My House Is In Ruins

Haggai

Yesterday we ran across Ezra 5:1-2, which mentions that the prophets Haggai and Zechariah come and encourage the people in Jerusalem to continue rebuilding the temple. As promised, today we are zooming into Haggai’s role in this. How convenient that there is a book in the bible named Haggai that gives us this information.

We know from Ezra 4 that the people in Jerusalem were forced to stop rebuilding the temple by the Persian king Artaxerxes. Some time passes by, and Haggai comes on the scene to prophesy to them. God has some things to get across to them.

The temple sits unfinished, and people of Jerusalem are either too fearful or apathetic to continue working on it. God calls them out on this, saying that his house is in ruins while they are decking out their own. They have been running around doing their own thing, and they never seem to have enough of anything. It’s a rat race. And since the house of God is being neglected, there is a drought in every aspect of their lives. God commands them to get working on the temple again.

This convicts their hearts as it should ours as well. What is the work God has called us to do that we’ve been putting off? What are we allowing to distract us from it? How could we be more intentional about building the opportunities to encounter God in our daily lives?

Heeding this conviction, the people begin building again, but there are some who are discouraged about something we saw in Ezra 3. The people who are old enough to have seen the original temple think this new temple is nothing in comparison. God tells them to take courage, and work, because he is with them. He assures them his spirit is among them as promised when he brought them out of Egypt. That hasn’t changed, don’t be afraid. God tells them he will “shake” things, which at first sounds like an earthquake, but is a dramatic way of saying he will upset the balance. The treasures will be transferred from the nations to his house. He owns all the gold and silver anyway! What doesn’t God own? God promises the splendor of this new temple will be more than the old, and that he will give prosperity.

When you work for God, you do what you can. It is easy to get discouraged. But the one who commissioned you will honor your efforts. He has all the resources in the universe at his fingertips to make it happen. What may be impossible for you is possible for God; he wants it to be your project too.

What follows is an interesting discussion about how contagious holy and unclean things are. If you are carrying around a holy ribeye steak and it touches your fries or soda, does it make the fries and soda holy too? No. But if you touch a dead guy and then touch your fries or soda, does it make them unclean? Yes. Holiness doesn’t just spread automatically, it takes work. Spreading bad things around takes no effort at all. You don’t have to do anything at all, things will fall apart without your attention. “So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, says the LORD; and so with every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean.” It’s like there was a contagion of apathy spreading while they were not doing the work, or the work they were doing was with the wrong heart, and things were not going well for them. But now that they are working on the temple according to God’s wishes, they will be blessed. They’ll have enough of everything.

What’s the reason God wants them to build a temple, anyway? It isn’t like God needs a temple. He would be just fine without one. The temple is the way they know how to connect with God and have his life-giving presence among them. To build this temple is to invite his presence. To not build it is to signal to God that they aren’t interested enough in his presence. For us, the temple isn’t a structure we go to, but a kind of metaphor for the sacredness of our own bodies, the network of others in our churches and faith communities, and the use of our time.

At the close of the book of Haggai, God mentions shaking things up in a dramatic way again, and that he will make the governor Zerubbabel a “signet ring” or chosen one. It sounds like God is making him a messiah of sorts. Of course, with hindsight, we know he won’t be the messiah. But he is being recognized by God as a leader of significance. And to add to his significance, he is from the line of David, mentioned in the genealogies of Christ provided by both Matthew and Luke. That’s quite the legacy, when you think about it.

There’s a lot that God wants to do, and he is asking for our cooperation, to take up the projects with him, and by doing so, to invite his presence. My advice to you, and I am speaking to myself as well, is to not put off those good things God has put on your heart to do. Even if you don’t feel ready, you’ve got the support network of the God of the universe, and your brothers and sisters in Christ.

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at Bible Gateway here – Haggai 1-2

Tomorrow we read Zechariah 1-7 as we continue on our

The Scourge Of Red Tape

Ezra 4-6 and Psalm 137

Part of today’s reading is Psalm 137. I’m starting with it because this is not a note to end on. Sit with it a few minutes, but don’t take it with you for the whole day. Maybe there is no helping that. 

Psalm 137 is a tour through the raw emotions felt by those in exile. It’s the lament of the desperately misplaced. It’s a prayer to remember their home, Jerusalem, and their former standing with God. It’s a chilling and shocking request for God to repay Babylon for what they did to Jerusalem, concluding with the horrifying mental image of babies being smashed against rocks. The emotions are palpable and powerful.

Let that be a “looking back” exercise from where we are in Ezra. Look how far things have come, from complete and utter despair in a foreign land, to being home again and in the process of rebuilding and restoring. Speaking of Ezra…

When you try to do something worthwhile, there is likely to be a few obstacles. Even the most simple of projects can take twice as long as you’d thought. And that’s without anyone trying to sabotage your efforts.

At this point in the book of Ezra, the people of Jerusalem are working hard on rebuilding the city and temple, probably running into all the usual pitfalls of trying to build things. But they have a much bigger problem: Some locals are trying to stop them from building, even actively sabotaging their building plans.

These locals write the king about the people in Jerusalem, employing disinformation and half-truths, and claiming that they are all troublemakers who will rebel once the city and walls are built. The king Artaxerxes can agree that, historically speaking, they are indeed troublemakers, and he orders the construction halted.

Amidst the long hiatus, the Jews in Jerusalem receive some much needed encouragement from the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, and are sparked to begin rebuilding again. Tomorrow we’ll be looking at the part Haggai played in this.

Soon after starting the project back up, they are pestered by the locals again, who are questioning if they have permission to build. They provide their entire story, and inform the locals that Cyrus commanded them to rebuild. Word gets back to the king and they do some fact checking in the archives. They find the papers regarding the edict of Cyrus, and the king makes it clear that the original edict stands. The rebuilding will continue, and the efforts will be subsidized by the empire, including animals to sacrifice.

But did you catch what the king’s motivations are? It is “so that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king as his children.” So it isn’t so much for the people as much as it’s to ensure the well-being of the king. What, did you think the king wasn’t getting something out this deal?

Overcoming these obstacles, the rebuilding of the temple is eventually finished, followed by a dedication for the temple, a massive sacrifice to atone for the sins of Israel, the appointing of priests, and observing feasts (think back to the first temple in 1 Kings 8). In other words, they are doing all the things they were not able to do while in exile. Now they have a stronger connection to and reestablishment of their worship and traditions they enjoyed before they were exiled.

It is a joyous day. Indeed they’ve come far toward restoration, but we’re left with an anti-climax and the feeling that there is much work left to be done. You can’t just build a temple, go through some motions, snap your fingers, and declare that the people are restored. There is work yet to be done on the hearts of the people.

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Psalm 137 & Ezra 4-6

Tomorrow we will read the two chapter book of Haggai as we continue on the

Hello, IT. Yeah Huh. Have You Tried Forcing An Unexpected Reboot?

Ezra 1-3

The book of Ezra picks up the story of Israel at a very important moment: the return from exile. The Persians swoop in and conquer the Babylonians in 539 BC. The persian King, Cyrus the Great, acknowledging God for giving him the kingdoms of the earth, issues a proclamation that the temple in Jerusalem should be rebuilt. The Jews who were taken captive and exiled in Babylon are allowed to return to the land they call home and help rebuild the temple. We’re reminded of the Exodus, when God’s people were freed from the clutches of Pharaoh.

For an ancient king, Cyrus seems to be especially respectful of the customs and religions of his subjects. It turns out that this is in a way beneficial for him, since allowing your subjects freedom of religion and not enslaving them earns you so much more support and makes for a more stable empire. He was a bit of a trend setter in this regard.

Cyrus is reversing what Nebuchadnezzar set in motion. Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian empire conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, took the temple vessels, and scattered the people into exile. Cyrus has conquered Babylon, allowed everyone to go back to where they call home, given back the temple vessels, and ordered the temple rebuilt. But really it is God doing the exiling and reversing, through the hands of these kings, to give his people another chance.

Ezra 2 gives an extensive list of the wave of 50,000 some people who returned to Judah, and details the livestock, if you were dying to know. We usually think this kind of passage is a bit of a drag, but it’s really more of a celebration, with more confetti at every name and number. Think of the importance they placed on leadership, and the legacy and roles of the people mentioned. Each of these people are going back to wherever they call home, where they have deep roots and history. Each of them has something unique to contribute toward rebuilding their lives, and they’ll need the skills and resources of everyone to restore Jerusalem and the temple.

Similarly, in the body of Christ, we need the unique skills and gifts everyone brings to the table. We all play an important role in taking care of each other and reaching out into the world.

And so the project begins. First things first! They make sure there is at least an altar and that the usual schedule of sacrifices is back on track. They are trying to build a continuity between what their lives were like before the exile and what they are like now after the exile. Being able to worship again is a stepping stone toward restoration. Routines are important!

Into the second year after returning to Jerusalem, the materials and workers are all being gathered to get the temple together again. When the foundation is laid, there is a big ceremony with music and singing to God. They sing, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” Things are looking up. We’ve got the people, the temple foundation, and some semblance of our usual worship.

But there is something in the air that signals to us that not everything is quite right again. While many people are shouting loudly for joy, many of the older folks who saw the first temple are weeping loudly. It is bittersweet. It is good that there is now at least part of a temple, yet it doesn’t hold a candle to what it was before.

We end chapter 3 with this very divided response to the temple. The noise is so loud that they can’t tell who is joyful and who is sorrowful. They’ve been waiting so many years just for this chance to rebuild, and now it’s not even clear if it is a good thing or not. 

But restoration is a process. Most things that we want, we can get almost instantly. I can drive to the store and get ice cream. I can order something from Amazon almost without moving a muscle, and it will arrive in two days. Way in the future, in the year 2000, we’ll just think of what we need, and it will materialize in our teleportation device. But doing something of significance takes time, effort, prayer, and also probably money. And so does rebuilding Jerusalem. It is tempting to compare back to what things used to be like (the “good old days”) and be discouraged. What we might be missing is that God’s plans and ideas usually break our categories for what we think is even possible.

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on BibleGateway here – Ezra 1-3

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Ezra 4-6 and Psalm 137 as we continue on our

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

Decaceratops, Is That You?

Daniel 7-9

Welcome to the second half of Daniel, where if you thought it was a strange book before, now you’ve been proven correct. Long gone are the days of easily followable narratives. We’ve had warm-up sessions in parts of earlier chapters, but now it seems that Daniel has gone full apocalyptic on us.

When we think about the word apocalypse, usually we think of the end of the world and fire and brimstone, because that is the cultural meaning it has taken on. But biblically speaking, an apocalypse is an unveiling or revealing of something. And yes, sometimes that can mean something dramatic is being revealed about the end of the world as we know it. But that is not the default mode of an apocalypse. An apocalypse, probably more often than not, sheds light on what is happening now (as in, then, for the original writers and audience) and what is immediately on the horizon, often with the purpose of encouraging the people of God to hang on. Today we can look at an ancient, yet inspired apocalypse and find patterns and truths that mean just as much (and more) as they did so long ago.

Think back to Daniel chapter two. Nebuchadnezzar had a dream about a statue with its different parts representing a succession of four kingdoms, and then a fifth, everlasting kingdom. This was an apocalypse, revealing to Nebuchadnezzar how temporary his kingdom is and how sovereign God is. But this also was a way of revealing to Daniel the encouraging truth that restoration for the people of God was something in the works.

Daniel’s dream in chapter seven presents the same pattern with very different imagery, and expands on it with some new information. Instead of different parts of a statue, we have four devouring beasts coming out of the sea. The first is a lion-eagle type thing, the second is a bear, the third is a leopard-bird thing, and the fourth is maybe something like an elephant with ten horns. Coming out of it is another little horn that is arrogant. These beasts are four kingdoms, and I’ll again run with them representing Babylonia, Media, Persia, and Greece (probably more the Seleucid kingdom in this case). 

I need to take a pause and tell you that I recognize that there are several different ways to make sense of the book of Daniel. It is not an easy book, and there are a lot of things left open to interpretation (which I would argue is by design). I can barely begin to understand the nuances. But I can at least share the path I’m taking through it, and hope that it is useful to you somehow, even though I am sure it is not entirely correct.

Daniel’s dream jumps from the beasts to a court scene, or divine council, with the very fiery and white-haired Ancient One, or Ancient of Days (God) presiding over the court. The fourth beast is judged and put to death, while the other three beasts have to transfer their dominion, but are allowed to live.

To what or whom is this dominion transferred? Now approaching God on the clouds of heaven is a humanlike figure, or one “like a son of man.” Verse 14 tells us, “To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.”

Who is the humanlike figure? There are a couple options. One option is that the humanlike figure is an angel who is a heavenly representative of Israel. Option two is similar, where it would be a literary stand-in kind of figure in the vision that symbolizes the collective Israel. Either way, it is a representation of Israel approaching Judge God, being vindicated, and receiving dominion.

There is a very tempting and obvious third option, which is to identify the humanlike figure with the Messiah. Jesus’s most used title for himself is the son of man, and he makes references to the son of man coming on the clouds. There is certainly a connection to be made here, but direction is important. In Daniel 7, I don’t believe there is any intention of referring forward to a messianic figure. However, when Jesus comes on the scene, he does well to call back the symbolism in Daniel 7 to say something significant about himself: He embodies and represents Israel before God. As an aside, “son of man” means “human.” Jesus unabashedly embraces his full humanity every time he utters the phrase. As another aside, when Jesus talks about the son of man coming on the clouds, we should import Daniel 7 context and imagery as a starting point for understanding what he is talking about, because that seems to be what he is asking us to do.

Daniel is very concerned about this fourth beast that seems to be much worse than the other beasts, and what is going on with the ten horns (Now 11 though. This one goes to 11). This fourth beast probably symbolizes the hellenistic kingdom of Alexander the Great. And the 11th (little) horn probably symbolizes Antiochus IV Epihanes, one of the hellenistic kings of the Seleucid dynasty (from 175 to 164 BC), who intensely persecuted the Jews. Since the book of Daniel was likely not in its final form until the first half of the 2nd century BC, the persecution from Antiochus was either on the horizon or already a very serious reality being wrestled with.

This little horn tries to mess with the sacred seasons (Antiochus actually prohibited observing Sabbath and some feasts), persecutes, and sets himself up as sovereign for a period of time (usually interpreted as 3½ years). But after the time is up, his dominion is handed over to the people of God.

Again I want to suggest that the specifics are less important than the pattern. We can look at history and find the fulfillment of passages like these. But the bigger pattern is that earthly kings and kingdoms come and go. Some of them are decent, and some of them are truly terrible, but none of them are God. So we look forward to when dominion is in the right place, to a truly good kingdom that is eternal, with God as its king. Until then, we know there can be trouble, and we hang on.

Chapter 8 expands on chapter 7 by presenting Daniel’s vision of a ram and a goat. The ram is powerful and has two horns. A goat with a horn between its eyes shows up and takes out the ram. But eventually the goat loses the horn and 4 more replace it. Out of one of these horns comes a little horn that becomes very powerful and arrogant. He interferes with the sacrificial system and wreaks general havoc and headache. A couple of angels speak among themselves and ask how long this will go on. A prediction of 2,300 evenings and mornings is given, which could be meant to be 2,300 days or 1,150 days. If it is the latter, that roughly approximates a 3½ year period, which will come up again.

Luckily, Gabriel is able to help us with some of this. He identifies the ram’s horns as the kings of Media and Persia. The goat is Greece, with the first horn being its first king. And the four horns are four kingdoms that rise up to take over when the first king is gone. Then another very powerful and troublesome king comes after them. But Gabriel assures Daniel, “he shall be broken, and not by human hands.”

To fill in a couple more blanks, it seems reasonable to say the goat’s horn is Alexander the Great, who rapidly defeated the Persian empire. After he is broken (his sudden death in 323 BC), his kingdom is divided between his generals (the Diadochi). The four horns refer to the four most important of these kingdoms. Our beloved friend Antiochus comes out of one of these.

Antiochus in a way declares war on Judaism, and by extension, on God. He ushers in the “Antiochene Crisis” in 167 BC in response to a civil war in Jerusalem. With an iron fist, he brings massacres, enslavement, military presence, a rededication of the temple to Zeus Olympios, a replacement of normal sacrifices with pagan sacrifices, and destruction of copies of the Torah. This defiling of the temple and sacrificial system is likely referred to by the “transgression that makes desolate.” Antiochus is basically making worship of the true God illegal if not impossible.

The tyrannical little horn is allowed to do his thing for a time, but God will be the one to put an end to him. Again we have a pattern where an arrogant king sets himself up as God, is allowed to live in that delusion for a time, but is eventually made low by God. And hope waits for the deliverance and restoration that follows.

Chapter 9 reminds us that Daniel has been waiting for this restoration. He recalls that the prophet Jeremiah said that the exile would last for 70 years. This launches him into a prayer of repentance on behalf of his people. Israel had screwed up so badly and put themselves into this situation, but Daniel, as far as we can tell, doesn’t have much of anything to apologize for. Yet, he groups himself in with Israel and confesses their collective sin. Daniel cries out to God to restore the temple, the people, and Jerusalem, not for their own sake, but for God’s. Because now God’s people, who carry his name, have become a laughingstock. 

But Gabriel now adds another layer of interpretation on Jeremiah, and informs Daniel that it will take 70 weeks for everything to be restored to some kind of normal for Jerusalem and the people of God. What do we make of this? Usually it is taken to mean 70 weeks of years, so 70 times 7, or 490. But 490 years from when? Does it start from when they went into exile, or from when Daniel had the conversation with Gabriel, or from when Jeremiah first spoke the prophecy, or from some other point? And do the biblical authors really intend these numbers to be used as precise timetables? Whichever way it is, 490 years is much longer than 70, and this has to come as devastating news to Daniel, who by now has waited most of his life for the exile to end and for things to be put right again.

Gabriel informs us that these 70 weeks are divided into periods of 7 + 62 + 1. The first 7 weeks is 49 years, or in biblical tradition, a Jubilee, when slaves are set free and debts are forgiven (see Lev 25). As it turns out, that is the amount of time from the start of the exile until their return after Cyrus’s decree. The anointed prince after the 7 weeks could be a reference to the high priest Joshua, or possibly Cyrus. During the 62 weeks, Jerusalem is being rebuilt into a real city again. After the 62 weeks there is an anointed one who is cut off, which is probably a reference to the murdered high priest, Onias III. Then it mentions a prince to come who destroys the city and temple. This “prince” is likely Antiochus, assaulting the city through his official, Apollonius. And in the last week, we have some kind of agreement between Antiochus and the hellenizing Jews, followed by his ban on worship, and replacement of YHWH worship with pagan worship, basically as punishment for a rebellion. To get more backstory on this line of interpretation, you can look at the Jewish writings of 1 and 2 Maccabees. Whatever interpretation you take, and whoever this prince is, his end will come at the end of these 70 weeks.

If your head is spinning, join the club. Part of the fun of reading Daniel is that we’re continually invited to interpret. Don’t get too lost on the details and timelines. It has been helpful for me to zoom out and try to catch the big picture themes and patterns.

We’re not immune to trouble. Regrettably, sometimes the people who have been placed in authority over us don’t have our best interests in mind. This can make a huge mess of things for a while, but God is always on the move to restore his people, even if it takes 7 times longer than we had hoped.

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Daniel 7-9

Tomorrow we finish the book of Daniel (chapters 10-12) as we continue on our

The Weights of Kings

Daniel 4-6

As the narrative in the book of Daniel has progressed, it seems like the focus has been stolen away from Daniel and put on Nebuchadnezzar. Could there really be redemption for the tyrant who besieged Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and scattered the people of God into exile? The story up until now has given us the crazy idea that yes, redemption seems possible, although the pathway there for the king hasn’t been linear.

Nebuchadnezzar has now again been plagued by bad dreams, has again called his sages to interpret, and has again been disappointed by their inability to deliver. The man for the job is Daniel, clearly. So he tells Daniel of his dream of a big important tree that gets chopped down to the stump. Daniel helps us fill in some blanks. The tree is a representation of the highly powerful and influential king. But he is going to be driven away from society, go live with the animals, and be bathed by the dew until he learns a lesson. And when he learns that lesson, recognizing that God is sovereign, he can be re-established as king, extending again from the stump and roots that were left.

A year after having this dream, Nebuchadnezzar goes to his roof and delights in how powerful and great he is for creating such a beautiful Babylon. This is the perfect moment for God to come in and knock him off his high horse. If I may paraphrase God, he says, “I warned you this would happen.” And it seems like our creaturely ignorance requires him to say this a lot.

Just as he was warned, Nebuchadnezzar wanders off into the wilderness and lives like an animal, eating grass, getting all wet in the dew, growing his hair out scarily long and tangled, and letting his fingernails become like that of small velociraptor claws. But don’t worry, he is unable to open doors. I like to imagine that during this time, he also became the vocalist of a local metal band, but they had to let him go because of creative differences. It was like someone flipped his beast mode switch.

And then one day Nebuchadnezzar suddenly snaps out of this terrible phase, acknowledges the sovereignty of God, and has all his former glory restored to him. I love what he says to close out chapter four: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are truth, and his ways are justice; and he is able to bring low those who walk in pride.”

Amen to that. But the last part can sometimes be a hard reality to swallow. We’ve all heard that pride comes before the fall, and we’ve seen here one more example of how that pans out as a true proverb. Having healthy levels of self-esteem and confidence is a good thing. The kind of pride we saw in Nebuchadnezzar seems to be an amped-up and unbalanced version of this that made him believe he was all that. And when you prop up that delusion long enough, painful and humbling reality has to come out eventually.

So now we can add big bad Nebuchadnezzar to the long list of unlikely redemptions. I’m on the list, and so are you. Praise God that he seems to like orchestrating these all the time.

With Nebuchadnezzar ending his appearances on a high note, he has left a legacy in the air. He is an answer to the question of what can happen when God gets through to someone and they yield to him, however painfully. Enter Belshazzar. He is an answer to a contrasting question: What can painfully happen when you not only don’t yield, but also add a large amount of idolatry and blasphemy to the equation?

Belshazzar is in the middle of throwing a very well-attended and sexy drinkathon when he comes up with a great idea. He asks for the vessels of gold and silver that Nebuchadnezzar looted from the temple in Jerusalem, because he thinks it would be extra classy to drink wine from them. So that is what they do, along with worshiping gods of various metals and materials.

What happens next is what any reasonable person would expect. Of course, a disembodied hand writes on the wall. The terrified and probably self-wetted Belshazzar calls for his experts, but they are unable to figure out what the writing means. The queen knows just the man for the job.

Daniel agrees to help and even indicates he doesn’t want the rich rewards. But first he recounts the story of Nebuchadnezzar and how he humbled himself after his prideful fall. Belshazzar knows this story well, yet he has not followed his example and humbled himself before God. Daniel tells Belshazzar that “the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways, you have not honored.”

The writing is on the wall. That’s right, the phrase we utter in the face of impending doom comes from this very story. If you are like me, you have read Daniel’s interpretation of “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin” many times and not really understood how he got there. Somehow it means that the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom are numbered, that he’s been weighed and found wanting, and his kingdom is going to be divided and given to the Medes and Persians. At least the Medes and Persians part seems to groove with the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s nightmare about the gold headed statue. But did Daniel skip a step on the board?

This is the kind of thing that would have been a little more obvious to the original audience, but gets totally lost in translation for us. To compound the confusion, Daniel maintains its reputation for being a weird book by being written partly in Aramaic (from the middle of 2:4 to the end of chapter 7). So you thought knowing Hebrew would get you out of this pickle? Think again. I know only English. This is where commentaries or the internet come in handy.

As it turns out, the words are all measures of weight: a mina (or 60 sheqels), a sheqel, and two half-minas. So the first layer of this is that you can take the succession of kings and plug them in according to their weight or legacy. Nebuchadnezzar, the king who humbled himself, is worth more, so he is the mina. Belshazzar is a joke, so he is like 1/60th of Nebuchadnezzar, or a sheqel. Then the two half-minas would be the decently presented Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Persian. But in this schema, they are each only half the man Nebuchadnezzar was.

Okay, this will work, but it isn’t the angle Daniel is taking. There is wordplay that hopelessly eludes us. Mene is interpreted as a similar word mena, a verb that refers to something like counting or reckoning. Teqel is interpreted as a verb meaning “to be weighed” but also it is interpreted as tiqqal (to be light). Belshazzar? Nothing to him. Daniel is clever and says Peres, which is the singular of Parsin (half-minas). Peres gets us to more wordplay since peras means assessed or divided. But to top it off, paras means Persia. Like I said, this all hopelessly eludes us as English speakers separated from the writing by more than two thousand years. The Bible is full of wordplay and puns like that, but sadly, we miss most of them. My apologies go to anyone who is actually familiar with Aramaic, as I’m sure my Jedi-waving over the vocabulary probably wasn’t adequate.

Belshazzar richly rewards Daniel for the interpretation and makes him third in rank in the kingdom. That night, Belshazzar is killed, and his kingdom is handed off to Darius the Mede. After all, the writing was on the wall.

Darius retains a very high rank for Daniel, which makes the satraps extremely jealous. They are unable to find any dirt on Daniel, because he lives with integrity. But they know Daniel prays, so they come up with a conspiracy to make it illegal to pray to anyone except the king for thirty days. The penalty is being demoted to Temporary Cat Sustenance Technician. This is always a demotion.

Daniel knows this, yet continues to faithfully pray, neither concealing nor broadcasting what he is doing. According to the satraps’ scheme, he is caught, and the king has no choice but to follow through with the punishment, since he signed the law, although he does not want to harm Daniel.

Here is another friendly reminder that doing the right thing doesn’t guarantee you anything. Maybe you will reap benefits. Maybe you will be granted protection. Maybe you will upset people very close to you. Maybe you will be hated and persecuted. Maybe you will be physically injured or even killed. Especially when faced with extreme situations like Daniel’s, the idea of doing the right thing might sound like it is not an option. But there is an option. It could be that the only thing you are guaranteed by doing the right thing is never having to wish that you had done the right thing. And that’s the right place to be, wherever it takes you.

In this case, where it takes Daniel is a miraculous deliverance much like his friends had just a few chapters ago in Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace. They have almost identical stories of faithfulness to God, resulting in peaceful noncompliance with the authorities, and ending with the miraculous skirting of the death penalty. Most of the time, you can be faithful to God and honor the authority of your Babylon without a conflict (Matt. 22:21, Rom 13:1), and even when faced with a conflict, for most of us in this modern world, the consequence for being faithful to God instead of the state doesn’t result in death. But sadly, persecution, violence, and martyrdom are still the fate of many of our brothers and sisters.

This next part is probably not mentioned or illustrated in the toddler bedtime bible, although kudos go to anyone with the audacity. Darius doesn’t let the satraps get away with their act of deception, so he orders them, their children, and their wives to be thrown in the pit. The lions tear them all to pieces before they even hit the ground. Barbaric and chilling? Absolutely. This is one of many examples that would earn the Bible an R rating for its content, if not worse. Anyone who thinks of the Bible as just a bunch of nice bedtime stories hasn’t read it. If you run across these types, it is probably best not to correct them, because if they knew what was in there, they might be offended and launch a campaign to have it banned. I kid, but only halfway.

Overlooking his feeding of the lions with women and children, Darius seems to be a decent king and understands how it works, without the same kind of power struggle and roller coaster that Nebuchadnezzar had. He orders that all the people tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, “For he is the living God, enduring forever. His kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion has no end. He delivers and rescues, he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth; for he has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.” 

Darius gets it. Way to be, Darius.

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Daniel 4-6

Tomorrow we will read Daniel 7-9 as we continue on our

Keep Calm and Babylon

Daniel 1-3

The book of Daniel is a fun and strange ride, and there is kind of a lot going on. But it’s totally worth it. I’m glad you’re here. Today we are reading chapters 1-3.

Babylon has been around since its debut as the Tower of Babel, and all along has maintained its poor reputation for being the quintessential oppressive and arrogant empire. It is such a powerful symbol that it is recycled to apply to pretty much any oppressive empire in the Bible. Big, bad Egypt is not actual Babylon, but it’s Babylon. Much later in the book of Revelation, those references to Babylon are about Rome, but they are meant to point you back at all the other Babylons and trigger your imagination.

The symbol of Babylon is flexible enough it has a way of representing basically any human governed kingdom, which possess varying degrees of terribleness. I have to admit I don’t mind my Babylon much. All things considered, the U.S.A. isn’t a bad place to be. I can’t think of any place I would rather be. Sure, this place, like all other places, provides me with plenty of things to gripe about if I want to, but I’ll keep my greener grass wishes in check, because somewhere else could be truly terrible. I wish my Babylon well, and I’ll work toward making it a better place how I can. I’ll enjoy relative peace and security while it’s a reality.

As great as my Babylon is, it’s still Babylon. It’s often claimed that we live in a Christian nation, but I don’t buy that. If it was ever true, it is certainly not now. My best case scenario is if Babylon allows me to practice my faith without interfering, meddling, or controlling. My hope rests in God and in Christ, not in party politics, culture wars, economic growth, particular governmental systems, or military strength. If the state of all those other things happens to be firing on all cylinders, that is just icing on the cake, but I’m not counting on it.

In the book of Daniel, things get rolling very quickly with Babylon living up to its name by besieging Jerusalem. The temple vessels are looted and placed in a treasury of a Babylonian god, and Daniel is among the royalty and nobility carted off to Babylon. 

Daniel and his friends are integrated into the culture, receiving Babylonian names, learning the language, wearing the clothes, being trained in all the knowledge and wisdom, and eventually receiving government jobs. All of this is okay, but what they are facing is the challenge of deciding where to draw lines. How can they maintain their identity as Israelites while in many ways embracing this new Babylonian culture? 

The first place Daniel decides to draw a line is that he doesn’t want to be defiled by eating the royal rations. After Daniel voices his concern, the palace master is terrified he’ll lose his head if he doesn’t feed them the rations and they start looking unhealthy as a result. Daniel’s wise strategy is to suggest a trial period of 10 days with a diet of vegetables (or seeds) and water. The result is that their new diet has caused them to look better than the other guys who were getting the king’s rations. So they are allowed to continue with their special diet, and claim back a small part of their identity. The best part is that nobody had to lose their head in the process.

Now Daniel is set apart in another way: He has earned the reputation of being able to interpret dreams. The king calls upon his magicians and enchanters and sorcerers because he has been having terrible dreams. Being the reasonable man that he is, what he requires of them is that they tell him not only the interpretation of the dream, but also tell him what his dream was. The penalty for not being able to do this is death. They reasoned with the king that this is too hard and “no one can reveal it to the king except the gods,” but he just raged and ordered that they all be dead.

Enter Daniel, who says that he’ll be able to figure it out if he has some time. Have you ever over-promised? If I were him, I would be plotting my escape from Babylon right about now. But since Daniel is wiser than I am, he tells his friends about the problem and they all ask God to reveal the dream and interpretation to them. God reveals it to Daniel in a vision, and he prays a beautiful prayer acknowledging God as the source of all wisdom, knowledge, and power.

It’s time for Daniel to report back to Nebuchadnezzar, and the stakes are high on this one. If Nebuchadnezzar is not satisfied, a lot of people could die, including Daniel and his friends. This is another characteristic of Babylon: Human life is expendable in the hands of the powerful.

Daniel recounts the dream to Nebuchadnezzar. There is a giant statue with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet partly of iron and partly of clay. Then a stone is cut out, strikes the feet, and causes the whole statue to disintegrate and blow away in the wind. Then the stone becomes a mountain that fills the earth. 

The dream with the statue is revealing a pattern of the transfer of power from one king or kingdom to the next ones in line, in a degrading fashion, and lastly to the final one that lasts forever. Usually the kingdoms represented by the body parts going down are thought to be Babylonia, Media, Persia, and Greece (consisting of the Ptolemaic and Seleucid dynasties), but the specific kingdoms are less important than recognizing the big picture pattern. It can be observed in the original historical context of Daniel, but I think it is able to describe a recurring reality throughout history. It is just the way things work. Babylons get taken over by other Babylons, and earthly kingdoms are temporary. The transfer of power is presented as being more in the hands of God and less in the hands of earthly kings. 

The stone, or the last kingdom, could be said to be like the rulership of God manifested through a restored Israel. This is the hope and expectation of God’s people who are in exile. This idea of the reign of God is as central to believers now as it was in the distant past, but like other themes and patterns, it has taken up new, rich meanings as the story of God has progressed.

When Nebuchadnezzar heard the dream and its interpretation, it might have hit him like a little love letter from God, going something like this:

Dear Nebuchadnezzar,

Yeah, that terrible dream came from me, and I revealed it to Daniel. By the wisdom I gave him, he interpreted it. No need to kill your wise men or anyone. They were right, nobody can do what you asked.

The only reason you were able to take over my people and destroy my temple is because I let you. Yes, you are powerful, but the power you have really comes from me. There will be a day when others will come along and all your power will be given to them. And they will also have their day when their power will be taken from them. You see, I am the one who has power over the patterns of history, not you. And from me will come a kingdom that will crush all other kingdoms. It will never end and will never be taken over. It would be best if you accept this. I will contend with you for as long as it takes for it to sink in. There are things worse than bad dreams.

Best Wishes,

Revealer of Mysteries

It was never really a showdown between Daniel and the king. The real fun is watching the shoving match God and Nebuchadnezzar are having behind the scenes. Make no mistake about who is schooling who. God is trying to give Nebuchadnezzar a chance to understand the big picture. For now, the tyrannical Nebuchadnezzar is truly amazed and at least acknowledging God as “the God of gods and Lord of kings and revealer of mysteries,“ but don’t hold your breath. He still doesn’t get it.

The next thing we know, Nebuchadnezzar has built a giant golden statue as an image of his god and has commanded everyone to worship it. Really? Just a second ago you were calling Daniel’s God the “God of gods.” Worshiping Nebuchadnezzar’s god isn’t something our old pals, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are willing to do. Being Jews, they will not worship a Babylonian god, or any other god, but only YHWH. 

But there is a smear. We’re not sure if the giant statue is an image facilitating worship of a Babylonian god, Nebuchadnezzar, or Babylon itself. They seem to be blended together in some ambiguous combination. So there may be another kind of idolatry in play that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are not on board with: nationalism. This isn’t simply respecting your country or deriving part of your identity from it, it is a level above where the country or leaders are gods. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. The kingdoms of this world will come and go. It’s important to tie our identity to the one that lasts forever.

They knowingly risk their lives to draw a line and remain faithful to and hopeful in God rather than Babylon. I love what they say to the king:

“If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)

Whether God could or would save them is irrelevant to them. It would be easy to always do the right thing if we knew God would always protect us, but that just isn’t how it works. For every story of amazing deliverance like this one, it seems like there are several others of pain or martyrdom. Our hope doesn’t hinge on safety! God be praised when he delivers us, and when he doesn’t.

Luckily for our friends in this story, God does deliver them in a mindblowingly impossible way. And now Nebuchadnezzar is convinced not just that God reveals mysteries, but also that he delivers in ways no god can. He is convinced of this so powerfully that he declares that anyone who blasphemes against this God will be torn to pieces.

It’s at least a step. Maybe there is hope for this king after all… we’ll see what happens.

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Daniel 1-3

Tomorrow let’s read Daniel 4-6 as we continue Daniel’s story and our

Out with the Old, In with the New

2 Corinthians 3

2 Corinthians 3 9

This short chapter packs a punch while explaining the differences between the Old and New Covenants.  Any visual learners out there?  I like to SEE things; it helps me make connections better than just listening or reading. So here’s a little chart comparing the Old and New Covenants as taught by Paul in 2 Corinthians 3, verses 6-18.

Old Covenant

New Covenant

Verse

·      Of the letter (law)

·      Letter kills

·      Of the Spirit

·      Spirit gives life

Vs. 6
·      Brought death

·      Engraved in letters on stone

·      Came with glory

·      Israelites couldn’t look at the face of Moses (because he had been with God)

  Vs. 7
  ·      Even more glorious Vs. 8
·      Condemns men

·      Glorious

·      Much more glorious

·      Brings righteousness

Vs. 9
·      Was glorious

·      No glory now in comparison with (new) surpassing glory

  Vs. 10
·      Fading away

·      Came with glory

·      Much greater glory

·      Lasts

Vs. 11
  ·      We have hope

·      We are very bold

Vs. 12
·      Moses put a veil over his face to keep Israelites from gazing at it (radiance of being with God) ·      We are not like Moses Vs. 13
·      Their minds were made dull

·      Veil remains when old covenant read

·      Veil has not been removed

·      Only in Christ is veil taken away Vs. 14
·      Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.   (Don’t see Jesus)   Vs. 15
  ·      Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, veil is taken away Vs. 16
  ·      The Lord is the Spirit

·      Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom

Vs. 17
  ·      We have unveiled faces

·      All reflect the Lord’s glory

·      Being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit

Vs. 18

I am reminded of a great free theme week of devotions this year by Jay Laurent on the Presence of God from February 3-9, 2019 (the New Covenant comes on the scene on February 7 https://grow16biblereading.wordpress.com/2019/02/page/2/).  Throughout the week Jay showed how God was revealing a plan to bring His presence to the people.  And, his plan grew and grew in greatness and glory.  From the very beginning, with creation, his plan was good (and even “very good”).  But it didn’t stop there!  God gave the law – the Old Covenant – to show people what was required to draw close to Him.  Only trouble is, humanity couldn’t get it right.  Everyone was guilty as a lawbreaker and deserved death.  Problem – because in death they were not drawn to God, but they were dead.  Solution – something or someone to remove the sin and show the power of resurrection.   Enter – Jesus!   The New Covenant!  The opportunity for sins to be erased.  Righteousness was in reach – and with it restoration with the Father.  And, that’s not all – Jesus would also bring the opportunity for resurrection and eternal life with God in the Coming Kingdom.  This is the miracle of God’s plan of life with Him that just keeps growing more and more glorious!

 

Thankful for the New!  Looking forward to the Newest!
Marcia Railton

 

 

 

God’s Presence and What’s To Come

Text: Rev 21-22

Revelation 21-2,3

Over the last six days, I’ve been sharing with you some big moments in scripture where heaven and earth come together. It’s been a journey through and a celebration of the story of God’s presence among us, through the ups and downs. Yesterday I teased that where the story goes from here is going to be much bigger than what we expect.

 

If we zoom out from scripture and get a big picture of it all, we see that at the very beginning, God’s intent is to be with us, here on Earth. For a while, it was great. We screwed some things up and got ourselves kicked out of the garden, and so we lost access to God’s presence. The story since then has been a record of God’s attempts to dwell with us again, to bring us closer to him, and to bring more people in to be his children. Scripture leaves us with the hope, promise, and expectation that this trajectory continues in the future. God is faithful!

 

Allow me to admit that I don’t have a perfect understanding of what the future holds. It seems there are as many different takes on end-time prophecy as there are grains of sand on all the beaches. So I am going to conveniently sidestep most of that and stick to only a few things that I believe are clearly taught in scripture about our hope for the future.

 

Resurrection

 

The idea of resurrection has been around for a long time in the scriptures, well before Jesus. We see hints in Job 19:25-27, Dan 12:13, Isa 26:19, a strange zombie army passage in Ezekiel 37, and several other places. But it isn’t until the resurrection of Christ that the concept comes into the forefront. After all, his resurrection was the defining moment and hinge-pin of the Christian faith.

 

Paul tells us that Jesus is the “first fruits” of the resurrection (1Co 15:20,23), meaning he is the forerunner. He is the first to go forward into this resurrected state, and someday we will follow suit. Our bodies will be made new and different somehow, like how Christ’s body was made new, raised imperishable, in glory, in power, and “spiritual” (1Co 15:42-44), much more than simply being raised from the dead.

 

But it isn’t just our bodies that get resurrected. Heaven and earth get resurrected too. Scripture promises a new heaven and a new earth (Isa 65:17, 2Pet 3:13, Rev 21). Let this declaration from Rev 21:5 ring out in your heart: “Behold, I am making all things new.”

 

I’d encourage you today or in the near future to reflect on some classic resurrection passages/verses: 1Cor 15, 1Thess 4, 2Cor 4-5, Phil 3, Col 3:4, Rom 8:9-11, 1Jn 3:2, 1Cor 6:14. I know I have been heavy on versage this week, but if you find the time for these passages, it will be worth it.

 

The Return of Christ

 

A return or reappearing of Christ accompanies the resurrection. Many of the resurrection passages above mention his return as well, sometimes in the same breath. The events are apparently closely linked, if not the same instant. To me, it brings up the question whether his return is the catalyst for our resurrection, or if there is something about being in the resurrected state that allows us to see through the veil into the heavenly realm and see our king just as he is (1Jn 3:2). They both sound great to me. Someday we’ll find out together.

While we do have Christ with us in a way now, through the Holy Spirit in us, being together with our Lord in person (and as fellow “resurrectees”) will be much better. Everything, even death, will be subject to him, and then he will hand everything over to God, himself included, so that God will be “all in all” (1Co 15: 24-28). This is the true rule of God, his Kingdom!

 

God Dwells With Us

 

At some moment, any moment, everything is going to change in the twinkling of an eye (1Cor 15:52). We’ll have new resurrected bodies, live on a new resurrected earth, permeated by a new resurrected heaven, with no more sea (chaos) or death or crying or pain, together as a new Jerusalem, adorned as a bride for our resurrected Lord.

 

That’s not all… “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them…” (Rev 21:3). This should sound very familiar this week. This is an almost identical echo of what God has been saying to his people all over scripture. It’s been his goal all along.

 

With heaven and earth joined completely, the temple is now obsolete. There doesn’t need to be a special room where they come together. It’s everywhere! John observes the city in Rev 21:22: “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”

 

Revelation 22 opens with visions of a river, and a tree of life…wait…is this the garden again? That imagery is very intentional, designed to connect your thoughts and heart back to Eden, reflecting on God dwelling with mankind with no barriers. Yes, God is restoring that kind of relationship with him.

 

Through scripture, we don’t often see God trying to get things back to exactly how they were. Usually, he is moving forward in ways that surprise us, both because we didn’t see it coming, and because what he did was actually quite a bit better than what we could have gone back to. Case in point: Having Jesus cover for us is way better than going back to the law and trying to fulfill it on our own.

 

In a similar fashion, I contend that John’s description of our future with God in Revelation 21-22 isn’t just a restoration of Eden, it is even better.

 

Well, certainly John can’t do it justice. And if he can’t, there is no way I can. However we envision these events unfolding, however powerful our imaginations are, we won’t be able to help being caught completely off guard, staggered, and surprised at the suddenly revealed beauty of God’s presence among us.

 

It could happen at any moment now. May it be soon.

 

-Jay Laurent

 

(Thank you, Jay for a great week looking at God’s presence throughout Scripture.  Tomorrow we jump back into our New Testament chapter-a-day reading – with the book of Acts to see what God was doing with the early church.  Until then . . . seek Him!)

God’s Presence and You and Me

Text: Ephesians 2

Ephesians 2 22.png

We’ve been talking about the presence of God, temples, places where God dwells, and the intersection of heaven and earth. We’ve made stops at creation, the garden, the tabernacle, and the exile. Yesterday we talked about Jesus and how he was the new and improved temple.

 

This Jesus character, as it turns out, is pivotal in the biblical narrative. He changes everything. He turned the world upside-down and left everyone trying to put the pieces together and figure out what it all means. Ever had one of those moments when you learn some new information that forces you to rethink much of what you know? Everybody at the time was sorting out the reality that Christ died and was resurrected.

 

As you can imagine, Jesus is a pretty big deal when it comes to our topic of the presence of God. He changed that too. Not only was he the new and improved temple, but he was ushering in a new age of the temple. I am not sure what version of the temple we are on now, but this one is bigger. You can’t really have a better temple than Jesus himself, but you can make it bigger and distributed more widely.

 

Mark 15:38 mentions that as Jesus died on the cross, the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom. This veil was like a barrier before you can get into the holy of holies in the temple. It was like a layer between us and the presence of God. The veil being torn symbolizes that God’s presence is no longer contained in a special room. Jesus, being our high priest, paid an offering of blood once and for all, for all of our sins. There no longer needs to be a separation between us and God’s presence. Because of what he did, we are all acceptable in God’s presence. Hebrews 9 is a great chapter talking about Jesus being our high priest and making this sacrifice for us.

 

Yesterday I left you with a prediction from John the baptizer (yeah, because saying “baptist” sounds even weirder) that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. The most dramatic fulfillment of this happens in Acts 2. There’s a sound of a violent rushing wind, tongues of fire resting on people, people being filled with the Holy Spirit, and speaking languages they don’t even know. People are left trying to make sense of it, even supposing they were all drunk, until Peter stands up and explains. What is happening is a fulfillment of what is written by the prophet Joel. God is pouring out his Spirit on everyone. Peter drives it home with this statement in Acts 2:36: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” This hurt to hear. Peter follows up by telling them to repent and be baptized, and they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

With this strange event and Peter’s speech, God has started a new kind of temple. It’s me and it’s you. Now with the barrier of sin being dealt with, God can live in each of us as his temple. We are now his temple, individually (1 Co 3:16-17, 6:19) and collectively (Eph 2). His presence has been made highly accessible to us, through what we call the Holy Spirit, or the power of God, living in us.

 

Brothers and sisters, we are the church, and we are called to work together using the different natural abilities and talents we have, and using the special abilities God gives us through his Holy Spirit. Paul says to the Ephesians in Eph 2:19-22, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”

 

So this is where we are. I feel that passage is more about bringing the gentiles and Jews of the time into the same fold together, but it has a beautiful application for the church today. We are being fit together and built into a temple where God dwells. How privileged we are, and how amazing it is! Praise God that he has made the tent big enough to include all of us in his presence.

 

As good as this all is (and it truly is!), it gets even better. Paul calls the Spirit in us a down payment or a deposit for what is yet to come (Eph 1:4, 2Co 5:5). Just an appetizer. What God is working on is going to exceed all of our expectations of what our future with him looks like. All of them.

-Jay Laurent