Sunday, February 5, 2023

DANIEL 2 “HOW GOD TURNS A NIGHTMARE INTO HIS GLORIOUS PURPOSES”

 


Last year in June 2022 I visited the British Museum for the second time. The British Museum  must be one  of the  greatest testimonies  to the historicity of the  OT  Scriptures, for there we find  the histories  of  biblical cultures, including the histories of the  Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Jews.   In this museum there is a clay tablet [Inscription language: Akkadian; Inscription script: cuneiform] that describes Nebuchadnezzar’s first campaign against Jerusalem in 597 BC. The tablet covers the period of 12 years from the 21st  year of Nabopolassar (605 BC, which was also Nebuchadnezzar’s accession year), through to the 11th year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign.

Clay tablet : British Museum

In 2011 we also had the privilege  of visiting the  Pergamon Museum in Berlin where we saw  the Ishtar  gate. This gate was built at the northern side of the city of Babylon by  king Nebuchadnezzar II. The gate was  excavated by a German archaeological team lead by Robert Koldewey from 1902-1914. A complete reconstruction is now found in the Pergamon Museum. The inscription of the Ishtar Gate is written in Akkadian cuneiform in white and blue glazed bricks and was a dedication by Nebuchadnezzar to explain the gate's purpose. The inscription is 15 meters tall by 10 meters wide and includes 60 lines of writing.[1].

Ishtar gate ( Babylon) - Pergamon Museum, Berlin

We are talking about a real person in history.

In Daniel 1 we have considered the history   of this book. We are talking about the 6th century BC and  we have previously learned that the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar  have  conquered Jerusalem  and have taken many of its prominent citizens into  captivity, some 800 kilometers east of Jerusalem. The book focusses on the story of 4 young men taken from the Hebrew nobility. The leading character is Daniel. We saw  that these young men were trained for the Babylonian service. We also saw that they excelled  in this with God’s help (1:17).

OUTLINE       

1.       2:1-16  Nebuchadnezzar's dream :  a. He calls the wise men of Babylon to interpret it.    b. They cannot do it - he orders their execution  c. Daniel diffuses the dangerous situation

2.       2: 17 -23 Daniel prays to God for a revelation of the dream.  a. God reveals the dream to Daniel b. Daniel's prayer of praise and thanksgiving

3.       2: 24 – 49 Daniel before Nebuchadnezzar : a. Declares that he is able to reveal contents of the dream  b. Interprets the dream  c. Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction  d. Daniel's promotion

     1.   2: 1 – 16 NEBUCHADNEZZAR'S DREAM

The second chapter starts with king Nebuchadnezzar having a dream, a nightmare (2:1). We know with hindsight, that this was not an ordinary dream. It was a dream which the sovereign God of the Universe gave him – and not Marduk  the Babylonian god.  This dream troubled him so much that he was left sleepless (2:1). Nebuchadnezzar does not know this yet and neither can he understand the meaning of this dream. And so he calls   his wise men (2:2) not only to   interpret - but to tell him the contents of the dream. After all  this was what was expected of  them. This is  what they were paid to do.  From another perspective this was a  subtle move. After all, how would Nebuchadnezzar know that their interpretation would be correct? He needed more than an interpretation. He needed assurance, that this very troublesome dream had substance.   

And so in  1:4ff  we find  that this was  one thing  the Chaldeans, or the wise men could not do. They considered themselves interpreters of dreams, and  not ‘revealers  of dreams‘.  And they answer him in the Aramaic language[2].  In the original manuscript which begins in Hebrew, the script now changes to  Syriac /Aramaic  and continues  until the end of Chapter 7.  They   want Nebuchadnezzar to tell them the dream. They readily confess in 2:10 that they cannot do this. They reckon that only the 'gods'  could reveal this to the King - but there was no possibility of that happening either since 'their dwelling is not with flesh’ [2:11]. This is a very interesting statement. This shows us really how useless their pagan religion is.  When things really matter, these so called gods cannot deliver[3] .   According to these wise men these gods are far away, and they cannot be involved in our world. How different is that from Daniel’s view. The God whom Daniel knows is the God who is near (see 2:28) and who can be spoken to in prayer. This is the God who helps His people, the God who is omniscient  and who  is able to  reveal mysteries, because He knows the heart and minds  of all. He will reveal this dream to Daniel. He is also ONE God, not many. In fact He is the sovereign  God of the Universe who reveals Himself to people  by way of (i) General revelation: by what has been made; created order (Ps.19; Rom.1:19-20)  (ii) Special Revelation: Theophanies / angels, by  His prophets, and  LAST of all – though  Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Hebr. 1:1).

Incidentally , the further away we perceive  God to be, the more need we have for intermediaries.  That is sadly  why Roman Catholics generally  do not address  God the Father, in the Name of Jesus, by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. They will sooner pray to saints and to Mary, but they feel that they cannot reach God. He is too distant. In the same way many world religions have a concept of a supreme God, but they cannot relate to him, and therefore they will speak to intermediaries. In Africa it is common to speak to ancestors/ the dead etc.

None of these men could reach their gods and therefore they could not interpret the dream.  Now this made Nebuchadnezzar quite determined to put an ultimatum before them:  No telling of dream and no interpretation – painful death ;  tell the dream and interpretation – gifts, rewards and great honour. But, as the wise men insist that they are not able to do this, so the king is aroused to fury, and he orders that all of them should be executed (1:12), including  Daniel and his friends, all  trained by the so called wise men of Babylon.  This tells us how intensely the king felt about the need to have this dream interpreted.  This is bad news for the astrologers, enchanters and magicians in Babylon, and it is bad news for Daniel and his friends…  

TURNING POINT : (2:14FF)  We read, that Daniel  with prudence  and discretion  (2:14) asks the captain of the kings guard, Arioch, who would be their executioner, to make  an appointment with the king, with the intention to make the dream known and interpreted. Such was Daniel’s confidence in the  nearness  and ability  of  the God of heaven[4], the God of  my fathers [5], the God of gods and Lord of kings [6]. What a contrast to the Babylonian religion!

 2. 2:17-23 DANIEL ASKS GOD TO REVEAL THIS DREAM

Contrary then  to the wise men, who believe that the gods cannot help  men, we find that Daniel calling upon his friends to join him  in prayer … “ to seek  mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery…”  (2:18). The key is word mercy!  Amongst the many attributes of God, we find the attribute of mercy. God has revealed Himself to be merciful (cf. Ex 34:6).  In the biblical Hebrew language, the word for “mercy”  used here (רחם; racham) shares the same three-letter root as the word for “womb” (רחם; rechem). 

Based on the close linguistic connection between these terms, God’s mercy toward humanity denotes the same kind of divine protection that a baby has in its mother’s womb.  This is profound when considered in its original sense. Daniel is asking his  friends, “Pray now with me  in this great hour of need where we are in real danger of losing our  lives, that  the presence of God would surround us, in the same way in which a baby is surrounded  by the protecting walls of  a  mother’s womb.  My dear fellow believers:  This is who we are and this is who our God is. We come as humble people, often in desperate situations and mindful of our inability, and we place our trust in the God who is near, and who hears prayer and who is more than able to see us through our crises.

The answer comes in 2:19 in response to prayer. Truly God is merciful! “Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night.” Truly there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries (2:28). There is the answer! And there even the lives of the pagan wise men are spared.  Who knows how often the humble prayer of God’s servants in this country and elsewhere has not saved the godless from an early destruction? (see 2:24). Oh friends do not underestimate the value of the presence of a praying church in this nation.

2:19- 23 : The first thing Daniel does in response is praise and thanksgiving.  Praise and thanksgiving are the natural outflow of a believer’s  life when we have obtained  a great deliverance. To God be the glory great things He has done.

3. 2:24 – 49 DANIEL BEFORE NEBUCHADNEZZAR

Now, with God’s help Daniel is able to disclose the contents of the dream. Note, that he is careful to acknowledge the Source from which it comes (see 2:27,28  and also  2:30).

The content of the dream is then accurately related in 2: 31- 35.  The details of the statue are given.  It has 

a. a head of pure gold 

b. chest and arms of silver  

c.  the middle  and thighs of bronze  

d. the feet partly of iron and partly baked clay 

e.  Towards this statue comes a rock cut out of rock, but by no human hands. This rock strikes the feet of iron and clay and smashed them. The statue crumbles and disintegrates, while the rock grows, become a huge mountain, filling the whole earth.

In 2: 36 - 45  follows the interpretation: Notice now how the  details in 2:31 - 35 are interpreted:        a. Nebuchadnezzar is the head of gold- the ruler of a kingdom   

b. The chest and arms of silver represents another, less significant   kingdom [Medo –Persia].   

c. The third Kingdom (represented by the middle - belly and thighs) is made of   bronze will be the next world power [Greece]   

d. The fourth Kingdom, strong as iron (legs of iron, feet partly of iron and clay) smashes all the others,  but since it is made up of   two substances  this indicates that it  is a divided kingdom [ Rome].  

e. The stone must be matched up with 2:44,45. This is the stone sent by the God of heaven. He will set up a Kingdom which will never be destroyed.  Doesn't this language sound familiar to us?

Nebuchadnezzar's response is  twofold: 

a. In 2:46,47 he fell upon his face and paid homage to Daniel  and commanded  that an offering  and incense  be offered up to him  and acknowledged that  Daniel’s God is God of gods  and Lord of kings  and a revealer of mysteries…”   

b. In 2:48,49 he promotes Daniel and his friends to high positions. They were  now  not only saved from destruction, but God had made  them  an  influential people in Babylon. Interesting!

LESSONS FROM THIS CHAPTER

1. God's Word is true:  a. The revelation which God gave to Daniel was true     b. the fulfilment of that vision was true, as we shall later see in the prophetic part , beginning with Daniel 7 – the vision of the 4 beasts.  We know that Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom was taken over  by the Medo-Persians; they in turn were taken over by Greece  (Alexander the Great); he in turn was displaced by the Romans,  divided into a western and eastern part , who  were ruling at the time of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It was in the days  of Rome's rule, that a Stone  cut out by no human hand  came into this world. He was cut out by no human hand, because He existed before all time. He came to establish an everlasting kingdom. Today all  these great kingdoms lie in  the dust.  Christ's kingdom remains and is growing and it will last forever. A chapter like this affirms and renews our confidence in God's Word.

2.  History is in God's hands. God knows all things   and leads all things. It is not sufficient to say, that God foresaw  that these things would happen. "You cannot see the future unless you  control the future" [7].  That is precisely what the Bible  teaches in Acts 17:26  "From one man, He made every nation of men, that they should  inhabit the whole earth and He determined the times set for  them and the exact places where they should live."

3. Human power is very fragile:  In 2:39 Nebuchadnezzar is told, “After you  another  kingdom will arise …”.  “God removes kings and sets up kings…” (2:21). God controls history.   History is not out of control. History is His story.  God knows what He is doing. His kingdom is advancing. The nations may be furious, and people may shake their fists, but the One who is enthroned in the heavens laughs. (Psalm 2). There is no need for us to fear the future of Christ's church, even though we often seem small and insignificant . Stuart Olyott reminds us   that  "God's  ark is going along very well, and we do not need to put our hands out  to steady it"[8].

       



[1]  The Inscription reads:  Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, the pious prince appointed by the will of Marduk, the highest priestly prince, beloved of Nabu, of prudent deliberation, who has learnt to embrace wisdom, who fathomed Their (Marduk and Nabu) godly being and pays reverence to their Majesty, the untiring Governor, who always has at heart the care of the cult of Esagila and Ezida and is constantly concerned with the well being of Babylon and Borsippa, the wise, the humble, the caretaker of Esagila and Ezida, the first born son of Nabopolassar, the King of Babylon, am I.

[2] Aramaic is a Semitic language. It has been written for 3100 years  and has been spoken for longer than that. The Semitic languages include Aramaic, Hebrew, Arabic and many other languages. It was once the most important language in the Middle East.  In the 7th century AD, Aramaic stopped being the most important language in the Middle East. The Arabic language became the new important language. Small groups of people still speak Aramaic in different parts of the Middle East.  Today, between 500,000 and 850,000 people speak Aramaic languages.

 

[3] The same is true  for  the Baal worshippers in their  encounter with Elijah in 1 Kings 17

[4] See  Dan.2:18,19,28,37,44

[5]  Dan. 2:23

[6] Dan 2:47 Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony

[7] Stuart Olyott : Daniel, Evangelical Press, p.34

[8] Ibid, p. 36

Sunday, January 29, 2023

DANIEL CHAPTER 1: "NO COMPROMISE"

 


The big message conveyed by the book of Daniel is that God has His hand firmly not only on the life of individuals – as here in Daniel’s life, but God has His hand firmly upon the events of this world. This is a good book for us as we consider the future with anxious minds, wondering what will happen to this world in which the Babylonian spirit continually challenges our Christian faith. How shall we live in a world that has taken us captive, continually forcing us to accommodate to its standards? The answer is – No compromise on the essentials!  May the book of Daniel be of great  encouragement to us at this time.

The book of Daniel divides into two sections.  The first 6 chapters are told in the third person about Daniel and his friends and their experiences in Babylon. The last 6 chapters are a series of prophetic visions (in first person reports), similar to those visions of John in the book of Revelation. The dating of this writing (by conservative scholars) is around 530 BC.

OUTLINE OF CHAPTER 1

1.      1:1-2 A reflection  on  Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Jerusalem

2.      1:3-7 An introduction to Daniel and His three friends

3.      1:8-16  A resolution  by Daniel and his friends to  take a firm stand  on their principles

4.      1: 17-21 A description of the outcome of their  courageous stand

 

1.      1:1-2  A reflection  on  Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Jerusalem

Our text begins with an historical reflection of a time when God gave Jerusalem into the hands of her enemies: “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah (608 – 597BC), Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the LORD gave Jehoiakim, king of Judah into his hand…”.

Why did God give Jerusalem into the hands of her enemies? This needs some explanation. Long before this, God chose a man called Abraham. He promised that through Him all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Abraham had a family and that family became a nation. That nation by virtue of a severe drought had to move to Egypt, where it remained for 400 years. God called that nation out of Egypt to receive her promised land. They were led out by Moses via the Sinai desert. In the desert they received instructions   concerning the nature of true worship and with it a tent of God’s dwelling and a consecrated priesthood. Under Joshua they eventually settled in the Promised Land. That land was divided among their 12 tribes.  Then the time of the Judges followed. These were deliverers of Israel from her enemies when there was no king in Israel.  This is followed by the period of the kings. The greatest king was David. Following David’s death a king called Rehoboam made  foolish decisions and from that time onward the  kingdom was divided in two. The northern kingdom (capital: Samaria) was made up of 10 tribes,  and the southern  kingdom (capital: Jerusalem) was made up  of  2 tribes. These two kingdoms developed a complicated relationship – and it was mostly bad. Essentially the NK was ruled by wicked kings, leading to God’s judgement (key prophet: Isaiah). The Assyrians dismantled the NK in 722BC. The SK continued for another 100 years. Their kings were a mixture of good and bad.  Evil began to dominate and again God acted in judgement (key prophet: Jeremiah).  Over a period of 21 years (605- 586 BC) the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar dismantled the SK and carried most of its people into Babylonian exile. Babylon was found in ancient Mesopotamia. The ruins of the city of Babylon lie in modern-day Iraq about 90 km’s southwest of Baghdad.  The ultimate reasons for Israel’s demise were not the mighty Assyrians, nor the powerful Babylonians. The primary reason given is this: “And the LORD gave Jehoiakim, king of Judah into his hand…” (1:2). The LORD had handed them over (echoes of Romans 2), because Judah, like her northern sister had committed spiritual adultery and apostasy from the living God. 

The lessons from these first 2 verses are obvious.  God does not ignore sin. Disobedience to God always carries a heavy price tag. Please note that God had been truly patient with Israel. God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…”[1]. God always leaves ample room for repentance. Time and again, He sent His prophets to warn His wayward people (see Jer. 7:25). But the nation would not listen. They ignored, mocked, despised and even mistreated God's prophets. But He will not ignore sin. He is the consistently holy God who must, and who will deal with all sin, all that is opposed to His holy nature, in His time. God's patience means that judgement does not come immediately.  

The story is told of a newspaper in the American Mid-West, which  printed the letter of an atheist farmer who, to disprove the beliefs of his Christian neighbours, had devoted a certain portion of his land to the planting of  corn, doing every bit of work on this section on Sunday. He wrote, "I find that in September I have more bushels of corn per acre on that  part of my land worked exclusively on Sunday than my neighbours have on their land, which they did not work on Sunday. Doesn't that prove that there is no God?"  The editor who was a Christian man responded, brief and to the point: "No! That does not prove that there is no God. It simply proves that God does not always settle His accounts in September."

Dear people fear God and hate sin. Remember that God hates sin, and if He permits it to go unchecked for a while in your life it is simply to give you an opportunity to repent. But there will be a day of accounting for all who persist in evil (cf. Rom. 2:3 - 6).

And now we find ourselves zoomed into  a small group of  Jewish  young men that had been carried into exile.  This is where we find ourselves now in the book of Daniel.

2.      1:3-7 AN INTRODUCTION TO  DANIEL AND HIS THREE FRIENDS

The Babylonian strategy was to take the cream from every nation they had conquered, and to assimilate these into the Babylonian civil service. Ashpenaz (1:3) here was a eunuch in Nebuchadnezzar’s service. His job was to train some of the captured Hebrew young men. Here were four of them. They were to enter into a comprehensive programme of re-        education, whereby the whole spectrum of Babylonian learning was going to be instilled into their young minds.  Their names were changed. 

DANIEL  -"God has judged" becomes Belteshazzar, "keeper of the hidden treasures of Bel";  HANANIAH - "God has been gracious" becomes Shadrach, "the inspiration of  the sun", which the Babylonians worshipped.  MISHAEL -"He that is the strong God" becomes Meschach, "of the goddess 'Shach'.  AZARIAH - "The Lord has helped" becomes Abednego, "the servant of the shining fire", which they worshipped also.  Babylon already has their bodies captive and now it wants their minds too. Nebuchadnezzar wants them to dress as they dress in Babylon, and speak as they speak in Babylon, and behave as they behave in Babylon, and even eat what they eat in Babylon.”[2] For this purpose he chose these young, intelligent, agile, fertile minds, the young trees whose stems he could bend. The Roman Catholic  denomination of the Jesuits had a saying,   “Give me the child for the first seven years and I'll give you the man.” The problem was that these young men (boys)  had spent their first 7 years  instructed  by the law of God and. They knew the God of the law.

       3.  1:8-16  A resolution by Daniel and  friends to  take a firm stand  on their principles

Nebuchadnezzar chose not only to re-educate these youths, but to also rename them. He also commanded that they should receive food from the king’s table. Now it is significant that with all these changes Daniel chose to draw a line in the matter of food:  "Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food or the wine he drank ..."(1:8).   He did not object to being trained in “the literature and language of the Babylonians” (1:4). When they were given new names (1:7) he said nothing. After all, they knew  their real names, whatever else someone else chose to call them. But when it came to the matter of food (1:5,8) he would not conform. What was the issue here? Apparently, every Babylonian kingly meal began with an act of pagan worship, and so they refused to eat this food on grounds of their reverence for the God of Israel. [3]  This food was dedicated to false gods  and therefore it  was defiled.  Daniel chose a hill to die on.

Now they ran a very great risk of offending the king and the Babylonian court officials, but Daniel graciously insisted, that they should be tested, whether they would in fact be any worse off, if they did not eat the King's food. As Daniel resolves to honour God in this situation, so God undertakes   for Daniel in that situation.  Ashpenaz  is sympathetic to them 1:9 - a great hurdle crossed!

4.         1: 17-21 A description of the outcome of their courageous stand

Truly, the great principle and promise contained in 1 Samuel 2:30 is in operation here: God says: “Those who honour me, I will honour; but those who despise me will be despised.” God honours Daniel and his friends for their courageous stand. The vital lesson found here is simply this: Nobody loses out by refusing to compromise. They did not lose Ashpenaz’s respect; they kept their heads; their health was excellent, and they had received so much more from God in terms of supernatural wisdom and understanding (1:17). From God's point of view - they had been faithful in little; so He could trust them with much in the future.  If Daniel had not stood firm at this point, if he had compromised, could he possibly have   stood firm later in the fiery furnace (3:8ff)  or in the  lion’s den (6:1ff) ?

“And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus” (1: 21).   This final verse of the chapter is fast forwarded. Let’s get perspective. Who was Cyrus? He was a Persian ruler who took over Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian kingdom in 539BC.  The mighty Babylon of the beginning (1:1-2) is now  gone at the end of this chapter. Nebuchadnezzar is dead and gone and Daniel, God’s servant now in his 80’s is still there. Kings are coming and kings going, world empires are  rising and falling, but Daniel still there until the first year of King Cyrus. 70 years later here is still there!  He has outlived his  enemies.

We shall see in future  chapters  that this young man of God, Daniel, who had been taken as a prisoner to Babylon would have an extraordinary influence in that empire.

And  what  an unforgettable year that first year of Cyrus was, when an edict was passed that God’s people could return to Jerusalem in accordance with the prophecy made by Jeremiah [Jeremiah 25:8-14 ; 29:10-14]. 

The greatest reason why  God’s people still existed in Babylon, and why the faith of Israel had not been extinguished  is because there was a man like  Daniel  who had kept the faith, who had not compromised, on whose legacy by the grace of God  men and women  - women like Esther and men like Mordechai  would build  their faith.

Through the grace of God Daniel knew some things better than the greatest men in all the world. May you too know your God better in 2023 . 



[1] Ex 34:6-7; see also Num. 14:18; Psalms 86:15, 103:8, 145:8; Neh. 9:17; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2

[2] Sermon : Geoff Thomas

[3]  In 1 Corinthians 8  Paul deals with the matter of food offered to idols and the Christians’ conscience

Monday, January 23, 2023

MATTHEW 5:4 BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN

 


The Sermon on the Mount in general, and the Beatitudes in particular, are truths spoken 
to Christ's disciples (5:1). This is not an evangelistic sermon. This is all about the application of the gospel which. It is a discipleship lesson. It is the exposition  of  the  Christian worldview. Francis Schaeffer called this  the Christian Manifesto. This is the faith that we are called to live out before the world.

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7) begins with 8 characteristics of true Christian discipleship (Matt 5: 1-12).  These are unusual characteristics. They are out of character with the world in which we live, but they carry God’s approval. The Lord calls these that bear these characteristics as blessed or happy. To be blessed or happy is surely the desire of every man and woman in this world.  Here is God’s way to ultimate happiness in this world!

Our world at large and the Word of God have fundamentally a different set of values.  The Beatitudes in particular make that very clear.  This is obvious as we now consider the second beatitude - “Blessed are they that mourn”. At face value this is an absurd statement.  How can one that mourns be blessed? The biblical logic here evades the mind which is governed by conventional thinking. Conventionally our world doesn’t deal well with pain and suffering and ultimately death, which produce this state of mourning. Entire industries have been established to deal with this problem of sadness and mourning - pharmaceutical and medical and psychological.  A lot of money is spent on escaping pain, be it physical, emotional or of a spiritual nature. And generally we avoid conversations that cause us sadness and mourning. Have you noticed that when we meet someone and ask, “How are you?”, they will generally  answer, “Fine, thank you”, despite the   fact that   they might be screaming inside – “I am not ok - would  somebody help me please!”. We are so conditioned by our world to look good, feel good and to speak positive thoughts  into life so  that thoughts of sadness or mourning are desperately excluded. We see this particularly in the Western attitudes to death and mourning.  Western funeral services are generally short, they avoid coffins and burials and try to get things over and done with in a hurry. Healthy grieving is a rarity.  We want to get away from mourning over the harsh realities that govern our  world.

But Jesus says here that those who mourn are the ones that are ultimately blessed or happy, and they will be comforted. In the parallel account in Luke 6:21b there is an even more striking statement of this truth: “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.  What does He mean? What is He getting at?

Jesus statement  goes beyond thoughts of  conventional  mourning.  He is not referring to those who mourn  or weep in  the most common  sense e.g. the loss of a loved one, the loss of health or the loss of material possessions and the like.  He goes far deeper. He is going to the root of the problem- the ultimate cause of all mourning. The profoundest problem which this world faces is the problem of sin, and the way in which this adversely affects all people. Jesus is speaking about a sense of mourning which is induced by the knowledge of what sin is and does. 

Similarly, in the previous verse we see that poverty of spirit does not refer to economic or intellectual poverty.  He goes deeper, to the root of the problem. He speaks about our spiritual poverty – our inability to see the world as God sees it – a world so disfigured and marred by sin.

And so when Jesus is speaking to His disciples, He is speaking to them and to us about an understanding of our own sin and the sin of our world. He speaks to us on the basis of having been redeemed from the awful, eternal consequences of that sin. He speaks to us about our new relationship to this world. That is why these beatitudes are followed by the statements on being the salt of the earth and the light of the world (5:13-16).

And so Jesus is calling those blessed who have an insight into their poverty of spirit. He is calling those blessed  that grieve  and  mourn – who see sin for what it is  and what it does. Only when we see the world as God sees it, and only when we see God’s  solution  to the world’s problem  will we be comforted.  

BACKING THIS UP WITH THE TEACHING OF THE N.T. IN GENERAL

When we seek an example of one who was grieved by the state of the world it was our Lord Jesus Himself. Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones drew my attention to the fact that we never read in the Scripture of the fact that Jesus laughed. We are told that He was angry, that He hungered and thirsted - but there is no record of laughter. Recognizing that an argument from silence is a dangerous one, we must nevertheless pay attention to that fact. The prophecy of Isaiah 53:3 portrays Him essentially as a "man of sorrows and familiar with suffering".  Jesus wept over godless Jerusalem in Lk 19:41-44. He was grieved and angered when he saw the temple abused (Mk. 11:15-17)

In applying this Jesus is calling His disciples to take a good look at themselves. Self- examination in spiritual matters is important.  We see this in Romans7.  Any thorough, honest self- examination will prove the reality of Rom 7:18, "I know that nothing good lives in me....". The Christian says, "For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do...” (Rom.7:15). To mourn is thus something which essentially follows from the first beatitude - being "poor in spirit".  As I contemplate the life that I am   meant to live, I see myself; I see my utter helplessness and  hopelessness, and I must mourn about the fact that I am like that. If we never subject ourselves to that  self- examination  we will never mourn, and therefore we will not be the people that  are ultimately blessed (happy). I need to point out that Paul’s solution, having cried out in 7:24 , “Oh wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”, was the gospel, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

So then, with respect to this second beatitude it is really important that we develop an understanding of the biblical view of sin.  How does God see our world? The Bible describes man as totally depraved and alienated from God (see Romans 3:10-18).  Man is in a sad state, and there is nothing to suggest, that our condition is improving.  Evolutionary theory has suggested that we are evolving –that we are getting better. Based on this assumption modern Psychology (the study of the psuchē- the soul) treats man as basically good. Psychology ignores  the  biblical doctrine of sin, and says that   the basic problem is ignorance and that this can be cured by education. Unfortunately the facts of history stand against that sort of argument. Rulers and governments, with exceptions, have not improved the common lot of mankind over time. They may start off well, but they quickly deteriorate. From Scripture (mainly the OT) we learn that if the common grace of God  did not intervene from time to time we would have no civilisation  left. Unaided, we do not get better. We get worse. It is the doctrine of the common grace of God that keeps us and restrains us from destroying ourselves and others.

And so Jesus says, "Blessed are those who mourn!"  Blessed are you when you mourn and weep and lament over what sin  does in this world. Blessed are you  when you weep  over the sad state of your souls, the state of your  families and homes, your cities, your country, your continent and indeed – your world. Oh, dear people how we must lament, mourn  and weep, because of these things the wrath of God is coming.  And we must ask – what hope is there for us?  This is an important question, for this  introduces us to the need for the gospel.  

 FOR THEY SHALL BE COMFORTED

An understanding of the Sermon on the Mount is so important. 

The Sermon on the Mount starts with negatives. We have to confess our poverty of spirit before we can be filled with the Holy Spirit. We must mourn   before we are comforted. CONVICTION must precede CONVERSION. A real sense of sin must come before there can be true joy of salvation.  Those that know that they have been forgiven much will love much (Lk. 7:47).   Once a person has grasped the awful nature and consequences of sin, and have reached out to Jesus and said , “Lord save me” – these  can never be the same again: They  will mourn, they will cry out, they will be comforted .

UNDERSTANDING THE TRUE NATURE OF CHRISTIAN JOY.

In what sense is the Christian blessed or happy? The Christian is happy because

(i)           they know  that they have their sin forgiven!

(ii)          The Christian knows that even now in all things they are more than  conquerors (Rom. 8:37). They are not slaves of sin.

(iii)        A Christian is  happy because  they  know  the  outcome -  our ultimate joy  will be the hope of glory (Rom 8:18). Paul writes, "we fix our eyes not on  that which is seen but on that which is unseen.” (2 Cor. 4:18) That is the basis of Christian comfort and therefore our joy.

We see he inseparable connection between godly sorrow and godly joy. And the outcome of that is  that a  Christian mourns but is not morbid. The Christian mourns but is not miserable. The Christian can have ‘gravitas’ – a seriousness, but they  are  not cold and prohibitive. There is warmth.

The Christian is a person that looks at life seriously, groaning because they understand the fact and nature of sin, but they are not in the hands of sin. They are in the hands of the Saviour, and therefore they are happy and blessed. They are fundamentally serious and fundamentally happy.

Here then, in this verse,is a high doctrine of sin and a high doctrine of joy. This knowledge taken together, produces the blessed, the happy person.

Biblical Christianity teaches us to look at the world and to weep; And we are called to look to our Saviour  and  we are comforted, both now and forevermore. Amen.

 

DANIEL 2 “HOW GOD TURNS A NIGHTMARE INTO HIS GLORIOUS PURPOSES”

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