Text: Daniel Chapters 4-6
OBSERVE: In chapters four and five, we see the pride and fall of two kings; Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. The latter is killed as the Babylonians were defeated by Darius the Mede who took reign over the kingdom. Darius would then soon find himself in a very difficult predicament in chapter six, as he is fooled into signing an unjust law that stated that anyone who prayed to a god other than him would be thrown into a den of lions. Darius never expected that the one caught in the trap of this law would be his most trusted and intelligent administrator, Daniel. But Darius could not revoke the law as it was: “an official law of the Medes and the Persians that cannot be revoked” (Daniel 6:8). So despite the regret of Darius, Daniel was thrown into the den of lions with the king exclaiming “May your God, whom you serve so faithfully, rescue you” (6: 16).
INTERPRET: And we read that God did in fact rescue Daniel as is witnessed the next morning when Darius opened the den. Daniel appears to Darius and says “My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight” (6: 22). This story clearly foreshadows another (Jesus) who would come centuries later, who also was a victim of an unjust law. Those who would hate Jesus could find nothing to charge him with and so they accused him of blasphemy. And just as the law could not be set aside for Daniel, neither could it be changed for Jesus. So Jesus was cast into the ultimate den of death and placed in a sealed tomb. He, too, entrusted himself to God.
APPLICATION: There is one big detail that makes all the difference between the two stories. No angel came to rescue Jesus from death despite having all the angels at his disposal. Rather than being rescued, Jesus told Peter when he tried to defend Jesus from those who came to arrest him: “But how than would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?” (Matthew 26: 53-54). Why does Jesus say it “must” happen? Because of God’s perfect justice, punishment must be carried out. The lion of God’s justice must roar against sin. And so that we can be rescued from the jaws of the justice we deserve, Jesus endured the violence of the Lion’s wrath.
Today, we are to have faith like Daniel in the promises of our God knowing that God has entered the lion’s den for us and has come out victorious. Because Jesus was innocent, we too will escape the punishment we deserve. Let us live in confidence knowing death will not be our end and that we will emerge from the grip of death just like Daniel did.
REFLECTION: Knowing that death has been defeated, are you able to face your giants with confidence?
PRAYER: Jesus, Innocent One; you were sealed in the den of death in my place and emerged from the tomb triumphantly. I pray for faith like Daniel in the hope of the resurrection and the promise of eternal life with you. AMEN.
SONG: Confidence by Sanctus Real
Text Daniel 1-3 (Ps 55)
Observe Divine judgment has been carried out. The first wave of exiles from Judah arrives in Babylon, among them Daniel and his three friends, young men who revere the Lord and His law. Singled out for training in the Babylonian civil service, they are renamed, leaving behind their Hebrew identity.
They refuse to eat the king’s food, as it is defiled. Daniel requests a vegetarian diet, which their minder reluctantly provides; after 10 days, they are healthier than the others who have no such scruples. God’s plan and care for them is evident: To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. (1:17) This gift will be of particular value to him.
The king has a nightmare. His astrologers can’t interpret it, to their detriment; Daniel and his companions are next for this treatment. Knowing he can interpret dreams, Daniel and his friends pray for God’s mercy and wisdom in this crisis. God interprets as Daniel sleeps. Praising God for this, he tells the king: … there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you were lying in bed are these: (2:28) then proceeds to interpret. Nebuchadnezzar is grateful and impressed. He promotes Daniel to a high position at the court and makes his three friends officials.
Nebuchadnezzar sets up an idol, commanding all to bow to it at a musical signal. Daniel’s three friends refuse; the astrologers see this and report to the king. Summoning them, he threatens a fiery end, but they are fearless – God will deliver them. So, into the superheated furnace they go, the king and his officials watching the four (four?? Wait, wait … who’s this other one who looks like the son of the gods?3:25) They are released unharmed, and Nebuchadnezzar, recognizing the power of God, decrees they may worship Him without barriers. And they are promoted.
Interpret Strange, almost fanciful stories – parables make us look deeper than the tales’ surface. Themes of obedience, clinging to God in all circumstances run throughout these chapters, showing us how God works in people of faith. Such extraordinary gifts may be rare, but if necessary God will give them for His name’s sake.
Apply Daniel and his friends were young, but so steady in honouring God. How can we instill these learnings into our young people? For parents, their example, much prayer and entrusting them to God offer the principal means as our society crumbles around us. Their sure footing must be in the Lord Jesus; courage to stand against amorality and the untruth of ‘my truth’ is the Spirit’s work. God bless parents and their children – it’s a challenging time for believing families. As their faith family, we must nurture and love the young ones as they develop and take their place among us; they have a wisdom and innocence we don’t possess!
We learn from these men in their disciplined clinging to God. May we seek to develop the same steadfast trust in God and allow their examples to challenge us to stand firm in truth, to make prayer and the Word our compasses, to present our bodies daily as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to the Lord our God (asking Him what this means for us).
Ask Lord, how and where will I be a Daniel for You?
Pray Lord God, please work in me as You did in the lives of Daniel and his friends. Like them, I trust my life to You as this society becomes more godless. Give me courage and wisdom through Your Spirit to live fully for You despite the lure of the world around, to stand up for Your principles and follow Your law of love.
Song Psalm 55: Save Me Randy Vild/ Victoria Gydov
Ps. 55: But I Will Trust in You Jason Silver
Text: Joel 1-3
Joel describes the despair resulting from a recent locust plague and compares it to an army invasion. He calls God’s people to mourn and fast and cry out to the Lord for relief. Joel then goes on to warn of another coming disaster on the Day of the Lord, which he says is close at hand. On this Day, an army, unprecedented in size and might, will come in unstoppable force and desolate the land.
Because of this, the Lord calls the people to “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning”. He says the people need to “rend their hearts” because His nature is to be gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love and they might encounter his pity and blessing. So, the people are called to host a “sacred assembly”; no one is to be left out: children, babies, newly-weds--everyone is to come together to weep in repentance. Then the Lord will pity his people and send new wine, oil and grain and drive away the army. The land will be restored and become green and fruit-bearing again. God will send the autumn and spring rains and there will be an abundance of harvest. The people will have plenty and will know it was the Lord who removed their shame.
Afterward, God will pour out His Spirit on all people and they will prophesy, dream and have visions and see signs on the earth and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
God will restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem and judge the nations that oppressed them. There will be war among multitudes but the Lord will be a refuge for his people. God will come and dwell in Zion and Judah will be inhabited forever and their bloodguilt will be pardoned.
There are several places in the Bible, besides the book of Joel, that speak of locust plague. In 2 Chronicles 7 we read about how the presence of the Lord has just filled the newly built temple in Jerusalem (this was the first temple built by Solomon). Then the Lord appeared to Solomon and said, “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
It’s no doubt that the original hearers of Joel’s prophesies should have recalled this historical promise to their nation. Locust plague is a consequence of sin in the land. When the people recognize their wrong-doing and corporately gather to repent and weep over their sin, this is when God will forgive and heal the land and bring restoration to his people.
Joel’s recorded prophesies call the people to gather with sacred intention to seek the Lord in true repentance with fasting and mourning—not just a show—but true heart-wrenching grief at the state of their sinful hearts and how far they have fallen from following their God. Joel’s words direct the people to do this for relief from the recent locust plague but he is also warning them of an even greater coming judgment on the Day of the Lord. God will relent from bringing judgment when the people demonstrate true repentance. And then His Spirit, His presence, like in the day of Solomon, will be poured out on the people so that they will see and hear from the Lord so that he can save them.
What about us today? Canada is currently experiencing heat wave, drought and the plague of Covid-19. Are there parallels from the book of Joel that may apply for us? Are there national sins in need of repentance? Might God be calling us also to gather and repent for the sins of our nation so that we can experience the renewed knowledge of God, relief from disaster and a fresh release of His presence?
Pray: Merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart and mind and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. In your mercy forgive what we have been, help us amend what we are, and direct what we shall be, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Song: Start Right Here by Casting Crowns
Why was the story of Esther included in the chronicles of Israel and Judah? I expect it was to be an example of God’s willingness and ability to use even one or two people who were committed to God to save the whole population of the Jewish people in the Persian empire. Mordecai told Esther that perhaps God had brought her to this position of Queen for the purpose of saving the people.
God can use each one of us for his purpose if we are committed to God’s truth and are obedient to God. We are created to do the work which God prepared for us to do. God has a time and a purpose for each person who follows him. (see Ephes 2:10, Ps.139:16)
Do you believe that God created you for a specific purpose, like Esther? Would you commit yourself to God and discover the purpose for your life?
Dear Lord God, thank you for being my Creator and for sending Jesus to be my Saviour and filling me with your Holy Spirit. I ask you to reveal to me the work which you have prepared for me to do.
A New Hallelujah – Michael W. Smith
Text: Esther Chapters 1-5
OBSERVE: Through the first five chapters of the book of Esther, we read about the rise of a Jewish woman named Esther. She becomes the Queen through a series of events which clearly display the incompetence of the Persian king. An advisor named Haman takes advantage of the king’s incompetence and convinces the king to sign an edict to annihilate all the Jews in the Persian kingdom. However, the king is unaware through all of this that Queen Esther herself is a Jew.
Esther had kept her family background a secret as Mordecai, her relative, had told her to. But now, after the signing of the edict, Mordecai was urging her to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him to save the lives of her people. We read this in these verses:
“If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this? “Esther replied, “I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die (Esther 4: 14-16).
INTERPRET: God’s covenant people needed a mediator – someone willing and able to go and plead their case where they could not go – into the presence of the king. Esther knew what this bold approach would likely cost her. If this uninvited visit did not go well, Esther would most certainly lose her comfortable life in the palace and she could possibly lose her life as well. But Esther took her life in her hands, risking everything for her people. She asked for her life and the lives of her people to be spared, and the king did as she requested.
APPLICATION: We too need a mediator willing to go before God, the great King, to intercede for our very lives. We need a deliverer who identifies with us and stands in for us as our representative. God’s edict to punish sin has gone out throughout the world “This is my rule: The person who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18: 4) – and it cannot be reversed.
But our mediator has gone to the throne asking that the sentence of death be passed down, not on us, but on him. Jesus stepped forward, not to plead for his life but to offer his life. He stepped forward not at the risk of his life but at the certain cost of his life. To stand before the throne to intercede for us not only risked his death, it required his death.
REFLECTION: Does your life clearly display thankfulness for what our Amazing God has done for us?
PRAYER: Jesus, you left your palace with no desire to protect yourself, but with every intention of offering yourself so that my life might be spared. Now as you stand before the throne interceding on my behalf, help me to live a life that clearly displays my thankfulness for what you have done. AMEN.
SONG: At the Cross by Chris Tomlin
Chapter four of Nehemiah begins with a man named Sanballat opposing the work being done by the Jews to restore and rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. He berates and mocks and criticizes Nehemiah and his workers, but the project continues. As it did, word began to spread among their enemies such as the Ammonites and Arabs who begin plotting to attack the builders, for a wall presented a threat to those who were not allowed within it. In response to this, Nehemiah invokes the Name of God and calls the people to remember His awesome deeds. On top of that, each laborer works with a sword or spear close at hand. Half of them work, the others stand watch, day and night as the wall grew higher.
The next chapter reveals a great outcry on behalf of the returned exiles, saying that they are in deep debt to those who owned the land they worked for food. The weight was too much for them to bear, so Nehemiah took action on their behalf. He goes to the land owners and nobles and demanded that they return to the exiles their fields, orchards, and houses. They complied. Nehemiah then continued in his generosity by hosting others at his place of residence at his own expense and calls God to remember these things he has done for his people.
Following this, Sanballat and Tobiah (the baddies) plotted against Nehemiah and tried to lure him away where they could kill him. Again he calls God to remember him as he navigates these treacherous waters. Finally, after 52 days of non-stop work and threats on all sides, the wall was finished and the surrounding nations were greatly afraid.
Things finally seemed to be looking up for the people of Jerusalem after a long, long time, especially in these few chapters. Yet even here we see the seeds of evil sown. Regardless of the new wall and a strong leader, there were elements of corruption all around as well as threats of violence and slander. Nehemiah seems to be holding things together pretty well, yet he is not the hope of their people, for eventually he would pass away and this cycle of sin would threaten to break out.
Yet there are many positives we can observe in Nehemiah.
As we should note, the words of the Bible were written to certain people in days long past, yet they serve as teaching and inspiration and wisdom for us today. Let us not separate the work being done on the wall with the long exile that the people of Jerusalem had endured, for it all factored into the environment surrounding the project at hand. The exiles were quick to fear and despair, yet Nehemiah called upon them to recall the goodness of God and focus on what He had them to do. As we head out of this pandemic, this exile of sorts, we might be facing a mountain of opposition and trouble as we seek to reclaim some portions of our lives, whether its from external factors such as health or professional complications or internal struggles such as anxiety, fear, or any other sin that clings so tightly.
Always remember, as the Psalmists urge us, to recount the deeds of the Lord and praise Him for His many blessings even in the midst of tribulation. For it is this worship, done habitually, that both humbles and empowers us as we remain in the presence of God who is able to turn all things to good for the good of those who love Him!
Lord, thank you for seeing us through this past year and returning to where we could not have gone for so long. Please engage us in the work you would have us do to build your church and encourage one another as fellow brothers and sisters. Keep us steadfast in times of trouble and prayerful in action, always looking to Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. These things we pray in His holy name, amen!
Song: Build My Life - Pat Barrett
Text Nehemiah 4-6 (Ps. 48)
Observe Chapter 4 begins with an angry man. The Samaritan leader Sanballat and his henchmen mock the Jews’ wall-building efforts. Nehemiah, ever close to the Lord, (4-5,9) prays for wisdom, so the workers now carry weapons and tools, with half building and the others guarding, and a trumpet signal to muster when enemies attack (15-23), with a reminder to trust the Lord.
Internal oppression poses another problem: Jewish officials collect interest from their own poor who must borrow to survive, or they sell their children into debt slavery (Lev. 25:39). Nehemiah publicly rebukes the officials and exhorts them to fear God. Shamed, they refund what they had extorted. The peoples’ Amen signals their willingness to obey God (5:13).
No armchair CEO, Nehemiah works on the wall alongside the people. In his high position he remains loyal to Artaxerxes the Persian, yet he and his brothers do not claim their perks (14). He cannot live in comfort while his people are in need; meanwhile, he provides generously for his workers (18).
Again Sanballat, still conspiring against Nehemiah to stop the work, issues four invitations to meet (6:2,4). Nehemiah sees through the ruse and refuses to come, citing a prior commitment. Frustrated, Sanballat sends an accusing letter (a scam) to him. So, Nehemiah wonderfully prays, But now, O God, strengthen my hands (9c).
The priest Shemaiah has a go at Nehemiah. Meet me at the Temple. Sorry, can’t do, says wise Nehemiah. I cannot enter the holy place. Discerning a false prophet, he cries out a “Remember” prayer. (14; 5:19; 13:14,22,31)
On 25 Elul (Oct 2), after 52 days of hard labour the wall is finished. The opposition fell greatly in their own esteem (16) as they witness God’s power. We began with an angry man; we end with angry men -- the nobles and Tobiah, Sanballat’s ally, keep threatening Nehemiah. Nehemiah appoints a God-fearing man as governor.
Interpret Nehemiah chronicles a massive work of reconstruction – just think of the limited technology of the time!
Through Nehemiah’s gifts of leadership and organization, God reignites the Jews’ desire for renewed life in Him as each diligently completes a section of wall. As for Nehemiah, we note constant prayer before and during his many challenges. He does nothing without honest prayer – a pattern for us!
Mockery, criticism, anger do not deter this faithful man of God. His enemies’ feeble weapon of choice is bullying, only increasing the Jews’ faith in God and enthusiasm for the megaproject. Nehemiah (“Yahweh comforts”) is a truly Godly leader: hard-working, just, gentle, humble, wise, obedient, generous, committed to prayer (14 are recorded) work, and his Lord. Through Nehemiah, God re-forms the exiles into people of God, whom they had forgotten.
Apply One person can significantly influence others. God put us where we are for His purposes (“Bloom where you’re planted.” Thanks, Rev. Kim!). Nehemiah’s attitude to his workers, his enemies, his Lord, reveals his heart of compassion, grounded in prayer. Our attitude can then bless our work: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col. 3:17).
Let’s consider our Godly leadership and staff at St Aidan’s -- no armchair CEOs here! Their prayers for us, hard work and the power of the Holy Spirit are growing us into Christ-centred people. We pray and care for them, becoming Real Church, bound together in Christ and His purposes as we His people face increasing opposition.
Ask Who has/had significant influence in my spiritual life? What attracted me to them, and through them to the Lord of my salvation? What influence do I have on others by God’s work in my life?
Pray Lord, put me to work for You. Bring me in prayer to You. Keep me bound to You. Strengthen me to stand up for You. Help me to love You, for apart from You I have no good thing.
Ps 48: City of Elohim by James Block
Ps 48: Great is the Lord by Karl Kohlhase
Ps 48: Great is the Lord by Richard Smallwood
Text: Nehemiah 1-3
We are introduced to the cupbearer for the Persian king, Artaxerxes: Nehemiah, who is burdened by the report about the Jewish remnant back in Jerusalem. Nehemiah had learned that there was trouble and disgrace because of the broken and burnt walls and gates of the city. In mourning, Nehemiah prayed and fasted, petitioning God to hear his cry, to forgive the sins of the Israelites and to remember his promises to Moses, that if the people return to Him, He will gather them from exile and bring them back to “the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name”. Furthermore, Nehemiah prayed for favor from the king of Persia.
Later, when Nehemiah was serving the king wine, the king happened to notice and inquire about Nehemiah’s state of grief. Though he is afraid, Nehemiah tells the king about Jerusalem’s disgrace. The king responds to Nehemiah’s saddened heart by asking Nehemiah what he wants. After sending up a quick prayer, Nehemiah boldly asks the king to send him to Judah with the resources needed to rebuild the walls and gates of the city. Because God’s grace was on Nehemiah, the king granted his request.
Nehemiah makes the journey to Jerusalem and under the cloak of darkness, he examines the perimeter of the city. Afterwards, he tells the Jews, the priests, the nobles and officials about his mission and they agree to start building. Chapter 3 describes who helped rebuild which gates and sections of the wall.
Let’s zoom out and take a big picture look at this historical account:
Nehemiah experiences a heartfelt burden for a need he becomes aware of. He takes this need to the Lord through prayer and fasting and recalls the promises of God available to him and the people of Israel. He also asks for favourable circumstances. When an opportune moment arises, Nehemiah acts courageously and with boldness to make the need known to someone who could help the situation. He is granted favour and he, himself leads the effort to remedy the situation.
The author of Hebrews invites us to boldly, with confidence, approach God’s throne of grace so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Nehemiah’s life is a great model of this. Not only does he put faith in God’s mercy and grace to help him, he makes himself personally available to the Lord to be the solution to the problem he is grieved about. In this way, God uses Nehemiah as a vessel to bring restoration to Judah.
Have you ever considered that the issues that grieve, bother or annoy you may carry with them the opportunity to influence positive change? How might you follow Nehemiah’s example in approaching God’s throne of mercy and grace? Are you an available vessel to God that he might use you to bring His presence and His will into the dark places that need His light?
Lord, thank you for the many promises available to me in your Word. Help me to look at difficult circumstances with faith and help me to recognize the opportune moments you provide. Help me to consider how you want to use me to influence and change the negative situations that burden my heart.
Lord, Prepare Me by Timothy Reddick
I don’t believe there is much here to interpret except to try to understand what God would say to us today. I think that something to consider is that when our lives and the lives of our families are embedded in a sinful culture, it will take some careful thought and planning on how to eradicate the opportunities for sin. Perhaps this is one of the occasions where Jesus would say to us – Consider the cost before you come to follow me—compare with the story of the rich young ruler (Matt 19:16-24).
Have I closed all the open pathways that lead me to sin against God? In other words, is there anything I’m still involved in that leads me away from God?
Search me oh God and see if there be any wicked way in me? Then lead me in the way everlasting (Ps.139:23-24).
Search me oh God
Text: (EZRA Chapters 1-7)
OBSERVE: In the first six chapters of the book of Ezra, we read about Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel led the first wave of exiles back to their former homeland sometime between 520-515 BC. This became a possibility in 538 BC after the Decree of Cyrus (King of Persia), which allowed the Jewish people to return to their homeland. Despite many barriers and struggles, Zerubbabel is eventually successful in rebuilding the temple although it provided only partial restoration of the prophetic hopes of the people.
There is then a 50 year gap between chapters six and seven. It is in chapter seven that we begin to read about the memoirs of Ezra who headlined the second wave of the exiles to the land in 458 BC. He was a priest and a teacher in the Torah, which made him a very important part of the community. His life is best summed up with one verse: “Ezra had determined to study and obey the law of the Lord and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel” (Ezra 7:10).
INTERPRET: The returning exiles needed someone who could teach the Torah, as many would have been unfamiliar with it during their time in Babylon. Ezra was chosen by God for this important task and had God’s good hand on him. Ezra came from a long line of priests, going all the way back to Aaron himself, the first high priest. To know, understand, obey, and teach God’s law was Ezra’s heart commitment, the direction of his life and the intention of his soul. Ezra was chosen by God to help bring spiritual renewal to the people, much in the same way that Jesus would do when he arrived. Jesus would perfectly fulfill Ezra’s agenda: studying the law form the beginning to end, doing it with perfection.
APPLICATION: Just like Ezra, Jesus’ heart and energy were attuned to studying the Word of God. At just twelve years of age, Jesus was discovered in the temple with the religious leaders listening and asking questions (Luke 2: 46-47). Also, like Ezra, Jesus was determined to obey the law of the Lord and his obedience was not automatic, it was authentic. And finally, like Ezra, Jesus taught the scriptures to the people of Israel. Ezra had provided the teaching that the people needed in order to understand, obey and share with others. It was not enough for the people to just be present in the land. Their physical presence alone would just lead to spiritual complacency, which again would have led them right back into exile. While Ezra pointed those he taught to the law of God and the God of the law, Jesus pointed to himself as the fulfillment of all that the law taught.
Today, we need to consistently learn about our God to be able to faithfully serve him and point others to Jesus. The scriptures provide us with this knowledge and we need to be diligent to learn the scriptures so that we can be faithful in our service and witness.
REFLECTION: Have you been determined to study and obey the Word of God?
PRAYER: Jesus; you said that the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher. And this is what my heart seeks most in my life – to know, obey and righty handle your Word of Truth. AMEN
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.