Denying Christ

I.       Introduction – What Do We Do Under Pressure?

It is easy to be a Christian at church.  We are in our safe place.  We have no triggers.  We are surrounded by brothers and sisters who encourage us.  So, it is easy to stand here in our safe environment and say, “I am a follower of Jesus Christ.”

But when we are in a less-friendly environment, do we still profess Christ?  When we’re at work?  When we’re in line at the grocery store?  Even when we’re visiting with friends?

There are good, biblical reasons to share our faith; first and foremost is because Christ Himself calls us to do so.  Matthew 28:19 says,

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” 

You can’t make disciples if you don’t tell them about Jesus.  At least, not any method I’ve found.  It is through hearing and reading the Word that we get to know God.

We share the gospel because God first loved us.  And God continues to love us and forgive us despite our many failings.  In the same way, He wants us to share that love and forgiveness to each other and with the world.  It’s our calling, so show others the life of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within.

And that love from the Lord compels us to extend an invitation of eternal life to a lost and dying world.  Especially in these days of fear of the global pandemic, the world seems to have woken up to the fact that death is possible, even inevitable, and wants us to hide in our rooms and lock the door and keep death at bay.  We proudly proclaim that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and we want others may know eternal life and not be sentenced to an eternity of hell because they choose not to belief that Jesus is who he says He is.

At least we do here, inside of the safe walls of the church.  But when I am in the world, there are less-flattering words to describe the demonstration of my faith.  Reluctance.  Shyness.  Embarrassment.  I care too much what people think about me, and I don’t want people to think I’m some sort of religious nut.  And there are far more worldly people ready to judge me than there are sympathetic religious nuts like you and me.  We – I – need to learn and practice to overcome any fear and pride, and realize there is nothing more important in this life than sharing the good news.  Ephesians 6:13,

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Hence, the very purpose of our bible study class, Stand Firm.

When I was a younger Christian, I was not an example of a good Christian.  You couldn’t tell I was Christian by my lifestyle even though I grew up in the Catholic Church and believed in Jesus.  If I had to fill out a questionnaire and check a box about my religion, I was not afraid to fill in the little bubble that said “Christian.”

When God is calling you, as I believe God was calling me, He challenges your own belief.  If I say I have faith, then God says, well, let’s see if you have faith.  And He puts me on the edge of that faith to let me honestly see that my view of myself can be hypocritical.  I think I am a good person, but I fall short.

I missed my opportunity to share my testimony a few weeks back on Resurrection Sunday, I was spending the Lord’s Day with my wife.  Things are well between us today, but we have been through some very rocky ground.

Some of you know that in 1996, I divorced my wife.  I wasn’t much of a Christian then.  My wife would say I showed no evidence of being a Christian.  Christian or not, going through a divorce was, as you can imagine, a most difficult time for me.  I still loved my wife, but I divorced her anyway.  I was scared, I was selfish and I leaned on my own understanding on what I thought was best for me.  And God showed me the first of my hypocrisies: I wanted to believe I was a good Christian, and there was the truth that I had divorced my wife. 

And I hit my knees for the first time in my life.  No more faking it, no more pretending I was better than I was.  I told God I was finally ready to trust in His ways because my ways sucked.  Whereas before I was going to church for the wrong reason, mostly to improve my social life, now I wanted to know God.  Where had I gone wrong, and how could I now go right? 

Where God challenges, God also provides.  During this time, a pastor took me aside and spent several weeks repairing my foundation.  I’m reminded of this passage from Matthew 7:24-27 –

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

I didn’t even realize my foundation had been built on sand.  Who does, until the floods came?  But now I’m on my knees and I’m studying and I’m trying to figure out what it means for my life to be built on Jesus.

But what held me back from living a new life?  My knowledge that I was an awful Christian.  I spent years chasing women and hanging out in bars.  I divorced my wife.  The only evidence of my faith was some obscure questionnaire somewhere where I had filled in that little bubble that said “Christian.”  I may want to know God better, but I didn’t blame God if He didn’t want to know me.  I was an awful example of a believer.

Two pieces of scripture were key to my development as a Christian.  First was Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God,” and second was the story of Peter denying Christ.  Let’s watch a little movie snippet.  This is from the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.”  Jesus has been arrested and taken to Herod in preparation for the Jews to turn Jesus over to the Romans for crucifixion.  Peter had told Jesus that no matter what trouble came, Peter would never leave Jesus.

II.    Jesus’ Prophecy

The scene is chaotic; when I was young, I had pictured Peter in a safe place when He was asked about Jesus.  It was far from a safe place; Peter’s own life was in danger.

There are many things I learned from this scene.  The first thing I learned was that my failures were not secrets.  It’s not as though the failures in my life were completely unknown to an omniscient God.  Jesus knows all.  He knows exactly who I am, who I was, who I am going to be.  

Years ago, when Theresa was teaching from the book of Luke, she used a phrase that I thought illustrated me perfectly.  I was frozen in my failure.  I couldn’t forgive myself, so nobody could forgive me.  I was frozen forever in my failure.

In the story of Peter’s denial, I found the story of myself.  I was Peter, and my faith was lacking.  Matthew 26:31, Jesus quotes from Zechariah 13:7 and tells of a future that has not yet happened.

Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:
‘I will strike the Shepherd,
And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”

But Jesus is not just going to fulfill this scripture, he tells the disciples that they, too, will fulfill this scripture.  The sheep that follow Jesus Christ will abandon him and scatter.

Peter has a lot of pride in his belief in Jesus.  Pride can be defined as putting oneself on the throne of God.  God may have said something, but it doesn’t apply to me.  God may have a plan, but I have something even better planned, and God just has to get on board with it.  I am a good Christian man who drank, chased women, and then divorced his wife.  Peter, like me, has a better plan, and tells Jesus that Jesus is wrong.  Matthew 26, verse 33,

Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.”

What arrogance to tell Jesus that Peter will never stumble, even though Jesus just prophesied that he would.  Peter knows better than God, just like I knew better than God what was best for me.  This same scene is played out in our bible verses today, in Luke 22:33, Peter says,

But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

But is that what Peter did?  Peter’s pride led him to say one thing, but in fear, what Peter did was something else entirely.

How is your pride?  Do you ever tell God what He needs to do?  Do you pray for other people to change, for situations to change for your benefit, for good things to happen to you?  Do you do things that God disapproves of, but rationalize it somehow that it’s not *that* bad and God put you in this situation in the first place?

I remember a woman years ago, a friend of my wife, that had spent years praying for a husband.  She eventually found a substitute, a married man.  When confronted, she said she had prayed about it, she had peace, and God had told her it was ok, He was answering her prayers.  She’s saying to God, just get on board with my plan here.  Diane told her she may be praying to God, but she’s not hearing from God.

Pride is very hard to eliminate, to humble ourselves like Jesus did by going to the cross.  Every time I think I’m getting a handle on pride, I think, “Wow, I’m getting really good at being humble.  In fact, I’m extraordinary at it.  I should enter a humility contest.  Maybe I can win a Humility trophy.”  For me, it comes up most often when I compare myself to somebody else. Sometimes it’s skills – I am better at math, so I’m a better person than somebody who isn’t.  Sometimes it’s appearance: I may be overweight, but at least I’m not as overweight as *that* person.  Maybe we compare money or our car.  Some even compare their religious piety, saying, “at least I’m a better Christian than that divorced Christian man.” 

Benjamin Franklin once said,

In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had compleatly overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.

Pride is something we all suffer from.  If we think we do not suffer from pride, then it is possible pride is blinding us to our pride.  Pride is real easy to recognize in others, though, isn’t it?  It’s because when we see pride in somebody else, we’re smugly saying, “*I* don’t suffer from pride like *he* does.”  Like Benjamin Franklin, we are being proud of our humility. 

C.S. Lewis has this to say about pride:

According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is pride. Unchastity, anger, grief, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea-bites in comparison; it was through pride that the devil became the devil; pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind… In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that- and, therefore know yourself as nothing in comparison- you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see Something that is above you.

Peter’s pride led him to tell Jesus that Peter alone would never betray Christ, even if all the other disciples scattered.

And Jesus response was that, not only were Jesus and Peter going to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah, there was a new prophecy just for Peter.  Luke 22:34 –

Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

III. Peter Denies Christ

You try telling God you know better than Him and see how well that works out for you.  For me, it didn’t.  My sin led me to my knees, but I didn’t feel like my life was good enough to present to Jesus.  The Catholic Church had taught me to feel guilty, and that divorced people couldn’t receive communion.  I was a non-practicing divorced Catholic that chased women and was not allowed to accept Christ.  Where did I go wrong?

Of course when I was given an opportunity to tell people about Jesus, I hedged.  I changed the subject.  I talked about the weather.  I mean, seriously, I was such a bad example of a Christian there was no way I could tell people that Jesus was part of my life.  It would be an embarrassment to both me and to God.  I would never put a fish on my car because I was such a bad example, I didn’t want anybody to know.   I was afraid they’d look at the fish and then they’d look at me, and see right through my hypocrisy.  “You call yourself a Christian and you drive like that?  You are such a hypocrite.”

In Luke 22:54,

Now they arrested Him and led Him away, and brought Him to the house of the high priest; but Peter was following at a distance.

Peter was nearby.  Peter was not walking with Christ, but he was walking near Christ.  I think a lot of Christians, including me, have been in this position of walking near Christ instead of with Christ.  Peter was in the courtyard.  In Luke 22:55-57,

After they kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter was sitting among them.  And a slave woman, seeing him as he sat in the firelight, and staring at him, said, “This man was with Him as well.”  But he denied it, saying, “I do not know Him, woman!”

Given the opportunity to proclaim Christ, to tell Peter’s testimony about Jesus, Peter says, “I don’t even know Jesus.  I’m not one of those religious nutjobs.”  Verse 58,

And a little later, another person saw him and said, “You are one of them too!” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!”

Peter doesn’t want to be associated with the Son of God who will give Peter eternal life.  He tells the crowd again he’s not with Jesus, and Jesus is not with Peter. And verses 59-60.

And after about an hour had passed, some other man began to insist, saying, “Certainly this man also was with Him, for he, too, is a Galilean.”  But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” And immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed.

(((Rooster Crowing)))

Of course, the prophecy of Jesus was fulfilled.  Of course, Peter denied Christ.  When the going got tough, Peter wanted to save himself.  He had a better plan than God. 

But you know the worst part?  The Lord knew.  Jesus knew.  Every denial from Peter was seen by Christ in advance, and Christ heard Peter’s denial in real time.  Christ was there.  Christ watched and listed to Peter’s every denial.  Verses 61-62,

And then the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.”  And he went out and wept bitterly.

             IV.      Peter Weeps

Peter wept.  I think many of us get to a place where we are broken.  When we realize we are not the person we wanted to believe we are and our eyes are opened to just how far we fall short of the glory of God, we’re broken.  Peter wept.

I used to look at Peter and say, “Man, what an idiot.  I can’t believe he’d deny Christ like that.  Doesn’t he know who Jesus is?”

And in my bible study with that pastor back in 1998, I realized I was Peter.  I was the idiot that denied Christ.  Despite telling myself that I was such a good person, I finally realized how far short of the goal I was.  I had decided I knew better than God what was best for me and I dragged around my religion like garbage I was ashamed of, and when it came time for me to choose between obedience and selfishness, between trust and pride, I chose me.  I denied the plan Jesus had for me because I wanted to save myself.  My plan was better than God’s.  And when I finally realized I was Peter, I wept.  In front of that Pastor in 1998, I broke down and cried.

No wonder Jesus had no use for me.  I was a terrible Christian.  I was lost.  I was on the outside looking in, and that I’d never be one of the sheep that Christ promised to hold in His hands.

Ever felt that despair?  That you’re not good enough?  That Christ can’t use you because you’re flawed in so many ways?  I wouldn’t blame Jesus if He never spoke to Peter again, completely disowned him.  Just like I felt Jesus had disowned me because I had failed Him in so many ways.

I remember hearing about an organization that translated the bible into obscure languages in audio form so these unreached people could hear the Word of the Lord.  One of their testimonies was translating to a tribe that that lived apart from the main tribe due to a contagious skin disease.  People in the village that caught the disease were sent up the mountain to live the remainder of their lives, shunned by their village.  Over time, up in the mountain, the shunned people had developed a unique dialect, so it was an amazing blessing to them to hear the New Testament in words they could understand.

Something interesting happened when they got to Luke 8.  I want to show the original passage in Luke 8:42-48,

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.

“Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”

But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”

Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

When the gospel got to the part where the unclean woman reached out to touch the robe of Jesus, the tribe were all on the edge of their seats and they gasped.  And when Jesus said, “your faith as healed you,” the tribe broke down and cried.

Why would they cry at this story?  It is because they believed they were so unclean, so unworthy, that when Jesus said, “Who touched my robe?” they were certain Jesus would call down fire from the sky and destroy the woman.  But Jesus responded in love.  Their disease did not prohibit them from receiving the love of Jesus.  The tribe understood that the love of Jesus was greater than any disease they had.

I repeat, have you ever felt that despair?  That you’re not good enough?  Christ can’t use you because you’re dirty and unclean?

          V.      Peter is Forgiven

But that’s not what Jesus did for the tribe of unclean people.  That’s not what Jesus did for the woman who touched His robe, and that’s not what Jesus did for Peter.  Despite Peter’s best efforts at running from Jesus, Jesus still loved Peter.

After the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the disciples were out fishing.  They caught, well, literally, a boat load of fish, and brought it to shore.  And Jesus was there, and prepares a cooking fire and prepares breakfast for the disciples.  I can only imagine that Peter was embarrassed, staying at the back of the twelve disciples.  He had denied Jesus, what use did Jesus have of Peter?  But rather than shun Peter, Jesus seeks out Peter, well, let’s see this in John 21:15-17,

Now when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again, a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.”  He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was hurt because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus *said to him, “Tend My sheep.

Three times Jesus prompts Peter to declare that Peter loves his Savior.  Three times Peter had denied Jesus.  For each denial, Jesus rescued Peter with His love.

Jesus doesn’t hold grudges; that’s what our sin nature does.  We hold grudges.  We even hold grudges against ourselves.  Jesus doesn’t have a sin nature, and He welcomes us in love, despite our failures.  Sometimes I think it’s actually because of our failures.  If we resist His will, He’s not going use us.  He wants us to go with Him willingly, without resistance.  And it’s only when we realize our failures and that Christ loves us unconditionally that we truly begin to understand the character of God.   It doesn’t have anything to do with us.

God knows we are weak.  He loves us anyway, especially when we agree with God that we are weak.  Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 12 when he pleaded for God to remove the thorn from his flesh:

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Despite denying Jesus three times, Jesus loved Peter.  Not because of who Peter is, but because of who Jesus is.  Not because of who I am, but because of who Jesus is.

       III.      Conclusion

Once I realized I was Peter and Jesus still loved me, it opened a door for me, one that led to joy and peace.  I learned that my dirty life was not too filthy for me to be a follower of Jesus.  My filth helped me realize that I was indeed powerless to save myself, that thinking I was a good person was not the same thing as being a good person.  I had sinned, but I was in good company.  All have sinned and fallen short.  In fact, that’s the point, nobody is worthy enough on their own merits to deserve Jesus.  Jesus died for me, not because I was a good person, but because I wasn’t.  Without Jesus, I was destined for the fires of hell no matter how I tried to fool myself that it’ll be ok.  I needed a savior.

Wherever you are in your spiritual growth, you’re not too bad that Jesus doesn’t want to get to know you.  There is nothing in your life that disqualifies you from a relationship with our loving, heavenly Father.  One of the most important things to me that I learned during this time was just how powerful my God is.  I had always assumed when I was a young Christian that God was just a little smarter, just a little more moral than me.  Catholic school had taught me I was going to have to work off my sins in Purgatory, and my sins were so great I’d be working a long, long time.  I had a little god.

I have a big God now.  Bigger than any storm, bigger than any persecution, bigger than any failure, bigger than all my sins.  There is nothing in this world, including the entire world, that is too big for my God to handle.  He is the great I AM. 

Despite our failures, or perhaps because of our failures, we just have to confess our sins to the Lord and he forgives and forgets as far as the east is from the west. Despite our failures, we are adopted children of the Creator of the Universe.

God loves His children and provides good gifts for our abundant life and to His glory.  He gave me the chance to undo the biggest mistake I had ever made.  9 years after I divorced my wife, she called me out of the blue to tell me she forgave me.  Separately and miraculously, each of us had come to Christ and been baptized, new creations, made for His purpose.  Six months later, we were remarried.  Next month we celebrate 16 months of marriage.  God is amazing.

Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:15,

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

Jesus is the only way to eternal security, He is the Alpha, the Omega, the very Word of God made flesh, the Lamb of God sacrificed so that my sins are forgiven and my eternity secure.  Jesus died for me because I needed Him.  I was never going to earn my way into heaven.  Jesus paid the price, the whole price, for me, a sinner.  And He paid the price for you, too.  Despite all your flaws, God thinks you’re worth the sacrifice. 

The depths of His love for us is amazing.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

Risk Everything for God

I. Introduction

For several Sundays in a row, we’ve been coming to class and studying the prophet Ezekiel. Then one day Chris shows up and says, “Let’s turn to the book of Daniel.” What was Chris thinking? Were we done with Ezekiel? I don’t think so. When we start studying these prophets, there is always so much more to learn. I find the lesson I learn from God’s word can vary – if I read Ezekiel all at once, I hear one message, and if I read only Ezekiel 18, I get another message, and if I read just Ezekiel 18:5, I get still another revelation.

Then Chris shows up and starts teaching Daniel. Ok, fine, we’ll study Daniel. Daniel is actually a contemporary of Ezekiel, they lived approximately at the same time. Ezekiel mentions Daniel twice during his mission. But while Ezekiel is living in Babylonian captivity, Daniel’s captivity is in the palace in service to the king. He’s probably in his early teens, learning the Babylonian ways so he can serve the king, and eating his vegetables.

II. God is in Control (Daniel 2)

Then in Daniel Chapter two, we come to the first of 2 famous stories we’re going to read about today. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Babylonians, must be feeling pretty good about himself, having sacked the land of Judah and carried away his captives. But Nebuchadnezzar is not in control, and he could not have been successful unless God had willed it. One of Ezekiel’s prophecies was that, because of the Jewish people’s disobedience, God would cause the land of Judah to be sacked by the Babylonians as punishment. It wasn’t Nebuchadnezzar in control, it was God. 600 years later in Romans 13:1, Paul writes,

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

Nebuchadnezzar probably didn’t credit God for this, he was a Babylonian pagan king. He probably believed in his own might and power. But then he starts having these troubling dreams, and we will see that God placed these dreams there. Daniel 2:1-6,

In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep. So the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed. When they came in and stood before the king, he said to them, “I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means.”

Then the astrologers answered the king, “May the king live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”

The king replied to the astrologers, “This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble. But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.”

So the astrologers weren’t merely being asked to interpret a dream, they were being asked to describe the dream. Some say the king couldn’t remember his dream, but I don’t think that’s likely. He remembered enough about the dream that it bothered him the next day and kept him from a good night’s sleep. I think he remembered his dream, but distrusted his fortunetellers. Nebuchadnezzar knew that his fortunetellers would just tell him what he wanted to hear.

How could these magicians succeed? It’s not possible to read people’s minds, except for me. I have this ability to read people’s minds. I know what you’re thinking right now. You’re thinking, “Nah, he can’t read minds.”

To make a long story short, the magicians fail terribly at the king’s assignment. They neither know what the dream is, nor what the dream means. The king orders them all put to death.

When Daniel hears this, he believes that Daniel and his 3 friends will be killed also along with the phony magicians. Daniel goes to the king and asks the king for some more time, and he and his friend plead to God for mercy, and that night the mystery was revealed to Daniel. The next morning, Daniel returns to the king and explains the dream as symbolic about the future of Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar’s place in history, how they will reign and then fall. The story rings true to the king, and let’s look at the king’s reaction in verse 46,

Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”

Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. Moreover, at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court.

Wow, Daniel went from death to life in only 3 days. What strikes me about this is that Nebuchadnezzar knows the interpretation is true and that it can only come from an almighty God. He knows God is God, the God of gods and the Lord of kings and the revealer of mysteries. Daniel’s answer saves the lives of the magicians and the astrologers, and Daniel and his friends get some nice promotions. Probably bigger helpings of vegetables, too.

III. Some Build Idols Anyway (Daniel 3:1)

But then the very next verse, turn to Chapter 3, the king is building a giant gold idol. Reminds me of Aaron after Moses led then through the parting of the Red Sea. Moses goes up on the mountain to get the Ten Commandments, and Aaron goes, “Oh no, what do we do? We need a Golden Calf to pray to.”

Anyway, back to Nebuchadnezzar, everybody in the kingdom is ordered to fall down and worship this big gold idol. And the astrologers – the very same astrologers whose lives were saved by Daniel for interpreting the king’s dreams – turn out to be a bunch of tattletales. Vengeful tattletales (not the same as Veggie Tales), Vengeful tattletales for they know the punishment for refusing to worship the golden idol is death. In verse 8, the astrologers and magicians go to the king and point out that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are in positions of power but refuse to worship the king’s idol. Isn’t that mocking the king and his god? The three friends of Daniel neither serve the king’s gods nor bow down to worship the idol of gold.

And the king is furious. This is the same king that knows the omniscience of Daniel’s God who could do things the pagan gods couldn’t, and is still mad that these Jewish boys won’t worship his little gold god. He tells Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to bow down and worship or he’s going to cook them in the royal furnace. In verse 15, the king taunts them, “then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

There may come a time in our lives where we must make a choice what god we will serve. Will we serve the god of pride, like Nebuchadnezzar? Will we serve a god of idols we have built? Or will we serve Jehovah God, creator of the heavens and of earth? Will we boldly serve our king, or will we turn away in fear?

1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Shadrach, Meshak and Abednego have no fear, and in Daniel 3:16,

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Daniel’s friends know that God is able to save them, but don’t know if God will. And it doesn’t matter to them, they will risk everything, their very lives, go to their deaths praising our God of Wonders. It is 2600 years later in Babylonia, and the same choice is still given to Christians living there today. Worship the Muslim god, or die. And tens of thousands of Christians have been martyred, choosing our God of eternal life.

Nebuchadnezzar is furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The bible says that the furnace is heated seven times hotter than normal, and the king’s strongest soldiers throw Daniel’s three friends into it. The furnace is so hot that it killed the soldiers that had bound the three friends.

IV. Jesus is Emmanuel, God With Us (Daniel 3:24)

And the God of the Heavens intervened in verse 24:

Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”

They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”

He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”

There are 3 men thrown into the furnace but 4 men walking around. “A son of the gods,” Nebuchadnezzar says. Amazing insight for a pagan king. Biblical scholars agree that this is the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ who stepped into a situation at the very moment He was needed most. Let’s count the number of men again. Three men are thrown in, four men are walking around, and three men are removed.

Sometimes we don’t feel Jesus in our lives. We wonder where He is, why prayers don’t seem to be answered, why His comfort isn’t obvious to us. Where is Jesus? The thing is, He is always with us, and when the threat of being thrown into the fire actually turns into being *in* the fire, Jesus is right there with us. He promises that He will always be there for us.

V. Risk Everything for God

Many times it’s hard to trust in God. We want to rescue ourselves, to trust in our own ability. But God’s ways are above our ways. Sometimes God’s ways are painful as he prunes us. I myself hit a crossroads in the last month, thinking that it was time to make a difficult decision. But God spoke this lesson to me last weekend, and then gave me the lesson again to learn and teach. He works in mysterious way, and I no longer believe in coincidences, so when I see so-called “coincidences” piling up, I look for God’s hand.

First was Gary Thomas’s lesson last week. The part that spoke to me was when he said some people say, “Why does my behavior matter?” I’m already saved, so nothing I say or do will be held against me. Gary quoted Ephesians 4:22-24,

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Then he quoted Matthew 28:19-20,

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Then Chris taught from Daniel 1, drawing a line and deciding which side of the line to stand on. And I’m hearing echoes of lessons I’ve both heard and taught, asking me if I’m going to follow Christ only when times are good, or will I follow Christ no matter what?

When times are easy and good, we can drift away from Christ. We may recognize His blessings, but the easy life lets us drift away. It’s when times are challenging that we learn to rely on Christ. I think every Christian will come to a point in their life, maybe more than once, where they have to decide to do the right thing no matter how hard it is.

Then as I sat down to start this lesson, already hearing Gary and Chris, I get a photo from KSBJ with Hebrews 10:36,

Hebrews 10-36

All of these messages stress to me the importance of following the will of God and putting aside fears and desires that pull and push us in any direction except to God.

I will choose to be obedient, and risk everything for God. And my sinful self doesn’t like it one bit. I like comfort and joy, not pruning. But when I choose right, I choose peace. And when I choose right and peace, I choose joy. Instead of choosing joy first which can lead to bad decisions and bad consequences, I choose righteousness first, which then leads back to the joy I was seeking. Amazing. My sinful self says these toys are all mine and I don’t have to share. My sinful self says do this or that because it’ll make you happy. My sinful self offers excuses to me because I know that Jesus will forgive me. But the Holy Spirit working within me is always encouraging me to do the right thing. To love God with all my heart, to love my neighbor as myself. I get a choice whether to obey.

Will I be thrown in a fire? Goodness, I hope not. And if I was thrown in a fire, would I be able to walk around unscathed, unburned? Probably not. But I know Jesus will be there for me, all he asks is that I do the right thing.

We get these choices constantly. We can choose to sleep late on Sunday mornings instead of going to church. We can choose to go to brunch on Sunday mornings or a walk in the park. But we can choose to share the word of God with pagans, to serve at something – anything – like bringing snacks to class or taking the roster or arranging for the class to serve at a star of hope kitchen or to teach. In each case we give up something to do something. We make a choice to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord, or what is right in our own eyes.

And whatever it is we treasure, because God loves us, God will find a way to remove it from us if it doesn’t bring him glory or if it gets in the way of our spiritual growth. He may ask us to give up a job, give up our home, our security. Giving up a home you grew up in, giving up a parent that you depended on, giving up a friend who is a bad influence on us, giving up a job. Giving up our very life. Matthew 10:9, Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Daniel’s friends were willing to give up their lives, to risk everything to do the right thing. I’m scared to do that that. I like to think I’m brave, but God finds something I was leaning on and asks me, are you willing to give this up for me? Has God ever asked you to sacrifice something for His sake?

If you’re reading your bible, listening to KSBJ, spending time in prayer, or in any way talking to God, he’s talking back. And He wants to be #1 in your life. Ahead of your job and money, ahead of rooting for the Texans, ahead of cooking or biking or a nice car. Ahead of your friends. Ahead of your spouse. In the case of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they were turning their backs on a comfy life in the palace with friends. They were turning their backs on serving a king who already knew God was almighty, but was still building idols.

And in that regard, we’re not too unlike Nebuchadnezzar. We know who God is. Many of us have seen miracles that could only have come from an almighty God. We know God is almighty, yet we’re still building pagan alters of our own, are we not? We worship the things created instead of the Creator. Ahead of everybody and everything else we love, God wants us to recognize Him and worship him first. He’s burning up the chaff to prepare us for an eternity with him, and sometimes we have to go through fire for Him. And sometimes we find we were holding on to something so tight and didn’t even realize it. We have to give those up, be willing to risk everything for God. After all, what could possibly be more important than a loving relationship with the God who created us?

VI. Conclusion

There’s good news after all this pruning, this burning up of our idols. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” In order to gain everything, we must be willing to lose everything. Abednego survived the fire, and we will too. Jesus will be there with us, now and forever. A life eternal with our creator in love and joy and life where there are no more tears.

In the meantime, risk everything for God. To God be the glory.

How Can God Still Love Me?

             I.      Introduction

 

It’s almost the New Year, no thanks to the ancient Mayans.  The New Year is a time for beginning fresh, to put our past behind us and look forward to a new beginning.  For auld lang syne my friends, for auld lang syne.

 

A new beginning means a new you.  But what if the old you is still here?  How do we begin again?  And for sins we’ve committed last year, how do we put those behind?  And what about those who have done wrong to us?  Why should they be allowed to start again?

 

We’ve been studying the book of Hosea, the Prophet of Doom.  The Israelites, or more specifically the Northern Kingdom, sometimes called Ephraim by Hosea, has led duplicitous lives.  Yes, they prayed to the Lord and sacrificed to Him, but when times were good, they also sacrificed to Baal and other pagan deities of the Canaanites.  The Lord gave Hosea a personal life that mirrored Israel so he could understand.  Hosea’s wife was a prostitute, unfaithful to Hosea, and eventually sold into slavery.   Israel, too, was unfaithful to the Lord.  God used the might Assyrian army to invade the Northern Kingdom, judgment against Israel for her unfaithfulness.  Our God is a jealous God, and He is God alone.

 

Thankfully this week it’s not all about death and destruction and judgment.  Today we’re going to study the Lord’s compassion in the midst of Israel’s discipline and punishment.  Why does the Lord have compassion for sinners?  And how can the Lord look past what I’ve done and accept me for who I am?  And the most difficult question, why does the Lord show compassion to me even when I continue to sin?  Doesn’t my unwillingness to be pure indicate that I do not truly love the Lord with all of my mind and body, heart and soul?  Why would the Lord should compassion to me when I know I don’t show my Love to Him?

 

          II.      Compassion Though Unrecognized, Hosea 11:1-4

 

Let’s start at the beginning of Hosea 11 and read the Lord’s word to Israel –

 

When Israel was a child, I loved him,

    and out of Egypt I called my son.

But the more they were called,

    the more they went away from me.

They sacrificed to the Baals

    and they burned incense to images.

It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,

    taking them by the arms;

but they did not realize

    it was I who healed them.

I led them with cords of human kindness,

    with ties of love.

To them I was like one who lifts

    a little child to the cheek,

    and I bent down to feed them.

 

God’s love is more than a feeling; it is compassion in action.  Here, God reminds Israel He has been there from the beginning and cared for Israel when Israel could not take care of itself.

 

God calls Israel His child, who He loved, and called him out of Egypt.  Hosea is speaking, of course, of the days of Moses, when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.  Exodus 3:7 says, “The Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them.”  God led them in a pillar of cloud or fire to the promised land.  But Israel’s trust waivered and their hearts hardened towards God, and instead turned to worship idols and the gods of the Egyptians and other tribes.   God also sent prophets to them to point out their ways, to correct their behaviors, but the more they were reprimanded, the more Israel turned from God.

 

But this is also a prophetic verse; in Matthew 2, Matthew builds upon this when he describes the trip that Mary, Joseph and Jesus made to Egypt until the death of Herod.  Matthew quotes Hosea, saying, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”  The Lord acted compassionately throughout history to save His people Israel, just as He acted compassionately when He sent His son Jesus for our sake.

 

But unlike Jesus, Israel slipped into sin again and again.  And for those who have had children, you know how painful it is if your child slips into sin repeatedly.  God called to His people, lovingly, compassionately, but the more God called, the more Israel turned away from Him.

 

This is our problem today with the Lord, just as it was with Israel.  When times are good, we are wayward children, turning away from Him, time and time again.  We’re funny that way – we have so many blessings, but we don’t give proper thanks to the Lord.  And in the midst of our blessings, we find excuses to turn away, rationalizing it with thoughts like, I do so many good things for the Lord, surely the Lord won’t mind if I do this one thing that I need to be happy.  Sometimes, we even lie to ourselves that since God wants me to be happy, God would approve of my sin.

 

I once knew a single woman who desperately wanted a husband.  She seemed smart and attractive, you know, many blessings in her life.  But her focus was on one thing God had not blessed her with.  One day she said that she had found somebody, and he made her happy.  There was a small problem, she said; he was married .  But she knew God would want her to be happy.  She said God had told her so.

 

I don’t know where she is today, but I do know this: God never blesses sin.  For a Christian to continue in sin is like crucifying Christ over and over again.  Sin separates us from God because God is free of all sin.  God may love us, but He hates the sin.  If we choose to continue in our sin, God will either give us over to our hardened heart, or God will discipline us in order to bring us back to Him.  As we learned last week in Hosea 8, it’s far, far better for us to learn to discipline ourselves than to wait for God to discipline us.

 

In verse 3, the Israelites failed to realize that the Lord was always there, feeding them, helping them to walk, healing them when they fell.  We have been given so much compassion, so many blessings, and we take them for granted.  Our health, our country, our church, our next meal, our next breath.  God is in all of it.  We forget to thank the Lord for what we have already been given in abundance through His love.

 

       III.      Compassion Amid Judgment, Hosea 11:5-7

 

The Lord’s compassion always extends to us, even when in discipline and judgment.  In Hosea 11:5-7,

 

Will they not return to Egypt

    and will not Assyria rule over them

    because they refuse to repent?

A sword will flash in their cities;

    it will devour their false prophets

    and put an end to their plans.

My people are determined to turn from me.

    Even though they call me God Most High,

    I will by no means exalt them.

 

So God is looking at me… sorry, I mean, God is looking at Israel and realizing His child will not repent.  His child is reaping the rewards of God’s blessings and using those blessings in a way that offends the Lord.  And as much as the Lord is expressing His love, Israel is determined to follow false prophets and turn from Him.

 

I find it interesting that God used the Assyrians to punish Israel.  It’s backward from what we would normally think God should do.  We compare Israel and Assyria and say, well, Israel’s mostly ok.  They have this little thing about worshipping other gods, sure, but that’s just on weekends.  Those Assyrians, though, who they’re rotten people, sacrificing children and hating the Lord.  Surely the Lord will protect Israel from those nasty Assyrians.

 

But God doesn’t see it the same way.  He loves His people and He wants them to be pure.  So God allows the Assyrians to win this conflict.  Does He do the same with us?

 

Sometimes I think He does.  We can see it in our country – one nation, under God – but it seems that many of the battles Christians have fought have gone the wrong way.  Abortion, euthanasia, prayer in schools, have all gone against Christians.  Why is the enemy winning?

 

I don’t know, but if we are like the Israelites, we have grown complacent in the Lord and He will discipline us for our own good.  Church attendance is decreasing across the USA.  Is it because our attitude is that life is too good to waste it on worship?  No wonder the Lord uses evil to get our attention.

 

And it’s not a matter of knowing the Word, it’s a matter of putting it in action, consistently, with the right heart.  The Israelites certainly knew they were God’s chosen people, but they believed that somehow gave them the right to take God for granted and to do things their way.  It’s like they believed their disobedience was a God-given right.

 

I once had a wayward dog, a stubborn, stiff-necked Dalmatian.  I named him Israel.  No wait, I named him Samson.  I named him that because man, he was a big Dalmatian.  Most Dalmations are 45 lbs or so, Samson was 80 lbs.  He was big and he was stubborn.  I took him to obedience training for several weeks, and at the end of the class we had a test to see how well our dogs had learned.  I had worked Samson all week, and once I switched to a pinch collar instead of a choke collar, Samson deal very well at following directions.  On command, he’d sit, stay, down, come, and heel.  The final test was the heel command; Samson’s head was supposed to be even or behind me, and without a leash, Samson would heel as we walked the training course.

 

After all the lessons were complete, we continued working the commands.  Sit.  Stay.  Come.  Down.  Heel.  And we’d walk around the block.  Sometimes I’d unclip his leash and walk him for a bit, then reclip it later.  He was well trained.

 

Until one day as we were walking and I said, “heel!” and I unclipped his leash.  We’d walk a while, and he’d start to gain a little on me.  “Heel!”  Samson would drop back in place, and slowly surge forward again.  “Heel!”  He’d drop back again, surge forward a little sooner.  I could see him sort of looking over his shoulder to see if I was watching and he kept surging a little further until he was a full body length in front of me.  “Heel!” I’d say, and pow, like a rocket, he was off.  There was no way to catch him, he was so fast.  Eventually, I went home, got the car, drove ahead of him, and caught him again.  We didn’t do that walk again without the leash ever again.

 

It wasn’t as though Samson didn’t know where I was or what the rules were, or even that the rules were for his own benefit so that he wouldn’t get lost, get hit by a car, would be home for supper and a warm comfy bed.  It was just that he had realized he had all the freedom he wanted.  It had gone beyond disobedience and was now outright rebellion.  Because of my love for the dog, the dog then lost the freedom he had through the new discipline and restrictions.

 

We’re like that, in a way, when we’re in rebellion with God.  We know what pleases Him and what we should and shouldn’t do, and we even understand that the behavior God encourages for us is also for our benefit.  It’s just that, man, sometime we just want to run and do our own thing, and we disregard the consequences.  We know what is right, and we know we’re not doing it.

 

Mark Twain once put it this way:  “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

 

We’re all guilty of this, making excuses for our sin.  In 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  And we’re all repeat offenders, too.  In the sentence of our life, God may put a period, but we change it to a question mark.  He didn’t really mean it that way, did He?  We still want God’s love in our lives as long as we can have it on our terms.

 

         IV.      Compassion Over Anger, Hosea 11:8-9

 

Our disobedience in the face of God’s good plans draws His anger, but even in His anger, God shows compassion.

 

How can I give you up, Ephraim?

    How can I hand you over, Israel?

How can I treat you like Admah?

    How can I make you like Zeboyim?

My heart is changed within me;

    all my compassion is aroused.

I will not carry out my fierce anger,

    nor will I devastate Ephraim again.

For I am God, and not a man—


the Holy One among you.

    I will not come against their cities.

 

This is amazing to hear that God’s heart can be changed, even in the midst of His anger over our sin.  As we turn to sin again and again and again, our sins must stir God to take corrective action on our behalf.  Previously, God had corrected rampant sin in His people with complete destruction of the sinful.  Hosea makes reference to that here – the two towns listed here, Admah and Zeboyim, were neighboring villages of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Israel’s sin demanded punishment, but God’s heart was moved toward compassion.

 

And am I ever thankful that God gives me much better than I deserve.  God’s perfect justice is balanced by His perfect mercy, but we want that justice imposed on others, and the mercy on ourselves.  And it’s God’s mercy that delays the end times, the rapture and the beginning of the Tribulation.

 

He is the Holy One in our midst.  He is not absent, He is not asleep, He is not dead.  The moment we repent, when our hearts are burdened by our own behaviors and we turn to God, He is there waiting for us.  We don’t have to wait for Him to show up, and He doesn’t hold it against us.  His compassion trumps His righteous anger.

 

            I.       

            II.       

            III.       

            IV.       

            V.      Compassion with Purpose, Hosea 11:10-11

 

Why would the Lord act with such compassion?  He has a purpose for this compassion.

 

They will follow the Lord;

    he will roar like a lion.

When he roars,

    his children will come trembling from the west.

They will come from Egypt,

    trembling like sparrows,

    from Assyria, fluttering like doves.

I will settle them in their homes,”

    declares the Lord.

 

So, with Israel in rebellion and God’s mercy delaying God’s justice, God shows compassion by staying the destruction of Israel.  Israel would not only be spared, but many would ultimately repent and follow the Lord.  And the Lord would be quick to respond.

 

When I consider God’s compassionate response instead of His righteous anger, I can’t help but consider where I have still not fully submitted to the Lord.  Either out of ignorance or willful disobedience, God will eventually get my attention.  My sin is detestable to Him.  He is the Holy One, and if I am to spend eternity with Him, there is no place for my sin.  I can be so thankful that God in His Sovereignty chooses to act in loving mercy to me.  He gives me better, far better, than I deserve.

 

In 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  The Lord’s justice has been stayed by His mercy for a long time now.

 

         VI.      Conclusion

 

Yes, God’s compassion, as well as His discipline, has a purpose.  God uses both discipline and love to draw us to Him, gently or forcefully, but for our own good.  And He is patient with us, seemingly infinitely patient.  At what point would a father not want his children to return?

 

Deuteronomy 7:7-9 –

 

The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.  But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.  Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.

 

Hosea’s wife, through her willful disobedience, had repercussions, and she was eventually sold into slavery.  In her slavery, she finally realized the love Hosea had for her.  Hosea was a jealous man for his wife and eventually rescued her from bondage, out of the slavery that she caused.

 

Israel, too, through willful disobedience, was also sold into slavery, and in this discipline realized the love the Lord had for His children.  Through His love and compassion, the Lord drew Israel home to Him and rescued Israel from bondage.

 

And today?  Today, God still calls us out of our willful disobedience.  We find excuses not to do what is right, and we deceive ourselves that the Lord may actually bless our disobedience.  But our Lord is a jealous God for all things Holy and True and His Justice will prevail, and every knee will bow, either by our own free will or by His force.  We can be thankful that God delays the punishment we deserve out of His abundance of compassion, so that no one may die and that all may live.

 

To God be the glory.  Amen.