There’s a War Out There

Matthew 4

January 4

Deserts are dangerous places! Wild animals, extreme temperatures, lack of water, and don’t forget the devil, the tempter or Satan – he goes by many names – even in our short desert passage in Matthew 4 (vs. 1, 3, 10).

But, dangerous deserts aren’t his only hang-out. He was also spotted in an other-wise perfect garden giving a tantalizing advertisement for forbidden fruit. And, oh the trouble he caused there! The spiraling, echoing repercussions of which we can still feel and see and hear today. The darkness. The evil. The distance from God and His will and His way.

Don’t assume that if you don’t see a crafty red fellow with horns and a spiked tail or a wily talking snake that you are free from temptation and the spiritual battle between good and evil. Paul says it well in Ephesians 6:10-18. I encourage you to read the whole passage, but here I will include verses 11-14a

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then…”

Jesus shows us how to Stand Firm against the devil’s schemes. Adam and Eve show us how to crumble, reject God and His truth, listening instead to Satan’s lies and pursuing selfish gain and ultimately paying the consequences – which lasts for generations to come. Let’s not follow in Adam and Eve’s footprints as they take the serpent’s bait and then try to hide from God in their guilt.

Let’s look again at Jesus’ victorious example in Matthew 4:1-11.

It is interesting that Jesus had just completed a 40 day fast in the desert when Satan appears ready to tempt him with food. Certainly a fast of this length would make you hungry, so at first it seems maybe Jesus will be weakened by his current circumstances. However, keep in mind that a fast is NOT just not eating, an extreme diet plan. It is rather giving up typical food, schedules, conveniences, practices, self to instead focus on seeking God and drawing near to Him. 40 days of seeking God, sacrificing self “needs” to focus on His desires. Jesus’ stomach was empty but his spiritual tank was full up and ready for battle. He was armed with all the ingredients necessary for a successful stand against Satan. Truth. Righteousness. The gospel of peace. Faith to extinguish ALL the flaming arrows of the evil one. Salvation. AND interestingly the only offensive piece of equipment in the armor of God – the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. He was prepared to not just protect himself but he was also prepared to do battle with the forces that wanted to tear him from God and His will. He was armed with Scripture. He knew it well and he knew how to use it to rebuke Satan’s attacks.

That, is what I want. I want to stand firm in victory over Satan because armed with God’s armor and using God’s word has power over evil. I want to know and love and be practiced in God’s word so I can use God’s light from His words to scatter the darkness. And, that is what I want for you, too. Let’s suit up with the armor of God and His Word!

Questions for reflection and discussion

  1. On a scale of 1-10 how aware are you of the spiritual battle being waged right now? In Scott Deane’s class on Daniel and Revelation for Atlanta Bible College, he often said, “What happens in the spiritual world affects what happens in the physical world.” Do you see evidence of this in Scripture? Do you see evidence of this in our world today?
  2. When do you feel weak against evil and Satan’s attempts to pull you from God and His will? When do you feel spiritually strong? How can you make changes to increase the amount of time you feel more spiritually prepared to face the devil’s schemes?
  3. What was Jesus’ message when he began preaching (Matt 4:17)? Where did we hear this before? (Matt 3:2) Do you think we will hear it again in Matthew? Is it a message we still need to hear today?
  4. Who did Jesus call to follow him and fish for men in Matthew 4? What did they give up to follow Jesus? What are you willing to give up in order to have more time and resources to follow Jesus and fish for men? How are your fishing for men skills? How can you develop them more? Who do you know who is currently in darkness and in need of being caught for Jesus? What can you do this week to share Jesus with them?

Hupernikao: Overwhelmingly Conquer

Reading for today:

Ezra 7-8 … 1 Corinthians 5

It may not seem like there’s much of a time gap between chapters 6 and 7 in the book of Ezra, but if you were to look at a timeline of Persian rulers (and why wouldn’t you?) you would notice that between Darius (chapter 6) and Artaxerxes (chapter7) they skip a whole ruler: Xerxes.

And that name may ring a bell if you’ve ever read the book of Esther (if you haven’t, you definitely should). The book of Esther spotlights Jewish exiles who chose to stay in Persia rather than return to Israel, and Esther’s heroism in rescuing them from annihilation.

“…who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14b)

Like Esther, Ezra had a purpose to fulfill in his specific place and time.

We learn that this godly man was a descendant of Aaron, which established his right to function as a priest and teacher (7: 5-6). Ezra also knew the Word of God and lived it, which was one of the most important features of his life. He was skilled in understanding God’s law and explaining it to others.  Ezra’s commitment to know and live God’s Word was one reason for the impact he had for the Lord in his time.

Preparation. “Ezra prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach” (7:10). Our heart must first be put right with God before our life is truly ready for Him to use fully. Certainly, he can use anyone, anytime…but if we want to be all that God designed us to be, we need to start inside. Other translations of this verse use words like “dedicated, devoted, firmly resolved, and set his heart” to give us a greater picture of what this preparation might look like.

Power. “The hand of the Lord his God was upon him” (7:6). Because of this invisible and powerful hand upon him, the king granted him “all his requests.” I don’t think it’s any accident or coincidence that God’s hand acted on Ezra’s behalf, helping him in his endeavors. After all, Ezra was a man who had “devoted his heart” to seeking God’s ways. What a lovely illustration of God actively intervening to act on behalf of those who actively set their hearts on Him.

In chapter 8 we see Ezra, again, preparing not only himself, but all the people for their trip to Jerusalem.

Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods.” Ezra 8:21

As we seek God in prayer and fasting, we honor him and set our hearts on Him. We acknowledge that we don’t possess a power great enough to overcome that which is before us, but we know HE does, HE is.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Romans 8:37

The Greek word translated as ‘more than conquerors’ in this verse is “hupernikao” which means “overwhelmingly conquer.” It doesn’t mean “barely eek out” or “just get by.” It indicates a crushing victory.

Picture a wrecking ball.

You and I don’t possess wrecking ball kind of power on our own, but this verse tells us that through our great God, we have that power in us, available to us.

Ezra knew it.

And he knew how to utilize it, too. Not by looking within himself– but by preparing, dedicating, setting his heart on God’s word and trusting that God’s hand would overcome.

“I took courage, for the hand of the Lord my God was on me…”  Ezra 7:28

hupernikao

it’s fun to say

– Susan Landry

Today’s Bible passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezra 7-8 and 1 Corinthians 5

A Messenger Reveals The End

Daniel 10-12

We’re now in the 3rd year of the Persian king Cyrus’s reign, after he has allowed the exiled in Babylon to go home. But it’s not clear if Daniel is hanging around to work in the Persian court somewhere or if he has gone home too. Maybe, he figures, what’s the use of going home if the restoration of his people is going to take 7 times longer than anyone thought. If I were him, I’d also be struggling to find some hope if angels keep dropping by in my dreams and giving me mostly horrible news about the future.

This is likely weighing heavily on Daniel’s tired heart as he is mourning and doing extended fasting. You don’t normally hear about people today fasting to hear a word from God, but it’s one of those ancient tried and true methods to use when you really mean business and something has to give. 

It works well for Daniel here because he receives another vision. He’s by the river and sees an angel that is described with language stolen right from Ezekiel. And the Bible is weird, because it sounds like this angel (Gabriel?) has been in an ongoing battle with a prince (angelic representative?) of Persia. And the angel Michael is there fighting in Gabriel’s place so he could come tell Daniel something very important. If I am understanding this correctly, this means angels engage in extended tag team octagon fighting on behalf of the kingdoms they represent, as if the balance of history depends on it in some way.

What follows in chapter 11 is an insanely detailed prophecy given to Daniel about the Persians and Greeks, leading up to our old friend, Antiochus IV, and his typical shenanigans. It is basically a much more detailed version of chapter 8 (remember the ram, goat, and the horns?), and we have the theme from chapters 2 and 7 about the sequence of kingdoms knitted into it. Not being an expert in history, and not wanting to overload too badly, I’ll keep this very high-level. 

I mentioned Alexander yesterday, who is our “warrior king” in 11:3, or the Greeks taking over the Persians. Alexander dies and his kingdom is split up among four generals. We eventually end up with the Ptolemies of the south (Egypt) and Seleucids of the north (Syria/Mesopotamia), who plague each other with failed alliances, invasions, deception, betrayal, assassinations, and the like. By verse 21, Antiochus (of the north) is on the scene, and by verse 30 we see him start his persecution of Jerusalem and desecration of the temple. By the end of chapter 11, we see his end.

Again, we are interested in patterns more than precise timelines. The north and south had been going back and forth with their conflicts but keeping each other in check. Antiochus comes on the scene and breaks the mold, crosses the line, and does what nobody before him does. And once he upsets the balance and asserts himself as a god, the true God brings an end to him. It’s the arrogant made humble again, like we’ve seen several times before in the book of Daniel.

But what of hope? What’s the point of this endless political drama and transfer of power? The messenger explains that at that point of deep anguish brought in by the king of the north, the people of God will be delivered. “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” And the wise are said to have some kind of special reward. If we believe in a God of justice and restoration, the end game has to be that God, being the faithful God that he is, will make all things right, even by raising his “sleeping” faithful to life.

Surely the original audience of Daniel would be familiar with the dry bones of Ezekiel coming alive and how it symbolized the return from exile, since the ideas of exile and death in the Jewish mind are interlocked. But technically, when this new revelation is being given to Daniel, the people have already gone home, although their full restoration has yet to be seen. So is Daniel 12 metaphorically about the coming restoration of God’s people, or about an actual bodily resurrection? I think both are in play. This isn’t the New Testament yet, so nobody is really talking about resurrection as we know it. The Old Testament hints at something like resurrection maybe a few times before Daniel. This passage goes further than others in the Old Testament; it’s hard to deny or explain away the element of bodily resurrection. Still, by the time of Jesus, not all the Jews are sold on it. The Pharisees believe in a resurrection, but the Sadducees do not.

A quick word about verses 5-12, which seem to break the flow a little. It prompts us to remember 8:13 when one angel asks the other how long the “transgression that makes desolate” will be. In scope is the last of the 70 weeks described in chapter 9, but now we have another “How long” question: “How long shall it be until the end of these wonders?” To summarize, it cryptically lays out two periods of 3½ years, before and after the people are essentially banned from worshiping. Interpreters struggle with making much sense of the differing numbers in verses 11-12, and I am happy to join them.

I’ve been suggesting how some of these prophecies have had a fulfillment in historical events moving up into the second century B.C. because I think it fits well, but hopefully I have also left the door open for you to envision other ways these patterns have been fulfilled, and even how they are yet to be fulfilled. Part of the joy of the book of Daniel is that it keeps inviting you to interpret. Sometimes it will hand you the interpretation, and sometimes you’ll have to chew on it. Making sense of the book of Daniel (and the rest of scripture) became an important pastime for God’s people, and it is no wonder why. It can provide us wisdom, encouragement, and hope while surviving in our Babylons, or enduring very tough times that never seem to end.

We are in a strange time in our world where I think all of us are asking every day, “How long is this mess going to keep going? When can things be back to normal?” It will probably take much longer than we had wanted or expected. And whether it is good or bad, we’ll probably never go back to what we thought of as normal. But the wise and faithful can enjoy the hope of a time of restoration and resurrection, in a kingdom that has no end, under the rulership of the true God who has finally set everything right.

Thank you so much for studying Daniel with me. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Daniel 10-12

Tomorrow we will begin the book of Ezra (chapters 1-3) as we continue on our journey through God’s Word using the

To Fast or Not to Fast?

Zechariah 7-10

zechariah-7-9-10

Monday, April 24

Do you fast? I’ve done it once, a 30 hour famine…it was rough…of course the promise of pancakes afterward helped! 😉

Zechariah Chapter 7 dives into the question, to fast or not to fast?. “Shall I weep in the fifth month and abstain, as I have done these many years?” The Israelites question whether or not they should continue to fast and grieve over the destruction of Solomon’s temple since the new temple was being built. God makes it clear that in this case fasting is essentially pointless. The Israelites chose to fast out of their own grief and sadness, they created that tradition not God. God quickly reminds them that there are more important, better ways to honor God than continuing their fasting.

The Israelites were following the tradition and rules of fasting that they created,  but not really doing anything for their relationship with God. In the next couple verses God lays out some simple truths: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.” Zechariah 7:9-10

 

Plain and simple. These are things God desires for us to do, to be. This reminds me of when Jesus was questioned about what the greatest commandments in the Bible are. Matthew 22:37 Jesus answers, ”Jesus declares, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”

 

How great it is to have a God that desires more from us than our earthly traditions. He is a God that wants us to love and serve him by loving and serving others. Jesus’ very message.

 

To Fast or Not to Fast… do you have the answer?
Elleigh Dylewski

 

(Photo Credit: https://dailyverses.net/zechariah/7/9-10)

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