conceited.’ This was a real danger for the apostle, and he recognized it.

This word ‘conceited’ is a compound word ‘surpassingly lifted up’ that connects it with the ‘surpassing greatness’ of the revelations he was given.

The only other place this word ‘conceited’ or ‘surpassingly exalted’ appears in the New Testament is 2 Thessalonians 2:4, where:

2 Thessalonians 2:3 …the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.

This is a real danger. Charles Spurgeon says of Paul,

“He had entered into the nearest communion with God, possible to a man while yet in this life. Should he not feel somewhat exalted? Surely exultation must fill that man’s bosom who has been brought within the veil to see his God, and to hear the unutterable harmonies! It was natural that he should be exalted, and it was not unnatural that he should stand in danger of being exalted above measure. Devout exaltation very rapidly degenerates into self-exaltation. When God lifts us up, there is only one step further— namely, our lifting up ourselves; and then we fall into serious mischief indeed. I wonder how many among us could bear to receive such revelations as Paul had? O God, thou mayest well in thy kindness spare us such perilous favours! We have neither head nor heart to sustain so vast a load of blessing. Our little plant needs not a river to water its root: the gentle dew suffices— the flood might wash it away.” [C.H.Spurgeon, delivered Dec. 8, 1872; Volume 18]

Pride is the sin that damned the devil. It is dangerous. ‘O God, thou mayest well in thy kindness spare us such perilous favours!’

God’s Good Gift

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

To prevent Paul from falling into this deadly devilish danger, he was given a gift. He doesn’t say who gave this gift, but it is clear from the context. This word ‘given’ speaks specifically of God’s favor bestowed; in Eph.3:8 and 4:7 it speaks of God’s grace given; in 1Tim.4:14 of God’s grace-gifts. God is the giver of every good gift, and if this gift prevents Paul from pride, it is a good gift.

Thorns

What might startle us is what God’s good gift is. Paul says he was given a thorn in the flesh. That doesn’t sound good, and it is certainly not pleasant. Have you had a thorn in your flesh? Inevitably, when pulling weeds, I’ll get a little tiny thorn in my hand. Some of these thorns are so small, so insignificant, I can’t even see them. I can’t see them, but I certainly can feel them! I might not notice it for a while, until I go to pick something up and it irritates the thorn and reminds me that it’s still there. I’ve used a needle or a blade to literally dig a hole in my finger where I think the invisible source of my torment is, trying to root it out.

Thorns aren’t very impressive either. If you ask for my help and I say I can’t help because I was on the battlefield and suffered a gunshot wound to my arm that hasn’t fully healed yet, you might be impressed. But if I say I have this little thorn in my hand, so it hurts me when I pick anything up, you might roll your eyes and come at me with tweezers. And if I tell you it’s no use, it is too small even to see, I’m sure you will be very impressed with my undaunted bravery.

Everyone wants to know what Paul’s thorn was. About every malady, physical or spiritual, every form of persecution or opposition has been suggested. The fact is he doesn’t tell us. We aren’t meant to know. Whatever it was, it was given in response to the heavenly rapture experience 14 years earlier, and it was meant to keep Paul humbly trusting. Spurgeon again has a helpful word:

“we have unveiled before us a portion of the secret life of Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles. We may not only see his bed-chamber, but learn the apostle’s visions; we may not only see his private infirmities, but learn the cause of them. Let us not, however, be actuated by so low a motive as mere curiosity, while we gaze upon the open secret; let us remember that the apostle never intended to amuse the curious, when he penned these words, but he wrote them for a practical purpose. Let us read them with a desire to be instructed by them, and may the Holy Spirit teach us to profit. This record was not sent to us merely that we should know that this eminent servant of Christ had abundant revelations, or that he suffered a thorn in the flesh, but it was written for our profit.” [C.H.Spurgeon, delivered Dec. 8, 1872; Volume 18]

We learn from this that pride is more dangerous than thorns, and God may give us the good gift of a thorn to keep us trusting in him alone and not in ourselves or our past experiences.

Satan’s Angel

2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

Paul parallels his description of the thorn in the flesh with ‘an angel of Satan to harass him’. The word here is the same one used of our Lord in his treatment at the hands of the Jewish leaders.

Matthew 26:67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him,

A demonic messenger was sent to strike him, to buffet him. This too is startling; that God’s good gift to him is Satan’s emissary. So who sent this Satanic thorn to pummel Paul? Was it Satan or God? Paul’s answer is ‘yes’. The thorn was sent by Satan, and it was a gift from God. We must remember that Satan is a created being, part of God’s creation, over whom God is omnipotent and sovereign.

We could think of the evil action of Joseph’s brothers, who sold him into slavery,

Genesis 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

The brothers intended evil, but God intended good. We could think of the first chapters of Job, when God instigated Satan to test him. We could even think of Judas; when Satan himself entered Judas, he betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Judas, under control of Satan, sold Jesus out to be executed. And we know from Colossians that Jesus death [canceled…]

Colossians 2:14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Satan incited Judas to betray Jesus to the cross, the very thing that secured our forgiveness and disarmed and conquered the powers of darkness. This is clearly a case, as Jesus predicted:

Matthew 12:26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?

Satan, in seeking to destroy Jesus, brought about the even that set us free from his power and sealed his own fate.

The early church understood:

Acts 4:27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

This proved to be the case for Paul. Satan’s angel no doubt intending to discourage and destroy Paul, actually was a gift of God that crushed Paul’s pride and secured his utter weak dependence on the Lord alone. God wields circumstances, sufferings, even Satan himself to bring about his good ends. As Paul said in the beginning of this book, about his affliction in Asia,

2 Corinthians 1:8 …we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

The devil is a tool in the hand of the sovereign Lord to wean us away from our self sufficiency and trust him completely.

Our self-exaltation is more deadly even than demonic oppression.

Persistent Prayer for Deliverance

Don’t misunderstand; Paul didn’t look for this thorn; Paul wasn’t asking to be abused by a satanic emissary. Quite the contrary.

2 Corinthians 12:8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Here again the apostle demonstrates that authentic ministry is ministry shaped by the cross. Genuine ministry follows in the footsteps of Jesus. Our Lord Jesus, in dread of the cross, three times

Matthew 26:39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Paul pleaded with the Lord Jesus three times about this that it should leave him. This is one of the few places we see prayer directed to Jesus rather than the Father, because Paul found in him a high priest who is able to sympathize with his weakness (Heb.4:15-16). He desired that the thorn, the satanic messenger be taken away. Like his Lord, he did not receive the answer he hoped for. Rather, like his Lord, he was strengthened to endure what was necessary for him to endure. Like his Lord Jesus, he would bring glory to God not by escaping the unwanted trial, but by persevering through it. He was promised sufficient grace to meet the trial.

Do we underestimate the danger of our own hearts, of our self-important thoughts? Do we rightly estimate the deadly disease of pride? Likely none of us have had the rapturous experience that Paul had, and yet we allow ourselves to be puffed up beyond measure. It is God’s grace that uses a thorn to deflate our self-obsession so that we embrace weakness as the way to glorify God.

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

February 16, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 11:30-33; Boasting in Weakness

01/31_2 Corinthians 11:30-33; Boasting in Weakness ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210131_2cor11_30-33.mp3

We are going to jump back in to our study of 2 Corinthians today. We have been away from this book for the holidays, so a quick overview to orient ourselves in this letter from the Apostle Paul to a troubled church.

Acts 18 recounts Paul’s first visit to Corinth (around AD 50 or 51), where he spent 18 months preaching the gospel and establishing the church. But shortly after leaving, he heard there were troubles in Corinth, so he wrote them a letter (AD 52) confronting some of the issues, a letter that was misunderstood. He again received visits from some in Corinth communicating that all was not well, so he wrote them again (AD 53; the letter we have as 1 Corinthians). About a year later (AD 54), he heard of more problems, so he traveled in person to Corinth, a visit that did not go well. He quickly retreated, and wrote them a letter through his tears. Having sent his co-worker Titus ahead to Corinth to try to patch things up, he was now traveling through Macedonia en route to visit them again, and he wrote this letter (AD 55) to prepare them for his visit.

Chapters 1-7 seek to re-orient their thinking about ministry. They had developed a distorted understanding of what ministry is all about; Paul argues that gospel ministry is ministry that is shaped by the gospel. The good news is that God humbled himself, became one of us, to seek and to save the lost, to lay down his life for us. Christian ministry is not all about paychecks and positions and privilege. Gospel ministry must be shaped by the gospel, by the cross. It must look like humility, like sacrificial service for others. It must pattern itself after Christ crucified. It must conform to the cross.

Paul says:

2 Corinthians 3:5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant…

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. …7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

2 Corinthians 5:14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

In chapters 8-9 he reminds us that this gospel grace that has been extended to us by God will so transform our hearts that we will overflow in practical generosity to others. Part of his purpose for this trip through Macedonia to Corinth is to take up a collection for the poor and persecuted believers in Jerusalem, so he extends them the opportunity to participate in this practical ministry.

In chapters 10-13 he confronts head on the false apostles who had gained a hearing in the church, who were proclaiming a false Jesus, a false Spirit, and a false gospel.

Paul changes his tone in this section to biting irony. The false teachers are engaged in foolish boasting, so he answers fools according to their folly so that their folly will become evident to all. He warns the Corinthians are being led astray from a sincere devotion to Christ, and that the false apostles are taking them as slaves, devouring, taking advantage of, putting on airs, even striking them in the face (11:20).

2 Corinthians 11:21 …But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I.

Paul possesses the credentials to meet them in their foolish boasting. In fact, he can go further than that.

2 Corinthians 11:23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman…

But here he switches gears on them. He reminds them that a servant of Christ is just that, a servant.

2 Corinthians 11:23… —with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

Res Gestae Divi Augusti

When we put this in historical context, we see Paul is making a parody of the typical self-praise of the powerful.

Augustus Caesar (who reigned 31 BC to 14 AD) had his lengthy autobiography inscribed on two columns in Rome. Here is a short excerpt:

“the achievements of the deified Augustus by which he placed the whole world under the sovereignty of the Roman people, and of the amounts which he expended upon the state and the Roman people”.

[4] Twice I triumphed with an ovation, thrice I celebrated curule triumphs, and was saluted as imperator twenty-one times. Although the Senate decreed me additional triumphs I set them aside. When I had performed the vows which I had undertaken in each war I deposited upon the Capitol the laurels which adorned my fasces. For successful operations on land and sea, conducted either by myself or by my lieutenants under my auspices, the Senate on fifty-five occasions decreed that thanks should be rendered to the immortal gods. The days on which such thanks were rendered by decree of the Senate numbered 890. In my triumphs there were led before my chariot nine kings or children of kings. At the time of writing these words I had been thirteen times consul, and was in the thirty-seventh year of my tribunician power.

It was common for the powerful to catalog their accomplishments. Paul meets the super-apostles in their boasting, but he takes it in a direction they wouldn’t anticipate. We expect boasting to be in accomplishments, in victories, in triumphs. But Paul boasts in his trials, in his brokenness, in his sufferings.

Divine Commission

We pick up on some of the credentials they were looking for from chapter 12, where Paul says ‘I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. …The signs of a true apostle were performed among you …with signs and wonders and mighty works’ (12:1,12). They expected the supernatural; visions, revelations, signs, wonders.

We could think of the divine commissioning of the Old Testament prophets, like Ezekiel, who said “the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God” or Isaiah; “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” or Jeremiah; “Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.” or even the Apostle John “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book…”

We would expect Paul to share with us his commissioning by the risen Lord that we find in Acts 9:

Acts 9:1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (cf. Acts 22:6-11; 26:12-18)

No doubt this was well known to the Corinthian church, as Paul had referenced it in 1 Corinthians 9:1. But that’s not what he says here.

Glory To God Alone

Paul says

2 Corinthians 11:30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

Paul is answering a fool according to his folly, but he refuses to play their game on their terms. He will not answer a fool according to his folly. He changes the criteria. He says ‘You make it necessary for me to boast, but I’m going to boast about that which puts on display my weakness, so that God gets all the glory.’

2 Corinthians 11:31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.

God must get all the glory. God alone is blessed forever. God is related to Jesus as his God in his humanity, and he is the Father of our Lord Jesus in his eternal divine nature. Christian ministry is intimately linked to the Father through our Lord Jesus.

Paul takes an oath by the God who is Truth, that he is telling the truth. This heightens our expectation of what he is going to say next. He brings up his Damascus experience, but not in the way they expect.

Damascus Escape

2 Corinthians 11:32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me,

This account, by the way, is anchored in history. Aretas was a royal title. This was Aretas IV, a Nabatean vassal king who reigned in Petra from 9 BC to 39/40 AD; he was the father-in-law to Herod Antipas. Herod divorced his daughter to marry Herodias, the former wife of his brother Philip (Mat.14:3-4; Mk.6:17-18 Lk.3:19). This is the Herod whom John the Baptist rebuked, and was eventually executed by. Aretas avenged his daughter by attacking and defeating Herod Antipas in 36 AD.

2 Corinthians 11:32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, 33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands. (cf. Acts 9:20-25; Gal.1:17)

This is shocking. He turns boasting upside down. Paul was powerful, triumphant, marching in broad daylight to Damascus with authority to persecute and imprison followers of Jesus. This is the posture of the false apostles. But he didn’t know Jesus. Jesus knocked him from his high horse, lowered him to the dust, so that he could reveal himself to him.

And then he was helpless, blind, weak; he had to be led by the hand. He had to be prayed for by a reluctant disciple from Damascus that he was coming to persecute. Ananias laid his hands on him to restore his sight. He immediately began to proclaim Jesus, and this soon got him in trouble. The hunter became the hunted; the persecutor became the persecuted. The powerful became weak. The pursuer was pursued. The one who came to take lives had to flee for his life. In a humiliating turn, those he came to persecute helped him escape; he was lowered in a large basket under cover of night, a basket normally used for salted fish or produce.

Saul the persecutor came to know what it was to be persecuted for the name of Jesus. But he had met Jesus, and Jesus was worth the cost. Christian ministry is characterized by humility, willingly sacrificial for the good of others.

Corona Muralis

It was well known that one of the highest military honors for valor was the Corona Muralis or Wall Crown. It was awarded to the first Roman soldier to successfully scale the wall of an enemy city. Ironically, Paul boasts in his weakness. He didn’t scale the wall in victory; he was lowered down the wall and slunk away under cover of darkness.

The false apostles wanted credentials, they wanted evidence of divine commissioning. They wanted an account of a vision or evidence of divine favor. In bringing up Damascus, Paul alludes to his divine call and commissioning, but instead he recounts his shameful exit from the city.

Jericho and David

But Paul was not the only one to escape down a city wall. Under Joshua’s command, the two spies who entered Jericho were let down a scarlet cord through an opening in the wall by Rahab the prostitute (Josh.2:15). David escaped from King Saul when Michal let him down through the window, and he fled (1Sam.19:12). In each of these accounts, what seems like an ignominious and shameful escape turns out to lead to a display of God’s power.

This is exactly Paul’s point. God’s power is displayed most vividly through human weakness. So he is glad to boast in the things that display his weakness, so that God alone would get all the glory.

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

February 2, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 11:7-12; The Offense of Cultural Sensitivity

11/01_2 Corinthians 11:7-12; The Offense of Cultural Sensitivity; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20201101_2cor11_7-12.mp3

2 Corinthians 11:1 I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! 2 For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. 5 Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. 6 Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.

The Corinthians are enamored by false apostles selling a false gospel which cannot save, empowered by a different spirit, inviting them to follow another Jesus, a Jesus that promises power, prestige, position, but doesn’t require his followers to follow him by taking up their cross.

The false apostles attempted to undermine Paul’s authority in Corinth by pointing to his ‘contemptible speech’ (10:10). Paul answers maybe he doesn’t measure up to their standards of rhetorical style, but his substance is sound, by an open statement of the truth he has made the simple good news message of Christ crucified known to them.

Here in verses 7-12 he answers another objection;

2 Corinthians 11:7 Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. 10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. 11 And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do! 12 And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do.

Paul is being criticized for not accepting money from them. Imagine that! In collecting money for the saints in Jerusalem, they suspect him of stealing. But in refusing payment for serving them, they object that his teaching must not be worth anything, or he must not love them. They are attempting to put him in a lose-lose corner.

The Sin of Christ-Likeness

Paul answers with a question. Was it a sin for me to humble myself? Paul had already addressed these issues in 1 Corinthians 9. There he argued that it is the right of a minister of the gospel to make his living by preaching the gospel (1Cor.9:14). He had the right to receive financial support from them for his ministry to them, but he did not make use of that right.

Here he asks, was it sinful for me to humble myself and forego my right as a minister? He wanted to put no stumbling block in the way of the gospel (1Cor.9:12). The culture of Corinth estimated the worth of a teacher by how much they charged, which put the best teachers out of reach of the poor. And those who did support the teacher financially became patrons who expected the allegiance of the teacher in return. Paul would not sell out in this way and become obligated to a few wealthy patrons, and he refused to withhold the gospel from the poor. As he said in 1 Corinthians 9:19, while remaining ‘free from all, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win more of them.’

Paul humbled himself by not making use of his right to financial support as a minister. He humbled himself in order to lift them up. He humbled himself so that he would be free to proclaim the gospel of God freely to all. He humbled himself so that in a city with no gospel presence, a church could be established in the grace of God. He was willing to go without, so that they could receive the gift of eternal life. He was willing to sacrifice, to suffer, to work with his own hands, so that the gospel would be seen as all of grace, a costly gift freely given to those who can’t earn it and don’t deserve it.

Paul humbled himself because that’s what Jesus did. Jesus, having all the rights of being himself fully God,

Philippians 2:7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

They criticized Paul for not receiving payment from them. He asks, did I commit a sin by humbling myself? Is it a sin to follow Jesus? Was it a sin for Jesus to humble himself in order to save us? Jesus came ‘not to be served but to serve’ (Mk.10:45). Paul once again brings them back to the central message of this letter; that authentic ministry is ministry that follows in the footsteps of Jesus. Authentic ministry is cross-shaped ministry. He clearly exposes the false teachers for calling evil good and good evil. Is Christ-likeness a sin?

Plundering Churches

Paul goes on to confront them with the harsh truth.

2 Corinthians 11:8 I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way.

If they didn’t know it before, he tells them now that he did accept support from other churches. In fact he calls it ‘plunder,’ stripping armor from the corpses of a defeated enemy. He uses graphic imagery to startle them with the costly realities of gospel ministry. Calvin saw this as ‘every thing that Paul took from the Churches that he had gained to Christ was, in a manner, the spoils of his victories, …what they contributed gratuitously was, in a manner, due by right of spiritual warfare.’ [Calvin, p.347]

Acts 18 tells us that he arrived alone in Corinth, and soon met Aquila and Priscilla, and worked with them in the menial trade of tentmaking to support himself while he preached each Sabbath, until his co-workers Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia with support to free him to spend more time proclaiming Jesus.

He has already championed the churches of Macedonia who out of their extreme poverty overflowed in abundant single-hearted devotion and gave beyond their ability (2Cor.8:1-3) to the relief of the saints.

Now he lets them know that these impoverished and persecuted churches gave support to him while he was serving in the relatively affluent city of Corinth.

To one of these afflicted Macedonian churches, in the city of Philippi, he writes of their ‘partnership in the gospel from the first day until now’ (Phil.1:5). He writes:

Philippians 4:15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.

This was a slap in the face to Corinth. Paul considered it less a risk to the gospel to plunder the poverty-stricken churches of Macedonia than to accept support from the affluent Corinthians.

Partnering to Pay the Gospel Forward

When Paul entered a new region, he refused support to prevent them thinking that they were paying a fee for the gospel. After a church was established, he allowed them to then partner with him in advancing the gospel on to the next area. In chapter 8 He is encouraging the Corinthians to participate in the relief of the poor Jerusalem saints, and it seems from 2 Corinthians 10:15-16 that he was willing for the Corinthians to partner with him in advancing the gospel to regions beyond them (cf. Rom.15:24, 28; 1Cor.16:5-6; 2Cor.1:15-16).

The Truth of Christ In Me

But he was insistent that he will not change his practice with them. He kept himself from being a burden to them, and he will continue to keep himself from ever burdening them.

As we learned from the Macedonians in chapter 8, when one truly understands and receives God’s grace, giving is no longer a burden but a delight. Their abundance of joy overflowed in a wealth of single-hearted devotion, and they gave beyond their means, ‘begging us earnestly for the grace of taking part in the fellowship of the saints’ (2Cor.8:2-4).

Paul here takes an oath before God.

2 Corinthians 11:9 …So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. 10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia.

This is an oath formula; Paul promised them he would enter into foolish boasting. Here he boasts that he has not and will not be a burden to them. He connects this boast of not being a burden to the truth of Christ in him. There may be more to this than a simple oath; ‘I swear by the truth of Christ.’ The truth of Christ is in Paul not merely in word, but also in deed. As he said back in chapter 8,

2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Paul proclaimed the truth of Christ. But he also lived the truth of Christ. The truth of Christ lived in him. He lived among them ‘as poor, yet making many rich’ (2Cor.6:10)

He humbled himself ‘so that you might be exalted,’ preaching ‘God’s gospel to you free of charge’ (2Cor.11:7). This is not just a ministry tactic. This is Paul walking in the gospel, living out the gospel. His person, his method, his every decision was being shaped by the cross of Christ. The truth of Christ, quite literally, is in him.

Paul’s Love

Paul addresses their other accusation, that he refuses their money because he doesn’t love them. Financially investing in an individual creates a close bond, and they feel that Paul is holding them at arms length, not allowing them to get that close. From Paul’s perspective, receiving wages would oblige him to them and he would be relinquishing his freedom to offer the gospel free of charge to all.

2 Corinthians 11:11 And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!

He doesn’t even answer this charge, but appeals to God. God knows! He has already answered it. He humbled himself to lift them up. He labored with his own hands to relieve them of the burden of providing for his needs. He plundered other churches to show them that the costly gift of grace truly comes without charge. All this was evidence of his love for them.

Paul is being offensive here, insistent on refusing their payment and plundering poor churches in order to serve them, humiliating them by making them the recipients of charity from poorer saints. But his goal is not to tear them down but to build them up. He humbles them in order to show them what grace really is, to teach them that they must be humble enough to receive something they can’t pay for and don’t deserve. Even in this offense toward them, he is preaching the gospel to them. He is showing them that he loves them enough to tear down their ‘lofty opinions of themselves that are raised up against the knowledge of God’ (2Cor.10:5,8). Paul offends them, but it is a loving offense.

Cutting the Ground from the False Apostles

Paul again affirms that he will not adjust his course of action with them. It seems that they were applying pressure to get him to cave and accept their payments. But he is resolute. Here in verse 12 he gives his reason.

2 Corinthians 11:12 And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do.

The pressure is coming ultimately from the false apostles. They want Paul to receive payment from the Corinthians so that they can claim to be no different than him. He refuses to take the bait. He is accusing them of peddling the word of God for money (2Cor.2:17). Paul here pulls the veil back from the false apostles. They are pressuring Paul to accept payment to justify their own money-grubbing. If Paul persists in refusing compensation, the false teachers will be unable to say that they operate on the same basis as he does, unless they are willing also to refuse payment, which is the whole reason they are there. His refusal is effectively cutting the ground out from under them.

Cultural Sensitivity

Paul is a culturally sensitive missionary. He is keenly aware of the cultural norms and nuances in the different places where he ministers. And he is aware of how the gospel will be perceived through these cultural lenses, so he is wisely strategic in the way he engages with the culture. But Paul will not adapt his message to suit the culture; in fact Paul is willing to offend the cultural sensibilities of the Corinthians for the sake of the gospel. When the truth of the gospel is at stake, he ‘would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting’ (1Cor.9:15).

He is willing to make a public scene and ‘oppose Peter to his face,’ because his ‘conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel’ (Gal.2:11,14).

Paul is culturally sensitive, not so that he can slip in unnoticed and make no waves, but so that he can make the right waves, gospel waves that crash in the face of cultures of merit that say ‘you get what you pay for’ and ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’. He plants his feet firmly and demonstrates that the gospel cannot be bought. The gospel is a treasure that is infinitely costly, but God gives it freely to those who don’t deserve it, to those who will humble themselves to receive.

In a culture that treasures popularity and prosperity and pleasure, who says it is a sin to surrender your rights or lay down your life for others, Paul shows us what it means to follow Jesus, who bids us take up our cross, lose our life for his sake and the gospel’s, so we can truly find it (Mt.16:24-25).

***

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

November 1, 2020 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 10:1-7a; Gospel Humility

09/20_2 Corinthians 10:1-7a; Gospel Humility; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200920_2cor10_1-7a.mp3

We are jumping back in to 2 Corinthians chapter 10, where we left off some time ago. To bring us up to speed, here’s a broad outline of where we are in the book.

Outline of 2 Corinthians

Paul’s integrity has been questioned and his authority undermined. His relationship with this church has been rocky from the beginning. He spent a year and a half when he first came to Corinth, preaching the gospel and teaching them. But shortly after he left, he heard there were serious problems. He wrote to address multiple issues, he made an emergency visit which didn’t go well, so he left and wrote them a severe letter. He sent Titus to check on them, and after Titus reported back to him, he sent him again ahead of him with this letter. Paul is on his way to visit them again, and this letter is meant to prepare them for that visit.

In chapters 1-7 Paul explains and defends the characteristics of authentic Christian ministry, New Covenant ministry. Genuine gospel ministry is ministry that looks like the gospel and is shaped by the gospel. Authentic Christian ministry is sacrificial service that embraces suffering for the good of others. It follows in the footsteps of Jesus; it not only preaches the cross, but also is shaped by the cross.

Chapters 8-9 encourage a response to this gospel ministry; as we experience God’s grace, it ought to overflow from us in practical generosity to love and serve the needs of others.

Chapters 11-13 turn to confront head on the false apostles who proclaim a false Jesus, a false Spirit, and a false gospel, who were leading the Corinthians astray.

In chapter 10, Paul transitions from speaking in a positive tone to those won over by Titus’ visit and the delivery of his severe letter that grieved them to repentance. He now turns to address directly in much harsher tones those in the congregation who had not yet repented, and were still enamored by these false apostles.

2 Corinthians 10:1 I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!— 2 I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. 7 Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ’s, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we. 8 For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed. 9 I do not want to appear to be frightening you with my letters. 10 For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” 11 Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present.

Authoritative Entreaty

Paul is being accused by the false teachers of being two-faced, writing powerful letters from a safe distance, but being unimpressive in person. So he starts this section off with an emphatic and authoritative self-assertion; ‘I, Paul, myself.’ Thus far in the letter he has referred to himself in the plural ‘we’. Here he switches to the singular ‘I’. The only other place that comes close to this kind of authoritative self-assertion is Galatians 5:

Galatians 5:2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.

He aims to get their attention. But instead of commanding them, he comforts or encourages them. He entreats them. He opened this letter using the same word, pointing to the God of all comfort or encouragement ‘who comforts/encourages us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort/encourage those who are in any affliction, with the comfort/encouragement with which we ourselves are comforted/encouraged by God’ (2Cor.1:3-4).

This word ‘entreat’ can be translated to exhort, encourage, implore, or entreat; literally to call alongside. Paul musters all his apostolic authority to call them to his side. He entreats them through the character of Jesus, who is meek and gentle. Paul asserts his authority to take the gentle and lowly place, the humble place. He is following his Master, who though he was in very nature God, humbled himself, taking the form of a servant (Phil.2:6-7).

In his letters, they said, he is bold, frightening, weighty, and strong but in person he is humble, weak, of no account. Here he turns the tables on them; as he writes, he begs them in the meekness and gentleness of Christ, so that he doesn’t have to show boldness and confidence when he is with them. It is not that he wants to prove them wrong by coming with an authoritative domineering presence, but rather he would prefer to be bold in his letter so that he can be gentle and meek when he is face to face with them. He wants to be Christlike in all his dealings with them.

The Flesh; Walking and Warring

Paul is being accused of walking according to the flesh. The Bible describes living the Christian life as walking, putting one foot in front of the other. Paul is being accused of ordering his life according to his own sinful fleshly desires, pursuing his own pleasures at their expense. He admits that he does walk in the flesh – he is merely human and laces up his sandals just like any other first century Jew. He is not larger than life as some expect he ought to be. He plods through an ordinary human existence, facing the same (or more) affliction, adversity and frustration as the next guy.

But although he admits his full humanity, he denies that he orders his Christian life according to sinful fleshly desires.

2 Corinthians 10:2 …some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.

Here he changes the metaphor from walking to waging war. The Christian life is war. As he tells the Ephesians,

Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

We as followers of Jesus are engaged in an all-out spiritual battle. The church is called to storm the gates of hell (Mt.16:18), and those gates will not stand!

2 Corinthians 10:4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

Gospel Weapons of Humility

We battle for the souls of people. And the weapon we use is the foolishness of the gospel, the message of the cross, that destroys the wisdom of the wise (1Cor.1:18-19).

1 Corinthians 1:27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

We want to think something of ourselves, to lift ourselves up. When we do, it is a ‘lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God’. Not one of us is more than a sinner saved by God’s rich and marvelous grace. We don’t deserve it. We didn’t earn it. We cannot boast. The cross dismantles every argument we have of our own self worth and self sufficiency. I am so bad that I deserve death. I am so helpless that God became human to take my place and rescue me. That is the gospel. That is the message of the cross. We must humble ourselves to receive the gift he freely offers. We must repent, turn from whatever lofty opinion we were clinging to, and empty handed, dirty handed receive his pardon, full and free. Every self-exalting thought must be surrendered to Jesus. We must obey Jesus, obey the gospel, which means to come needy, come broken, come helpless, and receive his gift.

Complete Obedience

2 Corinthians 10:5 …and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

Verse 6 gives Paul’s goal for writing 2 Corinthians. He is ‘ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.’ This is why he didn’t come to visit when he had originally planned. His kindness was meant to lead them to repentance (Rom.2:4). He wanted to give them time to repent. Time to listen, time to complete their obedience and humble themselves. Earlier he said:

2 Corinthians 5:20 …We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

He is imploring the church to be reconciled to God. He didn’t want to come in with a rod of correction to drive out the false teachers and end up harming some genuine sheep in the process. A shepherd carries a rod and a staff both to comfort his sheep, as well as to defend his sheep against wolves.

Paul wants the obedience of the true believers to be evident so that it is clear who belongs to Jesus and who is false. He is hoping and praying that the church, the genuine believers in the church will step up and deal themselves with those who are promoting a false gospel and a phony Jesus. He wants the local church to take the gospel seriously and to evaluate authentic ministry rightly. He is exhorting them stand up for the truth of the gospel. He doesn’t want to come and punish the disobedience of the false teachers and those who are following them until the genuine believers start acting like genuine believers.

You Look At The Face

2 Corinthians 10:7 Look at what is before your eyes. …

There is a verbal link between verse 1 and verse 7; I who am humble when face to face; literally ‘according to face’. Verse 7 says ‘that which is according to face, you look at.’ this could be translated, ‘look at what is in front of your face’ or ‘you are looking at outward appearances’ (NET) ‘how things look on the surface’ (NIRF). This connects back to what he said in chapter 5

2 Corinthians 5:12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart.

Those who boast in face and not in heart. You are looking at things as they appear on the surface. You are missing the deeper reality. You are failing to look at the heart. The false teachers may present themselves as bold and powerful, and Paul presents himself in humility, entreating them by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.

Don’t be overly impressed by pushy authority. Be impressed by Christlikeness. Authentic ministry is ministry like Jesus

Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Genuine Christian ministry follows in the footsteps of the Master

Philippians 2:5 …Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

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Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

September 27, 2020 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment