October 1, 2017
Ephesians 4:29; 5:4
O Be Careful Little Tongue What You Say
Pastor Dennis Elhard
Today’s message has been rumbling around in the back of my mind for pretty much a year now. The whole idea was triggered by an article that I read in Faith Today magazine last fall. The article was titled: Foul mouthed and faithful: Why are Christians swearing so much lately? The author of the piece related that in three recent gatherings of Christians, she had been witness to the use of the casual use of profanity – the words had not been used to express anger, but were used “simply nonchalantly.” In one instance, at a conference for Christian writers, she had heard the “f” word and the “s” word used calmly by panelists and speakers alike. So what’s going on here? Why are Christians so casually using language that would probably have been unthinkable even 20 years ago?
While the article was interesting and brought up the issue, I also found it someone unsatisfying. There was no appeal to the teachings of scripture, just primarily a variety of human opinions. The article offered no position on the issue, just “reported” what was happening and what some were thinking. In fact, if anything, it sort of landed on a “situational” notion that suggested language needed to be made appropriate to the situation that we find ourselves in and to the audience we are speaking with/to. (Situational ethics? - not standard, but situation)
I want to look at this matter from three perspectives this morning: the issue itself; the scriptures; and the application.
First: The Issue. The issue was adeptly laid out in the question posed by the subtitle: “Why are Christians swearing so much lately?” The matter is one of whether this practice is proper (or “OK”) for the follower of Jesus Christ. Of course profanity is and has been on the rise in our surrounding culture – our workplace, our media and entertainment is laced with it. What comes out of the mouths of many women and girls I still find shocking! Even in the world that grew I up in, you would not hear that kind of stuff come out of the mouths of women – regardless of whether they were believers or not. The article quotes author/editor Mary Norris who wonders if the casual use of profanity in English has “reached a high tide,” observing wryly, “I’m not sure how much further we can take profanity and still enjoy it.” The author then adds: “Christians may be late to the profanity party, but we seem to be enjoying it like never before.”
Why is the standard of our language in decline? Certainly, as our culture gets increasingly coarse and vulgar, Christians are influenced – at least to some extent – by the trend. As profanity increases we are not as shocked as we once were by it. Minds can be dulled to the impact of vulgar words through sheer exposure. Even the author of the FT article admitted. “As I researched this article, I found I bristled internally, just a little bit less, each time I read the ‘f-word’.” Some think Christians have begun to use this language to better “fit in” with the culture – to be cool. But since when does accommodating to our culture ever really advance the gospel?
Even more astounding is that the use of profanity is not only occurring in the pew, but also in the pulpit. Pastors using profanity in their sermons is on the rise. Nancy Leigh DeMoss spoke about this very issue recently in one of her programs. She said: “What is of great concern to me—and I’ve said it before; I want to repeat it here as there are a growing number of influential respected Christian leaders who are teaching and seducing and leading astray God’s servants today. Their theology denies the need for God’s people to live consecrated, separated lives. Their theology says that you can be a Christian and partake or participate at least to some extent in idolatry, immorality, and worldliness ... And you see it in all kinds of areas.
The issue of language. There is a movement afoot within the church today among some well-known and respected Christian leaders that says it’s okay to use coarse language, suggestive humor, or even profanity in the pulpit. Now, I’m not talking about liberal churches out there. I’m talking about some of our evangelical churches. I have read on the Internet extended blog exchanges, dialogues between people debating this practice. I’m talking about pastors and Christian leaders debating whether this is appropriate – (it is) accommodation to the world being rationalized.” (end quote)
Some pastors claim that with the proliferation of profanity in our world, using it can help them communicate with outsiders and can help their sermons and ministries be more relevant. But at what cost are we willing to sacrifice holiness for relevance? While relevance is an important consideration, too many churches have “sold the farm” in an attempt to be relevant. Is this the pathway that we should be on as contemporary Christians? The issue is that the use of profanity among Christians is clearly on the rise. Is this OK? To answer that question we need to go to scripture – it is our authority and rule of practice.
Second: The Scriptures. What does scripture say about our words, our speech (Ex 20:7)?
* Eph. 4: 29 – “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs...” Here is a clear command from scripture, so what exactly does unwholesome talk refer to? The Greek word translated as “unwholesome” is most often translated “bad,” but bad in the sense of being rotten or decayed – used to describe spoiled fish or rotten fruit. Rotten language then, is probably language that is vulgar or crude, meant to demean or assault someone or something, and is contrasted here with words that edify. Richard Beck in a 2009 article in the Journal of Psychology and Theology wrote: “Profanity functions as a psychological assault.” While unwholesome talk can include things other than profanity, profanity certainly fits the category.
* Eph. 5: 4 – “Nor should there be any obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” This verse may carry the most weight in our discussion today. It’s the one that always makes me pause and think. It is interesting that the three descriptive words that Paul uses for improper speech appear only here on the whole NT. The first one is translated by the NIV as “obscenity.” The word obscene is defined as something that is “grossly indecent or lewd” (highly offensive). The Greek word used here is related to filthiness, and the root of the word carries the meaning of something shameful or disgraceful. In all honesty, many of our words of profanity fit into these definitions.
The second word used by Paul is translated as “foolish or silly talk.” This is not referring to humour per se, but the kind of talk that is that is characteristic of a fool. And in the context of this verse, it probably refers to talk that has a sexual theme to it. The final descriptive word used is translated as “coarse joking.” This is a very interesting word that was actually often used in a positive sense. It literally means something that is easily or well turned. In this context, it seems that Paul is using it negatively to refer easily turned speech, or double talk and innuendo. You know the well turned phrase that has an obvious double-meaning. Titles of country music songs can provide classic examples of this. How about this one? If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body, Would You Hold it Against Me? Pretty obvious double meaning, don’t you think - and a not so subtle example of sexual innuendo. This is the kind of talk that this Greek word refers to.
These kinds of speech are “out of place” for the Christian. In the context of this verse – following verse 3, the emphasis would seen to be on talk that is sexual in theme – however, I would suggest that it is not necessarily exclusive to that. Modern profanity seems to fit into three main categories: religious – the profaning of God’s name, sexual or bodily waste. How do they fit, or do they fit, into the three descriptive words used by Paul in this verse?
* Col. 3:8 – “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” Other translations use the terms “dirty language” or “obscene speech.” The Amplified Bible interprets this word by the phrases “foul-mouthed abuse” and “shameful utterances.” The word actually comes from the same root word as the word “obscenity” used in Ephesians 5:4. Paul says you must rid yourselves (command) of this kind of unbecoming and vulgar speech.
*Matthew 12: 34-35 – A reminder from Jesus that what comes out of the mouth originates in the heart – “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” Every time someone does something stupid while I’m driving my mouth wants to say “Jerk!” and I’m once again reminded about the kind of stuff I still have in my heart. Our words do reveal what is in our hearts – and I often don’t like what I see!
Third: The Application: Ok, we’ve looked at the issue, the scriptures, and now let’s consider the application. The article in the FT magazine offered two good questions for application. However, in my estimation, they did little to actually answer the questions. The questions that were posed were:
* Is cussing a sin? The most typical response was situational – in other words, in some situations and circumstances it could be sinful, but not necessarily in every occasion. However, there were no specifics as to what might make it sinful and what not. So, is it a sin to use profanity? Well I would suggest to you that if the words you are using fit under any one of the categories listed in the scriptures referred to earlier, it is in fact, sin. All of the above verses come grammatically structured as commands – therefore to act otherwise is sin. Now the problem with this is that there is no explicit command to not use profanity, nor is there a list of words in the scriptures that are considered to be sinful. On top of that, it is true that words and meanings evolve and change with culture. I remember as a young teenage boy that I discovered, to my shock and somewhat to my delight that the word “pi**” was in the King James Bible. (I thought that it would give me some ammunition in arguing with my mother on the issue!) What this obviously shows is that when the KJV was written that word was culturally acceptable. Words do evolve, so we must make our word choices on the acceptability of the words in our time.
I think we need to think seriously about whether the words we are using fit under any of the meanings of the words we have just at looked in scripture. If we are honest, and they do, then to use them is sin. I have managed to entirely eradicate some words from my vocabulary – I never use the Lord’s name, in any of the various ways, and I never use the “f” bomb. Here is my personal opinion. The “f” word should never cross the lips of a child of God. It is a crude and vulgar word that is most loved by our culture. It debases the act of sexual union, which is a gift from God that is sacred, and presents it in its crudest form. The etymology of the word also suggests a connection with violence – so at its base meaning it is a reference to violent sex. If that word crosses your lips, I exhort you to stop it – and you can if you want.
Now here’s the issue for me, and for all of us. If I can remove those words from my vocabulary, what’s stopping me, what’s stopping you, from removing them all? (My struggle) One commentator put it this way: “Obscene language is destructive and Christians have no business using such language.”
* What would Jesus do? This is a very appropriate question. Do you think that Jesus used profanity? Some think maybe so – after all he was hanging out with the prostitutes and sinners and he would need to speak their language, right? He who made the connection between the heart/mouth, and who had a sinless heart would not be using profanity.
Would Jesus be pleased with the words that just spewed out of your/my mouth? Would they reveal that I’m becoming more and more like him? There is no record or indication in the biblical text that Jesus ever used profanity or any inappropriate language. If he is our model of a godly life, shouldn’t we be making choices to be like him?
Is there ever a time where profanity can be justified? This is a slippery slope for sure. Paul made use of some pretty rough language at times - rubbish (dung); circumcision group (castrate themselves). My first experience of hearing a Christian speaker use a word considered as profanity was at a concert where Tony Campolo was speaking (elaborate.) I myself have used profanity in the title for a talk I once gave (elaborate). Sometimes it may be used for effect, but it certainly should be the exception and not the rule.
My intent this morning is not to try and trigger guilt – however this is becoming an issue that is increasing in the Christian world. But my motivation is for you and me to think deeply and prayerfully about this, and to rise to the challenge and take the higher road. It seems to me that this is just another example of contemporary Christians wanting to accommodate to our culture. And yet there are many other pastors out there who are lamenting this rising trend in the pulpits of our world. So I’m exhorting you, let’s aspire to greater and purer things! John Piper put it this way: “Pure hearts; pure hands, pure tongues” - I like that. Let that be the desire of our hearts. Like the old song says: O be careful little tongue what you say.
* Read Phil 4:8 to end.
October 8, 2017
Thankfulness in the Midst of Abundance
Pastor Dennis Elhard
Today we celebrate Thanksgiving Sunday. Once a year around the end of harvest we gather together to give thanks to God for his provision. Obviously, the celebration of Thanksgiving is rooted deep in the cycle of the agricultural year, when the earth has supplied us with its bounty. However, the idea of a religious feast and celebration around the theme of thanksgiving stretches far beyond the Puritans back into history. In fact, God, commanded the Israelites to celebrate three festivals connected with the harvest. The “Festival of First Fruits” occurred early at the beginning of the barley harvest. None of this new harvest could be eaten until God was offered the first portion. The second festival was the “Festival of Harvest (Weeks)” that occurred fifty days after Passover (Pentecost). This feast celebrated the beginning of the wheat harvest. The final feast of the season was the Festival of “Tabernacles”, or sometimes called the Feast of In-gathering. This occurred at the end of the agricultural season when all the harvest and fruit were gathered, and it was an occasion of joy and thanksgiving. This festival would probably coincide most closely with what we celebrate as Thanksgiving. However, all of these feasts served to remind Israel of the connection between the various harvests and the true source of their provision.
I want to share a few thoughts out of the book of Deuteronomy (Read passage). Here we find Moses in his final speech to the Israelites before he dies and they push on to cross the Jordan and take the Promised Land. He describes to them a scene of abundance and prosperity; however, it comes in the context of a warning. Do not forget the Lord! Moses is very concerned that their new found wealth will lead them to complacency and forgetfulness, and he is anxious that they remain faithful to the covenant commands and thankful for what the Lord has given them. How about us? As we have gathered in this place today, are we truly thankful to God? Or have you forgotten him in the midst of all your abundance? Thanksgiving is an important festival for us because is causes us to acknowledge God's goodness and reminds us of the real source of our abundance.
Thanksgiving is about remembering, so this morning let us:
First: Remember to give thanks for our good land of abundance. In verses 7-10, Moses tells the Israelites that God is bringing them into a good land – and notice how it is described. A land with ample supplies of good, clean water; a land that is productive and would overflows with grain, fruit, oil and honey; a land of abundance, rather than scarcity; and also a land rich in reserves of ore and minerals. This must have sounded pretty close to heaven to the Israelites! Remember that they are just coming out of forty years of wandering the desert – a land of extreme scarcity - where water was scarce and often of poor quality when found; where daily food consisted primarily of manna, and fruit and vegetables were a distant memory; where they were constantly in need and in short supply; and where their environment consisted of stark, barren mountains, a sea of sand, and blazing heat. But God had now brought them to the point of entering the Promised Land where the blessings of the covenant would bring them abundance. In verse 10 Moses exhorts the people to remember that when they have eaten and are satisfied, to praise the Lord for the good land he has given them. Giving praise to the Lord includes gratitude and thankfulness.
We, too, have been given a good land to live and work in. This is a land of full of abundance. We have ample supplies of fresh water (Langenburg), our store shelves are stocked high with food and clothing, we live in fine homes, and it’s rare that there is a scarcity of anything we need. Our land is fruitful and productive, producing bountiful yields of grains and oilseeds. We have so much to thank God for even in the difficult times, because we still live in extravagance compared with the majority of the world. In this area, we are also blessed with mineral resources. Many in this congregation earn their living in the potash industry, which has been a major creator of wealth in the surrounding area. Yes, God has given us a good land to live in, and let's remember to be thankful for it. Whether or not you are in the agricultural or mining industry, we are all experiencing the blessings of abundance from the land. Thanksgiving is an important festival for us because is causes us to acknowledge God's goodness and reminds us of the real source of our abundance.
On this Thanksgiving Day, we need to:
Second: Remember the source of our abundance. In verses 11-18, Moses challenges the Israelites, in the context of warning, to remember where their new affluence came from. Do not forget the Lord by failing to walk in his ways and by disobeying his commands. One of the ways that the Israelites could have forgotten the Lord is by failing to observe the feast days that we talked about earlier, which were clear reminders of God's role in provision through the bounty of the harvest. The continued blessings of the covenant required the keeping of the covenant.
Beginning in verse 12, Moses gives three results if the people fail to remember the source of their abundance. When the people have settled in the land, when they have gained in possessions and wealth, built their new homes, and are completely satisfied with themselves, the first result, if they forget God, is that their hearts will become proud. The flush of success often brings with it a measure of pride and our identity becomes linked to our achievements and possessions.
There was once a missionary who told how he was working with a particular tribe and found it difficult to translate the word or the concept of "pride." He finally came to the idea of using their terminology—"the ears are too far apart." In other words, he conveyed the idea of an "inflated head." That translation is hard to improve on when we think of the problem of pride. When things are going good, and we become full of ourselves, it is all too easy to forget the Lord and his call to live our lives in humble obedience and gratitude– and we have all probably been there in one way or another.
The second result of failing to remember the source of their abundance is that the people would forget what the Lord had “brought them out of” and “led them through.” It was the Lord who had brought them out of their slavery in Egypt, and it was he who had led them out of the wilderness with all of its dangers and discomforts. He had provided the necessities of life for them, while he tested their resolve and proved that he was well able to take care of them. In our lives, if we fail to thank the Lord for his abundance, we too may forget what he brought us out of and led us through. He has brought us out of our slavery to sin and has led us through the wildernesses we often find ourselves wandering around in. He sometimes tests us with wilderness experiences to see if we will trust him to provide for our needs.
The third result of forgetting the source of their abundance was the spirit of self-sufficiency. This is closely linked to pride. In verse 17-18, Moses warns the Israelites that in your affluence you may begin to think that your wealth is the result of your own doing - “I'm the Man!” I don’t need God to be successful! However, it is from God that you have been given this very ability to produce wealth. He is the source of your abundance! Every good thing that we have and experience comes from the gracious hand of the Lord. Consequently, as verses 19-20 go on to say, he can also take it away.
The spirit of self-sufficiency is a pillar of our affluent western culture. Frank Sinatra captured this spirit perfectly when he sang the song, “I Did It My Way.” I don't need God, I'm a self-made person! Self-sufficiency runs contrary to a heart of thanksgiving. Wealth has a way of pushing us away from reliance on God. Israel did walk away from God, just as North America and Western Europe have today. We are the world's wealthiest nations, and the only continents where the church is not growing. Thanksgiving is an important festival for us because is causes us to acknowledge God's goodness and reminds us of the real source of our abundance.
There are no other people on the face of this earth that should exhibit a spirit of thanksgiving more than Christians. We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing and the promise of an abundant life. We have salvation through Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit, the joy of the Lord, an eternal hope beyond imagination, and we are also commanded to be thankful in all things. (For this is God’s will for us – 1 Thess.) We should be known as a thankful people. How are you doing on the scale of thankfulness? Are you becoming a more thankful person? An increase in gratitude is an indication of spiritual growth. The secret is learning to be thankful in – not necessarily for – all things – that little preposition is the key. While there are many things for which we are not thankful in this life, it is possible to maintain an attitude of thankfulness.
The devotional book Springs in the Valley tells of a man who found a barn where Satan kept his seeds ready to be sown in the human heart. He found that the seeds of discouragement were more numerous than the others and he learned that those seeds could be made to grow almost anywhere. But when Satan was questioned, he reluctantly admitted that there was one place in which he could never get them to thrive. “And where is that?” asked the man. Satan replied sadly, “In the heart of a grateful person.”
I want to challenge you to evaluate your thankfulness quotient today by having you honestly consider this question: “Do you spend more time thinking about what you want in life than being thankful for what you already have?” (repeat) This will give you an indication of where you are in developing your attitude of thankfulness. We live in a place of abundance, and the danger for us to forget about the source of that blessing. Start praying today that God would give you a spirit of thanksgiving. Thankful people are powerful witnesses of God's abundant provision and they don't forget the source of their many blessings.
October 15, 2017
People Get Ready
Pastor Dennis Elhard
“People get ready; there’s a train a-coming. Don’t need no baggage; you just get on board. All you need is faith, to hear the diesels humming. Don’t need no ticket; you just thank the Lord.
Over the years this old R&B / blues song has become a favorite of mine. (Bill and Charlotte's, too!) I like the words, I like blues music and I like trains! So it’s a perfect combination for me. The train in the song is the gospel train that will transport us to heaven. You don’t need to buy a ticket, nor will you need to take any baggage. But you do need faith and you do need to get off the station platform and get on board. You don’t want to miss that train, so you need to be ready when it comes. So people get ready and be ready when it comes!
Based on our scripture text for this morning, I suppose that the train could also be an analogy - at least in some sense – of the return of Jesus. Christ has promised to come again, and we need to be ready when he comes – if we are not, our opportunity will be lost. This is the message Jesus has for us today: “keep watch” and “be ready.”
The word “Christmas” is already being heard and plans are already being made for Christmas events. The celebration of Christmas, when Jesus came to us the first time in the flesh, is always marked on our calendars. And while we can count the days with some certainty until Christmas, we must admit that we have no certainty as to when Christ will come again.
This is the clear message of verse 36. Jesus’ statement here is his response to the disciples question to him back in verse 3: “Tell us, they said, when will this happen and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus clearly states that no one knows the day or the hour when he will return – not even the angels, and not even Jesus himself. Only the Father knows that information. Jesus repeats this same basic message 5 times – four in chapter 24: 36, 42, 44, 50, and in 25:13. No one knows the hour, the day, I would even say that includes the month or the year! The expression "day or hour" is used throughout Scripture to indicate a general reference to time.
Christian history is littered with those who blatantly ignore the clear words of Jesus. The second coming of Christ has been given so many different dates that he would be exhausted by all his trips to earth. Just recently, there was another date predicted that passed uneventful. This is dismissal of, and disobedience to, the words of Jesus. If you ever hear someone offer times and dates of Christ’s return, you know you are listening to a false teaching.
What Jesus is saying is that The Messiah is certain to come, but we cannot know when he will come. As one commentator suggested, the key element of these next three illustrations is “unexpectedness.” Consequently, the thrust of his message is that we need to be watching and ready at all times. Our text this morning suggests three ways:
First: Ready when we Feast (37-39). Jesus likens the days before his return as those in the days of Noah. So while we will never know the specifics, there are general signs of the last days. In the days before the flood, the people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. They were totally unaware of what was about to happen to them – and it was too late when they realized their impending destruction. While it is true, that the times before the flood were dark and sinful, most commentators suggest the picture that Jesus gives is rather one of the mundane. None of these things are wrong in and of themselves, and so it seems that what is described here is what we know of as normal life. People are busy going about with the things that are ordinary. There is the celebration of marriage and the building of households. There is food and wine to enjoy. If Jesus’ coming is unexpected (as was the flood) it can only be true if in fact life is going on pretty much as usual.
We have just passed one of the major feast days of our year – Thanksgiving. I love feasting – I enjoy good food, family and friends as we sit around a table in fellowship. In a sense, our fellowship meals here at LEF have the feel of feasting – the opportunity to enjoy eating together as brothers and sisters in Christ. But the point being made here by Jesus is that even in these ordinary and regular times of eating and drinking and celebrating, we need to be ready. The people of Noah’s day were warned of the impending flood, but they did not heed what they were told. Life continued on in normalcy and in revelry. We have also been warned in our day, but even many Christians do not heed the warnings of Jesus – we’re much too busy and distracted with doing the normal, the usual things of life. While they are necessary and we can certainly enjoy these things, we are not to live for these things. We are to be ready for Jesus to return at any moment because the element of his coming will be “unexpectedness.”
Second: Ready when we Work (40-41). The second illustration given by Jesus is one of laborers. It stresses the “unexpectedness” of the events by the sudden separation between two people at their work. Two men are out working in a field when suddenly one is taken away while the other remains. Two women are grinding flour at a mill when the same thing happens. The one taken away goes to be with Christ; the other is left behind for judgment. One is obviously ready, the other is not. One commentator suggests that what Jesus is presenting is an either/or proposition. There is no middle ground. Either you are prepared and are taken up to Jesus, or you are left behind to suffer the consequences of unbelief and unpreparedness.
The illustration is one concerning ordinary work, and it affirms the necessity of human labor. However, it can also warn against allowing work to so encompass our lives that we leave ourselves unprepared. We must also be found as laborers in God’s kingdom. So people get ready, there’s a train a-coming!
Third: Ready when we Sleep (42-44). The third illustration used by Jesus comes more in the form of a parable. He begins, however, with an imperative of warning in which he repeats again the element of surprise. “Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord may come.” “Watch” implies not only to keep looking but also to be prepared. The parable itself is about a homeowner whose house is about to be broken into. The night is often the time when trouble arrives. The thief comes when we least expect it or when we are least prepared and most vulnerable. If the homeowner would’ve known the time the thief was coming, you can be assured he wouldn’t be sleeping but would’ve been ready for him. But the parable suggests that since he doesn’t know the time, he must be watching vigilantly at all times. So, Jesus draws out the comparison and says, so you – that’s us – must be ready at all times because He will come at the time we cannot know and when we are not expecting him. “If we are taken by surprise, it is not because God is out to trick us but because of our own apathetic self-deception or negligence.” God has warned us to be ready and there will be signs for us to see and understand.
Notice that there are two commands in the context of this short parable – “keep watch” and “be ready.” These have been Christ’s commands to his followers for two thousand years because we do not know when he will return. We only know that it will be unexpected and that we need to be watching. One commentator writes: “But observing doesn't just mean sitting around waiting to see what will happen next. It means that we will be prepared for his arrival at any time or day. For example, my wife's cat watches our home diligently while we are gone. She notices everything that goes on. But she isn't prepared to do anything about it. She runs and hides in the closet if she hears a sound!” Watching only will do us little good if we are not prepared to act. And even if we are asleep we must be ready for his return.
This passage teaches us that we are to be ready when we feast, when we work and when we sleep. These represent the routine aspects of life – what is normal. So we can conclude that there will be an element of normalcy in the world when Christ returns – if not, it would undermine the aspect of surprise and unexpectedness. Because of this, Jesus is calling us to be watching, to be ready and to be prepared. How are you doing in your preparations?
You may be wondering the point of this message – after all, it’s been two thousand years and nothing has happened – relax! But there is more to this watchfulness; Jesus said there would be signs for us to look for as well. Look around at our world today – it seemed to start around six years ago with the tsunami in SE Asia, then there was Katrina and a host of other natural disasters. Then came 2017 – whoever heard of 4 feet of rain? As Hurricane Irma approached the Caribbean, I heard a reporter say this was the most powerful hurricane ever recorded. Major flooding in other parts of the world, while the other half is on fire! In my life, I have never seen the kind of catastrophic natural disasters that we have witnessed recently.
Add to that, the constant butchery of radical Islam all around the world – acts of sickening terror intended to kill and to maim. A lone-wolf gunman firing off hundreds of rounds of ammunition into an unsuspecting crowd – without finding any idea of motive. I watched a CBC interview with Newt Gingrich a few days ago – in it he stated that the world is the closest it’s been to a nuclear conflict since the Cuban missile crisis of the sixties. Church, we are living in perilous times. Well you might say, natural disasters have been happening from ancient times – and you’re right, but there seems to be a new intensity. Dictators have come and gone all through history – killing hundreds of thousands. Right again. Suffering has always been a part of human existence – that’s true. But there is something that is different today, at least in my estimation, than ever before - and it is this, the State of Israel. The rise of the nation of Israel and the return of the Jews to their Promised Land is a clear fulfillment of biblical prophecy, and a sign that we are in the last days of the last days. I have no idea of how much time is left, and I have no interest in that conversation, suffice to say that Jesus told us to watch the signs the prophets foretold and that his return would be unexpected. So people, get ready!
So are you and I ready? When Jesus says to “keep watch” and “be ready” just what is he referring to? Well first and foremost that you have received Jesus as your Saviour and Lord, and that you have believed in him from your heart. That is the foundation of being ready – without that scripture clearly teaches that you will be lost and face God’s eternal judgment. (sure)
But Christianity is more than receiving Christ as Saviour, it also submitting to him as Lord. One commentator stated that readiness means “our entire world-view must be kingdom-oriented. In the SM, Jesus said to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.” If we put Christ first in our lives, if he is our Lord, we will be ready when Jesus comes. We need also to keep short accounts with God – confessing and repenting of our sin and failures. And as Paul says we live our lives in a manner worthy of our calling and we seek to please God in every way. We make decisions that glorify God and through the power of the Holy Spirit we produce his fruit in our lives. We desire to become more and more like Jesus in our character and integrity. Basically our readiness for Christ’s coming is in our salvation and in being about our Masters business. (Read and comment on verse 46 – next parables).
Many signs, I believe, point to the soon return of Christ – will it be five years, twenty, a hundred, I have no clue? But this message of Jesus’ is more important to us than to all the generations that have gone before us – because each successive generation is closer to his coming than the one before. Are you ready to meet him?
“People get ready; there’s a train a-coming. Don’t need no baggage; you just get on board. All you need is faith, to hear the diesels humming. Don’t need no ticket; you just thank the Lord.”
October 29, 2017
The Book of Daniel: Dominion on Display
Pastor Bryan Watson
Last month, Lori and I went to a conference on the Book of Daniel. Over the course of 3 days, we spent approximately 27 hours going through the Book of Daniel verse by verse. I have to admit, I was overwhelmed by the teaching and the implications. We came home mentally exhausted.
Today, however, my feeling of being overwhelmed has changed to a feeling of being intimidated, because in my excitement I made a commitment to preach through the Book of Daniel. Not all in one sermon, however, so you can breathe easy. But the fact is, there is so much spiritual meat in the book of Daniel that right now I feel totally inadequate to preach through the book. Who am I to think that I can bring you anything from Daniel or any of the other Holy Scriptures? Right now, I am in way over my head, and I know it. And by the end of the message, you’ll probably agree with me. But by the Grace of God, and by the power of His Holy Spirit, I pray that I will be able to do just that.
A disclaimer for today’s message, however, is that it may appear more like a lecture, and less like a sermon, because I need to use this time to set the stage.
Our scripture passage for today is from Daniel 2:34-35. These are the words of the mighty King Nebuchadnezzar, a conquering warrior, referred to by the prophet Jeremiah as the “destroyer of nations” in Jeremiah 4:7. He is the king of the most powerful empire on earth at the time, and yet he has had an encounter with God Most High, and came out of it in second place, if you know what I mean. Listen now to the words of Nebuchadnezzar:
34 And at the end of the time[b] I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever:
For His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
And His kingdom is from generation to generation.
35 All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing;
He does according to His will in the army of heaven
And among the inhabitants of the earth.
No one can restrain His hand
Or say to Him, “What have You done?”
The Main Theme
Nebuchadnezzar nails it right on the head. God…. Is…. Sovereign. There is no king nor kingdom who can stand up to His hand, from all the generations of the past, to all the generations of the future. Regardless of what we see on the news, Nebuchadnezzar had learned the truth: God is Sovereign.
So that is the main theme of the Book of Daniel. But the secondary theme, which is also very powerful, is: No Compromise. And as we work through the book, we will see that theme as well, demonstrated over and over in those great Bible stories that we love: The fiery furnace, and Daniel in the Lions’ Den. But they are more than great stories. I believe they are actual historical events, as we will see.
Now, I didn’t realize how difficult it was going to be to kick off a series like this. It would be easy enough to dive right into the text and start working through it. But there is so much to Daniel, that I think I would be doing you a disservice if I did that. I think that in order to properly grasp what God is telling us, we also need to have some context. And then I also want to take a bit of time to address some of the criticisms of Daniel right up front, because I believe that some of you sitting here today may be skeptical about Daniel in particular, and the Bible as a whole, because of some of these pointed fingers leveled at the Book of Daniel.
I’m not even going to get into the actual text today. But I want to accomplish one thing this morning… and that is to give you such a strong appetite for the Word of God that you can’t wait to come back here next week to hear what Pastor Dennis is preaching about, and then you can’t wait to come back and get into the meat of Daniel. So for today, I’m not going to be serving you much meat, but I sure do want you to smell what I’m cooking.
Daniel was born in approximately 621 BC to a family of some stature of nobility, so he was probably well educated as a youth.
At the time of Daniel’s birth, Israel was in subjection to Egypt under Pharaoh Neco.
Nebuchadnezzar, who at the time was the crown prince of Babylon, defeated Pharaoh Neco at the famous Battle of Carchemish in 605 BC. Carchemish is in the northern part of Syria, which is north of Israel.
Nabupolassar, Nebuchadnezzar’s father, died in 605 BC, at which time Nebuchadnezzar ascends to the throne. 605 BC was obviously a big year for Nebuchadnezzar. So many big things went his way that year that he probably though of himself as a god!
In one of Nebuchadnezzar’s first acts as King of Babylon, yet again in 605 BC, Jewish nobles and young men fit to serve in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace were taken to Babylon. Daniel is one of them. (Daniel 1:1-7, 2 Kings 23:28 - 24:1). Daniel was around 15 years old.
I think it’s important to note that this Babylonian captivity was prophesied:
by Isaiah in Isaiah 39:6-7. Hezekiah shows off his palace and riches to Babylonian envoys, and Isaiah says, 6 ‘Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house, and what your fathers have accumulated until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left,’ says the Lord. 7 ‘And they shall take away some of your sons who will descend from you, whom you will beget; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’”
It was prophesied by Micah in Micah 4:10 - Be in pain, and labor to bring forth,
O daughter of Zion,
Like a woman in birth pangs.
For now you shall go forth from the city,
You shall dwell in the field,
And to Babylon you shall go.
There you shall be delivered;
There the Lord will redeem you
From the hand of your enemies.
It was prophesied by Jeremiah in Jeremiah 25:11 - And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
In fact, Daniel probably heard Jeremiah’s preaching and warnings, as Jeremiah’s ministry in Jerusalem would have been in full swing during Daniel’s time as a young boy in Jerusalem.
And it was prophesied by Habakkuk in Habakkuk 1:5-11. Verse 6 specifically says For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans,
A bitter and hasty nation
Which marches through the breadth of the earth,
To possess dwelling places that are not theirs.
Throughout this period of the Old Testament, the term “Chaldeans” is used in conjunction with the term Babylonians.
The Structure of Daniel
So, what does the Book of Daniel look like? Well, the book itself is broken into 12 chapters, but it is actually made up of 10 distinct segments that make the book flow quite logically. This is the outline that I plan to follow as I present Daniel. There are 6 narratives, and four visions.
The Six Narratives are as follows:
Chapter 1: The Food Test. Daniel and his friends are instructed to abandon their kosher eating habits, yet God makes a way for them to remain faithful to Him while still honoring their new earthly king.
Chapter 2: Nebuchadnezzar’s First Dream. The giant statue made up of four distinct parts.
Chapter 3: The Fiery Furnace. Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego refuse to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s giant statue, and get thrown into a fiery furnace for their faithfulness.
Chapter 4: Nebuchadnezzar’s Second Dream. A giant tree that gets cut down.
Chapter 5: The Handwriting on the Wall. The Biblical source of one of the most over-used clichés of all time: I guess he should have seen the writing on the wall.
Chapter 6: The Lions’ Den. Yet another example of God’s faithfulness to his people when they remain faithful to him.
Chapter 7: The Four Beasts
Chapter 8: The Ram & The Goat
Chapter 9: Prophecy of 70 Sevens for Israel
Chapter 10-12: Prophecies of Israel’s Future
When you read the Book of Daniel, you notice several things that concern critics: first, it contains stories of incredible miracles: stories of survival in fiery furnaces, or survival from a den of starving lions, or a hand mysteriously appearing out of thin air and writing a message on a wall. These are pretty fantastic stories.
Second, you encounter prophecies of events that are almost unbelievable in the amount of detail they contain, and the accuracy with which they came true.
Third, you encounter visions of fantastic creatures that make you think you are reading an early manuscript of Lord of the Rings. Leopards with four heads (not foreheads!), beasts with horns, etc.)
Those 3 issues have led many critics of Daniel to say one of two things:
The book of Daniel is just a story. The miracles weren’t real, and the prophecies aren’t real. Daniel himself may or may not have existed. If he did exist, then he wrote the book as an old man who wanted to make his life sound more interesting than it actually was.
The prophecies in Daniel are so accurate that they must have been written after the fact, and therefore, Daniel is a historical book, not a book of prophecy. They say that although the Daniel seems to have been written in the 6th Century BC, the book of Daniel was actually written around 150 BC.
So, how are we going to deal with these issues? Well, today, I’m going to give you evidence that Daniel was a real person from history, and that the book was written by Daniel in the 6th century BC, BEFORE his prophecies came to pass.
(And between you and me, I don’t know why the critics have such a hard time with this. I mean, atheists believe that the entire universe popped out of nothing all by itself. Therefore, ANYTHING can happen, right? Even the miracles of prophecy.)
Historic Evidence #1: The Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls contained ancient Hebrew texts, many of which were considered to be part of scriptural canon. In one of the caves, scrolls containing texts from Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were found. In that same cave were 8 scrolls from Daniel.
Scholars date the scrolls from this cave from the last 3 centuries BC to the 1st century AD. If Daniel was written as late as 150 BC, it is unlikely to have made the cut of being included in canon, because the ink would still have been wet on the parchment when they were hiding it in the caves. The people of the day would probably not have gone to that length to preserve it.
Scholars attribute the preservation and placement of the scrolls by a group of people called the Essenes. Now, who were the Essenes? Well, to make a very long story very short, they are a group of people who separated themselves from the culture of the day, seemingly out of protest of how the Temple was being run under Roman occupation. I admit that is a very simplistic explanation, but it is enough to make my point that if the Essenes were responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls, and they included Daniel in it, then they would have had a well thought out and reasoned logic for doing so, because they were serious enough about their faith to separate themselves from Roman society.
So when considering the critics’ claim that Daniel was written around 150 BC, it is more likely that it was written much earlier… like 600 BC, for example.
Historic Evidence #2: Ancient Witnesses
We also have ancient witnesses who refer to Daniel as a real person from history.
Ezekiel 14:14,20 refers to Noah, Job, and Daniel as historical people. Later on in Ezekiel 28:1-3, Ezekiel again refers to Daniel.
In the Apocrypha, in 1 Maccabees 2:59-60, Mattathias the priest refers to Daniel being delivered from the mouth of lions, and his 3 friends being delivered from the fiery furnace.
While it’s true that the book of Maccabees is not considered part of inspired Protestant or Jewish canon, it can still be considered for its historical references.
Now, Mattathias the priest died in 166 BC. So, if Daniel wasn’t written until around 150 BC, how could Mattathias have referred to Daniel? He would have died before Daniel was written!
The historian Josephus viewed Daniel as a prophetic book. Josephus lived from AD 37-95. He states that there were no canonical writings in the Hebrew Scripture after the death of Artaxerxes in 424 BC. If Daniel was written as recently as 150 BC, Josephus probably would have known it… he was one of the premier historians of his day.
Finally, the greatest witness of all, Jesus, referred to Daniel as a prophet. In Matthew 24:15, speaking about the time of the end, Jesus says, 15 “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’[c] spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand)…”
I have provided 4 witnesses about the reality of the historical Daniel. Regarding witnesses, Deuteronomy 19:15 says, One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established. Therefore, I believe we have established that Daniel was a real person.
Historic Evidence #3: Linguistics
Finally, I believe that we can use linguistics, or the study of language, to establish a case that Daniel was written when the Bible says it was written.
The Book of Daniel is written primarily in two languages: Hebrew and Aramaic. This would be consistent with the fact that Daniel lived in Jerusalem until he was 15, and then was exiled to Babylon, which was later conquered by the Persians.
But this wasn’t just any form of Aramaic. The Aramaic portions of Daniel were written in a language called Imperial Aramaic. Imperial Aramaic was a highly standardized form of Aramaic, and was used between 700 BC and 300 BC. Imperial Aramaic fits both with Daniel’s position of prominence in the Babylonian and Persian kingdoms, and also with the time period of Daniel’s life. We know that language changes over time, and therefore would have been quite different if Daniel had been written more recently. Just compare Old English to today’s English.
In the Book of Daniel, there were also 21 Persian words. All were governmental terms and titles, written in Old Persian. Again, this is consistent with Daniel’s position and time period, as Old Persian was replaced by Middle Persian around 300 BC.
There are only 3 Greek words in the entire Book of Daniel, and they all refer to musical instruments. If Daniel had been written around 150 BC, then there should have been a heavy Greek influence. But we don’t see that.
Finally, the Hebrew used in Daniel was crude Hebrew. This would be consistent with a person who was taken captive as a boy and spent the rest of his life being assimilated into foreign cultures and working in foreign courts and governments. Over the course of time, his use of his first language would grow rusty.
Based on the evidence, we can conclude that:
Daniel is a real person from history
Daniel was written in the correct time period, in the 6th century BC
Because Daniel was written when it says it was written, the prophecies in the book are actual prophecies, and not historical accounts.
If we can believe the supernatural nature of prophecies coming true, then we can also believe that the remaining unfulfilled prophecies will come true as well.
If we can believe the supernatural nature of prophecies coming true, then we can also believe in the supernatural miracles taking place, such as the incidents with the fiery furnace, and the lions’ den.
So we can safely conclude, as we work through the book, that God really is in control. Even now.