Daniel 5:1-12 (The setup)
Daniel 5:13-30 (The reveal)
The title of this post is a phrase you hear in English, often shortened to the writing’s on the wall as in the writing’s on the wall for Chrysler and GM. The implication is that the end is near and that it is obvious for everyone but those very close to the party.
The source is Daniel. The new Neo-Babylonian King is having a party and commanded that all the stuff from Solomon’s temple be brought to it. They proceed to use it for debauchery. A ghostly hand appears and writes on the wall. This is obviously not a good sign, but nobody in the court can read the message.
The queen, who for some reason wasn’t at the debauchery, reminds the new king that Nebuchanezzer had someone who was good at this stuff – Daniel. Daniel appears and tells the King: 1) Your days are numbered, 2) You have personally been found wanting and 3) Your kingdom is going to fall. Daniel reaps the reward as “3rd ruler in the kingdom”, but the kingdom falls that night as the king was was slain.
As sinful humans we have an amazing capacity to not read the handwriting. I’d bet old Daniel wouldn’t have even needed the words on the wall to deliver that message. God drops us notes all the time in our lives. Coincidences might be one of those notes. If there is a personal God who cares about his people and the world, don’t you think he’d send a warning or a wake-up call every now and then? Now if he just sent an angel, or the hand appeared every time, it wouldn’t exactly be our actions. But the next time you hear a sermon that you think is aimed at you, or your mother calls at just the right time, or you find yourself talking with an old friend you haven’t contacted in years, ask yourself – is the handwriting on the wall for something? What might God be trying to say?
I was struck by the like from Luke 24:41 about disbelief because of joy. The personal context was the birth of our third child – Ethan Isaiah. The main reflection of the sermon is the way that we often pit happiness against joy, or substitute happiness for joy. The true Christian birthright is joy. Joy in plenty and joy in sorrow. Joy is eternal while happiness is fleeting. That is because the resurrection of Jesus, standing there in the midst of the disciples, points at the fact that death does not have the last word. All promise does not end in dissipation. Instead they find completion in the Risen Lord. We may not always be happy. I am not happy that my house in St. Louis has not sold, but I am still joyful. Changing diapers I’m sure is not anyone’s idea of happiness, but it is a joy.
Daniel 2:31-49 (Image of Gold, Silver, Bronze, Iron, Clay)
Daniel 3:1-18 (Image of God – Fiery Furnace 1)
Daniel 3:19-30 (Fiery Furnace 2)
Daniel 4:1-18 (The King’s new dream)
Daniel 4:19-27 (Daniel’s Interpretation & Plea for repentance)
Daniel 4:28-37 (Fulfillment of the dream)
Those were the readings in Daniel since I last posted (Sorry, Ethan Isaiah is too cute). I have to be truthful, I am absolutely stuck as to what the heck Daniel 4 is doing in the book. But, Dan 2 and 3 are staples. If you have read any of the popular end of the world books Daniel 2 or the image usually appears in them. And this image is also at the center of scholarly debate. Ask any scholar what the legs of iron represent and you have a pretty good litmus test for that person’s view of scripture. The person with a high view of scripture will probably answer Rome. That person assumes that the Book was written in the late 500s BC and has no problem with predictive prophecy. Others would probably answer Greece. They deny predictive prophecy and so the last empire/section of the image has to the one in power at the supposed time of writing. They would answer Daniel was written in 164 BC, becuase Daniel describes events up until that time, and so the empire must be Greece.
But all of that is to miss the real important piece. A rock, not made from human hands, destroys the image and covers the entire world. God sets up His kingdom that will not be overcome but will overcome the kingdoms and empires of the world. Deep in the OT we hear the proclamation of the Gospel. The kingdom of God is coming and all before it will be swept away. Those ancient empires are long gone. Even the empires of the east have fallen. And the gospel message of Christ has been growing and has been proclaimed around the globe. Empires have risen and empires have fallen – empires of gold (excuse my bias but the British Empire was pretty golden) to Empires of mixed Iron and Clay (WW2 Germany, Italy, Japan). The message of the church still stands and grows. Don’t worship the empire (the image), but worship Christ the Rock on which the church stands.
When I was working in corporate America one of our major activities was fielding the impossible request. When I worked the impossible request was always a balancing of three items: usually increase unit revenue, increase unit gross profit and do that without impacting cross unit sales. All sales were cross unit, so there was always another internal group involved. Getting two out of three was easy. We could always increase our revenue by raising price and the %GP would go up also, but that would hurt ancillary sales. We could raise revenue (by selling more widgets) and leave the other units untouched by taking a hit to our %GP (The revenue per widget was less). We could even leave the other units untouched and raise our %GP by raising price accoss the board (the demand curve was not that elastic), but then our total revenue would decline. We always eventually ended up in “come to Jesus” meetings where the total deal was skinned and the cross unit executives stopped being parochial and had a heart warming kum-bah-yah moment each giving up what they could at the moment. But until that moment, the internal fighting was brutal. We would spend 80 hour weeks making up arguments for why we should get the bigger portion. Just scheduling the meeting was “giving up your side” and no deal could be made until the end of the quarter anyway.
The King of Babylon has a dream and he tells his advisors tell me and interpret my dream. What? How can we know what you dreamed? An impossible request. And this guy is serious as heads were on the line. Daniel and his friends pray, and God reveals the dream. Notice who Daniel gives the credit too and what he tells the king. Nobody here can grant your request. But there is a God who can and has given us the revelation. Daniel confronts the King and tells him this is from God. This guy is fearless. That is not how humans work. But Daniel is not ultimately serving humans. He is a minister to the King, but he serves God first.
In many ways that is God’s impossible request. He says live in the world, but don’t be of it. And we botch that all the time. But, Jesus Christ lived in this world. God lived among us, but he did the will of his Father. Jesus didn’t grab for the glory first. That is what Satan offered him at the start of the Gospels. Jesus lived in this world to the cross to fulfill the Father’s will. Daniel is an OT shadow of that service. Jesus is the fulfillment to for our benefit.
The old testament readings in the daily reading series just started to take us through the book of Daniel. Since it is now after Easter, I hope to get back on track with these posts and a new book seems like a good place to start. Daniel is also one of the names if it is a boy we might use for our expected baby. Daniel as a book is also one of the most critically challenged books, at the same time having some of the highest homage paid to it by Jesus himself. Jesus quotes from it in Matt 24:15. Jesus also takes the name he calls himself – The Son of Man – from Daniel 7:13-14. All those seem to be good reasons to take a devotional look at Daniel.
Daniel is a book of opposites. It has the sunday school staples of the firey-furnace, the lion’s den and the infamous source of the phrase “the writing on the wall”. Daniel also has apocalypic visions that are opaque and not used in Sunday School. The book itself is composed in two languages – Hebrew and Aramaic. The stidently Jewish Daniel is the star of the Babylonian court. The typical jewish attitude toward gentile rulers is absent and instead these Easter Emperors are the servants of God. Those gulfs in the book stradle to today. Critical scholars want to date the book to the 2nd century BC. Traditional dating is the 6th century BC. That 400 year gap is larger than even the gap between a traditional dating of the exodus and the alternative timeline. A book of opposites.
The opening is of four children of Jewish nobility being instructed out of their tradition while in exile. They get new names. They learn new languages and alphabets, and they are expected to eat the finest the court has to offer (probably pork.) But instead of swallowing it all, the four are graced by God. They adapt to the profitable and reject the dangerous. They maintain their idenity in the face of what surely looks like the better and wiser path. And they maintain that identity while not rejecting or scorning the good of the gentile kingdom. This is something God has ordained. They will not worship the kingdom, or follow its ways, but they will support it with the best they have been blessed with. In Jeremiah’s words they pray for the wellbeing of the place they have be exiled to.
Is that not the same situation of many Christian children today? After being brought up in the faith, they are exiled away from parents and supporting people to a university – a place surrounded by all the wonderful good things that this kingdom has to offer. New knowledge, new languages, new foods and the opportunity to put on a new identity. I’m at a loss to pull a solution from the passage as it just says that Daniel resolved not to assimilate. Daniel asked those is charge to eat the Jewish diet. And God graced Daniel with understanding teachers and gave him learning and skill and wisdom. Maybe the idea is prayer and preparation. Preparation in that it is a parents job to teach a child and form in them a sense of identity. Prayer in that once that formation is finished, you pray for God’s grace to sustain them. No magic bullet. Just years of work followed by years of prayer.
I first should apologize for the hash this sermon was. The Gospel of John does that to me. I think I am going to swear off preaching on John for about 20 years. Maybe then I will have the wisdom to do it well.
I had been reading a book, partly for pleasure and partly to see what “pop spirituality” looked like today. I have a heavy tendency to be serious, or maybe that should be a serious tendency to be heavy in my reading. It is a stock joke in my family the books I bring to the beach. One year it was Modern Times by Paul Johnson and another Luther’s commentary on Galatians. Knowing full well that is not typical, every now and then I need to pick up something lighter. Usually that mean P. D. James or another mystery writer. Not this time. And that book got in my thought processes.
John reaches out of his story at John 20:30-31 and points at Jesus. Especially Lutheran, but Christian Theology and religion, is fundamentally outward focuses. Article 2 of the Augsburg Confession is Original Sin. The first T in Calvin’s TULIP is total depravity. Anything that comes from within us is corrupt and suspect. The wholly other God comes from outside of us, and through no merit or work of ours, saves us through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Christian life starts with that work of God and proceeds outword. God does not free us from ourselves to ponder our stomachs, but to tell others about the person of Jesus Christ. And that is what John does in those verses. He’s telling his reader the entire purpose for his writing is that you might believe in Jesus.
That pop spirituality book was Eat, Pray, Love. The path of the author is one fundamentally of Easter Religion or just what I would call the religions of the world. They all boil down to “if I do something hard enough (work/meditate/etc) then I will find and please God.” The further East you go, the more that religion turns one inward to the point of “finding the God within.” You are only guilty or lost or [insert bad feeling here] becuase your mind has separated you from the God-hood inside of you. Eat, Pray, Love beautifully/horribly captures this path. And that path is exactly opposite what the Apostle John says.
Kipling wrote the line – East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet. In the globalized world unfortunately they do seem to meet, and with disasterous spiritual effects for those spiritually unprepared, like the author of Eat, Pray, Love.
This morning, about 4 AM, my wife pushes me and says she thinks its time and adds she is having contractions about 4 minutes apart. At 4 AM when I heard that I was thinking more about how to deliver a child than driving to the hospital becuase this thing is coming now. The 4 minutes things soon subsided. She got up and made the proper calls and walked around and what were felt to be contractions subsided or at least slowed way down. (While daddy is running around throwing the necessary stuff in the car only to be told not just yet.) The labor pains are starting, but not 4 mins apart. New life is on its way.
That seems a little like the drawing near of the kingdom to us. We are all pregnant (Romans 8:22-23) and can feel the pangs of our future glory. Sometimes the kingdom is as near as a 4 AM wakeup call with contractions 4 minutes about. And sometimes it says not quite yet. Babies and God both have their own timing. The thing that we do not have to worry about is the end. Babies are born. The Kingdom will be revealed in our flesh just as it is now in Jesus Christ.
With that note, here is the Easter Sermon. It was a glorious day. The congregation even drowned out the trombone. He is Risen!…He is Risen Indeed. Alelluia!
Mark’s Palm Sunday Text (Mark 11:1-11) ends oddly. “Jesus looked around and it being late went back out to Bethay with his disciples.” The donkey, the cloaks and the palms, the hosannas and the shouts, all end with a quick look around and a walk back out. The question to ask is who are we welcoming – The Kingdom/Son of David or the Kingdom/Son of God. The Kingdom of David restores and refreshes all the stuff that we like. To those hailing Jesus that day that meant kicking out the Romans, making all the nations bow to Israel, restoring the proper temple worship and priesthood. The Kingdom of David says “have it your way.” The Kingdom of God says “pick up your cross and follow me.” Welcoming the Kingdom of David is easy, but there is no life. The presence of the Lord has left the temple and razed it. The Kingdom of David is like a showy tree full of leaves or palm branches, but that never produces any fruit or coconuts. Are there any areas in your life where you are shouting hosanna for the coming kingdom of David – and you are missing the life, the drawing near of the Kingdom of God?
Jeremiah prophesied for forty years or so – the judgement is coming, a day of the Lord is at hand. But there were a large number of prophets in the land. The larger bunch of them with that title shouted peace! prosperity! And they had the better share of the argument for most of that time. Jeremiah even lashes out at the Lord Jeremiah 20:7 – “O LORD, you have deceived me…I have become a laughingstock all the day.” It would be hard to fault Jeremiah for sending a “Ha, I told you so” letter. That is not what he sends. He tells the exiles to make a life in their new land – build, marry and grow larger. Pray for the welfare of Babylon because its welfare is yours. He does get in his digs, but not in a snotty way. He just tells the exiles to not be decieved by the “prophets” among them – they are not from the Lord. And He leaves them with a promise from God – “In 70 years I will bring you back. I have plans for you.”
Do we find ourselves in exile in a strange land? Has everythign that we have known seemingly been pulled out from under us? God’s answer is not opposition or withdrawl or nostalgia. God says stay engaged and pray. He has plans for his people. God always has plans for His people. That promise given was to those exiles specifically, but it does take on broader views. “I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have driven you.” Those Israelites were in Babylon. The church is spread throughout all nations. God has a plan for His people.