Saturday, April 23, 2016

Fat and Blood

But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king's food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king's food. So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.

As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus. (Daniel 1)

As we discussed last time, Daniel's book focuses primarily on the relationship between Christ's Church and the World: how the church remains faithful to its Lord and Savior, how the World responds by persecuting and even martyring the Church, and finally how Christ returns on judgment day and separates the two, one to heaven and the other to hell.  This first narrative in Daniel has this theme in spades.  Daniel and the other captive youths stand firm in the midst of Babylonian persecution, God sees them through a time of trial, finally they are rewarded before the judgment seat.

1. Daniel asked to eat a different diet from the Babylonians in order to not defile himself.  What exactly does defiling oneself mean?  If we look at Leviticus, we find out.  Israel is commanded to never eat the fat of a food offering, nor its blood. Obviously the Babylonian diet included fat and blood, and so we see on the surface that Daniel is obeying God's commands, but what is the significance of these two? What do the fat and blood signify?

First, fat is the Lord's.  It has a pleasing aroma to God when burned. Also, whoever eats the fat of an animal shall be cut off from his people.  The same goes with blood.  In first Samuel, Eli's sons demand to eat of the meat before the fat is rendered off.  They treated the offering of the Lord with contempt, and they were later destroyed for it. Fat is considered to be the "best" part of the animal.  It's essentially a luxury food, and to deny oneself the fat was to be in a state of repentance. In other words, to eat the fat would mean to be worldly and associating oneself with the world. Hence, Daniel, in obeying God's command to not eat the fat was proclaiming his being part of God's church and not of the world.

Second, the blood.  This one is more easy to glean, because Leviticus tells us what it means in chapter 17: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life" (17:11).  We are not to take God's atonement for our souls lightly by eating the symbol of our salvation.

In other words, Israel was not to eat symbol for worldliness, or sin, nor the symbol for the atonement for sin.  Both of the symbols point to Christ.  First, the sin that made the atonement necessary, and then the atonement itself.  In Daniel refusing to defile himself, he is refusing to defile his faith in Christ to come.

2. The chief of the eunuchs fears not Daniel's God but the Babylonian king.  He is of the world, but God softens his heart toward Daniel, as sometimes God uses the secular world to protect the church. God uses the governing authorities--they are his--to judge the flesh.  The government is to uphold God's law among the godly and ungodly alike.  Remember, the 10 commandments are burned into the hearts of everyone, and all cultures have some form of them.  So, even the king of Babylon is God's authority in keeping his church safe.  God softens his authorities to protect the church when it needs protection, but he will also harden the world against the church in order to discipline his people.  In this case, the chief of the eunuchs allows Daniel to carry out his alternative diet plan.

3. The time of trial is ten days.  Ten is a significant number: the number of plagues, commandments, fingers, toes.  It is a number of fullness or completion, but it is often used to signify a time of trial and tribulation.  Daniel's time of diet alteration is for ten days.  In Revelation 2:10, Christ tells John, "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation.  Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life."  In Revelation 20, the New Testament period, the one we are currently in, is described as a thousand years, which is a trinity of tens multiplied: 10x10x10.  This is the fullest of trials that ends with Christ's second coming and the end of everything.  At the end of his time of trial, Daniel and his companions are examined and found to be healthier than their Babylonian counterparts.  This is the Church remaining faithful until the end.

4. Finally, we have judgment day, where Daniel and his companions stand before the throne of the king.  In this part the Babylonian king stands in the place of God.  God's church is rewarded.  The text says that Daniel and his companions were given, by God, all learning and skill and wisdom and understanding.  "At the end of the time" of trial, God's church stands before Jesus Christ for judgment, but they are not condemned, because they are found in Christ, who has already been condemned in their place.  None was found like them, because God kept them faithful to his commands, protected them from his wrath, and tested them like silver in the fire.

We shall see this faith/trial/judgment theme pop up over and over again in Daniel. The theme points to Christ going through this tribulation himself, and us going through it, too, by faith in him. We are persecuted and protected by the world, according to God's will, and we are disciplined by he who loves us, as a father disciplines a child.  Finally, in Christ, we stand before God's judgment seat, and we are found innocent.  We are given eternal life.  Stand firm in faith, persevere the trials, and step into the Lord's sanctuary with confidence in Christ's blood.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Vessels of the House of God

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 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. 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, 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 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. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. 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. (Daniel 1:1-7)

In the Old Testament, the historical events that take place have layers of significance.  First, they are historical events that actually happened, so we can learn something about the past, usually things that we can find nowhere else.  Second, they all point to Christ, since Christ claimed the scriptures to be about him, so we can find Christ everywhere and see what types, shadows, and symbols point to our Savior in each passage.  Third, they point to Christ's church as well, since we are the bride of Christ, and marriage is the joining of two into one flesh.  In a way, we can read ourselves into the text, but only so far as we are the church of true believers with Christ as our head. Since we are "in Christ," we can find ourselves achieving victory only through Christ. We find ourselves persecuted but only because of Christ. The Church is weak and in need of Christ as savior always.  We do not persevere without him.

Many say that we cannot understand the Book of Revelation without the Book of Daniel. This may be true, but I would also posit that we cannot understand the Book of Daniel without the Book of Revelation.  Indeed, we cannot understand the whole of the Bible without the Book of Revelation.  It is a crucial book.  Once we understand the characters acting in the Book of Revelation, we see those same characters in all of scripture, and things become more clear.  The characters are such: the true Church of believers, who follow Christ, and the world, the enemy of the Church, who follow the Devil, knowingly or unknowingly.  The world can be subdivided into the secular world and the false church.  The true church gets attacked on two fronts by the world, and the world seems about to crush the Church when suddenly Christ returns and crushes the world (and the Devil) instead.  This represents the whole of the Christian's spiritual life on earth.

So, as we go through the Book of Daniel, we will look for these characters.  Babylon is an historic place, but it represents the world, too.  We the Church are the captives--exiles--in Babylon, but our victories in Babylon should be represented by Christ.  In other words, Daniel is going to be a type and shadow of Christ before he is one of us.  The believing Church is closer to being Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  Even then, we look at the details of the verses to see where we stand, where the World is trying to destroy us, and where Christ fights for us and saves us from destruction.

The focus this week is on the Babylon captivity of the Church, specifically the vessels of the house of God.  Indeed, precious vessels were taken out of the temple of God and placed in the treasury of the Babylonian false gods, but we can look at Christ's church as being precious vessels of God, captured and put into a hostile environment, which is the situation of all believing Christians in the world throughout history, even today.

I'm not finding something in the Bible that is not really there.  People are referred to as God's created vessels in several places in scripture.  In the world there are human vessels, all created by God, and some of them are precious to him, like gold or silver, but some are not precious, like wood or clay, and the precious vessels are for honorable use by God, and the non-precious vessels are for dishonorable use.  The honorable vessels are God's church, and the dishonorable are the unbelieving world.  Throughout history God has been cleansing his precious vessels, prepping them for honorable use.  Remember, we are born into sin, doomed to destruction, like the rest of the world, but like a great archaeologist, God has selected vessels for honorable use, and he shines us up and cleanses us, set apart as holy, useful, and ready for good works. We are not honorable without the master of the house cleansing us first.  Christ works through his Church (see 2 Timothy 2:20-21).

What about the world, the "dishonorable" vessels? Romans 9 gives us a glimpse into God's plan. God desires to show his wrath and his power by patiently enduring the unbelieving world, preparing it for destruction so that his glory can be seen far and wide for his Church, which is prepared for glory.  We are back to the theme of Revelation again: God allows the world to persecute the church so that he can sweep in like the greatest of heroes and squash the world like a bug.  All for his glory--solo deo gloria. All of this is intended by God to show his fantastic glory, like the ten plagues in Egypt, like the parting of the Red Sea.

Going back to Daniel, we see that God has allowed his precious vessels to be taken from his house and put into captivity.  Why? So that he can display his Glory in the midst of Babylon.  How is he going to do that?  We will have to see, won't we, but these verses in chapter 1 of Daniel give us a clue.  The heroes of this story, Daniel and the others, are described as being "without blemish." Who else is described as being without blemish?  Jesus.  If anyone could be considered "of the royal family and of the nobility" it's Jesus Christ.  He left his throne and self-exiled to earth for a period of time--crucial time.  If the Church is in exile, Jesus was more so. In fact, we are only in captivity for Christ's sake.  If we had no faith in Christ, we would love the world as our own. We wouldn't feel like persecuted prisoners.  It is because of Christ that we are at enmity with the world.

The captives were to live as Babylonians and at the end of three years they were to stand before the king.  Sounds like the ministry of Christ, doesn't it?  And at the end of his three years, he entered once for all into the holy places by means of his own blood, securing an eternal redemption for his Church (see Hebrews 9:12-14).  The blood of Jesus Christ, offered through the eternal Spirit, from a vessel without blemish, to God, purifies his Church for all the ungodly world to see. And we shall see in the upcoming weeks, over and over, how Christ rescues his Church from the snares of the world.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Word as Judge (Knowing Scripture Part IV)

And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12:44-50)

Rejecting Jesus is the same as rejecting God, because Jesus is God. But in this passage, Jesus says something interesting: he tells us that anyone who rejects him and does not put faith in his promises will actually be judged by the words he has spoken.  The Father has commanded the Son to speak, and his words have eternal life.  This isn't just limited to the "red letter" texts in the Gospels, but the whole Word of God comes from the mouth of God, through his Apostles and Prophets, and we are to heed the whole of the Bible.  Or, Christ claims, if we reject him--and rejecting his Word is rejecting HIM--we will be judged by the very Word we rejected.

Before Moses died, he told the people who were about to enter the promised land that a prophet was going come out of Israel, and that to his words they would listen.  When the Father spoke on Mount Horeb, the people could not bear it.  His voice filled the people with fear of death.  A mediator was necessary, and many prophets arose over the centuries, but in these last days, Jesus' words are the complete revelation of hope for mankind. He is the one to whom we listen. He is God himself, and so we are speaking directly to the Father THROUGH the Son, but Christ is our mediator. He transforms our weak and sinful prayers into grand petitions that please God.  Indeed, Jesus claims throughout the Gospels that he says nothing on his own.  He is only speaking the words that the Father has given him to say.  He does not speak on his own authority.

And anyone who does not listen to the words of Christ, God will "require it of him." (Deuteronomy 18:19)  Here is a great paradox.  The one who heeds the words of Christ, who put their faith in him, can fail at keeping God's words, and it will not be required of him, because he has put his faith in Christ.  Such a person is IN CHRIST.  His shortcomings are made straight and good by Jesus himself.  However, one who does not heed Christ's words but REJECTS them, that person is held to the standard of the whole Bible, and that person will be judged on the last day by whether he or she kept the Word of God, in its entirety.  This is what it means to be judged by the Word.

Having finished our study on Revelation this past week, we've seen how that powerful book shows us the last days over and over again.  Included on the very last day is judgment.  Let's look at what Revelation 20 says about judgment day.

1. Those who have been martyred for Christ and who had been part of the one true Church, go to heaven and reign with Christ until the last day. This is the first resurrection.

2. Those who die outside of Christ are not spiritually resurrected and stay "asleep" until the last day.  So for them, death leads instantaneously to judgment day.  This is why you might hear someone say, "If you were to die today and stand before the judgment seat of God..."

3. On the last day, creation is undone and all the dead stand before the throne of God.  Books are opened.  Those whose names are written in the Book of Life, the Church, they BYPASS judgment.

4. The sea has given up the dead who were not in Christ, who were unconscious from their deaths to Judgment Day. They stand before the throne of God and books are opened.  These are books of their wicked and selfish deeds, and their content is compared to the Word of God, spoken by Christ, recorded in all of scripture.  This is a mere formality because...

5. Anyone whose name is not recorded in the Book of Life is thrown into the lake of fire, the second death.

Another paradox is implied in all this. Those whose names are written in the Book of Life bypass judgment.  That means that they aren't judged by the Word of God. BUT those who are in the Book of Life are the same who know scripture and the God who spoke it into being.  Everlasting life is knowing God and Jesus Christ.  The people who actually don't need to be familiar with the scriptures are the ones who know it and obey it, and the ones who DO need to obey all of scripture, because they will be judged by it, they are the ones who don't know it, because they have rejected it.

All this shows why a penitent faith in Jesus Christ is the most important thing.  Not only are you saved from the wrath to come but you love God's Word and immerse yourself in it, learning and studying who our Lord is and how Jesus Christ has saved us for all eternity.