Sunday, March 18, 2018

Daniel (1): How to Resist Temptation

But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank.” —Daniel 1:8a

Many times you’ve heard the line from a song written by Philip P. Bliss, “Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone.” Most of the time when we hear this, we think of Daniel in the lions’ den. But “dare to be a Daniel” also applies to the first chapter of the book of Daniel, which is too often “a forgotten chapter.” I would like to consider this chapter with you.

As the book of Daniel opens, we meet Daniel in the college of Babylon. He was probably only fifteen years old. He and three of his Israelitish friends were forced to go to a college in a city where they had no desire to be. They were carried away captive by Nebuchadnezzar to the large city of Babylon, far from home and the temple where they had worshipped God.

Babylon was a worldly city, full of temptations. It was the capital of the vast kingdom over which Nebuchadnezzar was reigning. It was a city with walls as high as towers and so thick that four chariots could safely ride abreast on top of them. Inside, all was luxury. It was the richest city in the world. Hanging gardens, supported by pillars, were sprinkled throughout Babylon.

Babylon was filled with pride, lust, and sin. Daniel and his friends were brought to the two most magnificent buildings in the very heart of Babylon—the king’s palace and the temple of “Bel,” the supreme god of Babylon.

No doubt the Babylonian college was particularly full of temptations. Daniel was immediately confronted with a new way of life. According to the king’s commandments, courtiers were appointed to train these young men, as well as other young men from a variety of conquered countries, so that after three years all the captives were to be true Babylonians—both outwardly in behavior and inwardly in the heart.

Everything had to change to meet the goal and demands of the proud Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel and his friends had to learn the language of Babylon. Only Babylonian clothing could be worn. Their names had to be changed. Instead of being named after the God of Israel they were named after the gods of Babylon. Daniel, which means “God is my judge,” was changed to Belshazzar, “keeper of the hid treasures of Bel.” Hananiah, meaning “the grace of God,” was changed to Shadrach, “inspiration of the sun,” which they also worshipped as a god. Mishael, “the Lord is a strong God,” became Meshach, which means “devoted to the goddess Shach,” the goddess of their feasts. Azariah, meaning “the Lord is a help,” was given the name Abednego, i.e. “servant of Nebo,” the god of fire.

Their food and drink were changed. No longer were they to eat their simple Jewish diet, but now rich foods and wine, both of which had been previously consecrated to idols through the performing of sacrificial rites, were placed before them.

They were instructed in Babylonian education which was filled with heathenism. Babylonian literature, sciences, music, superstition, astrology, soothsaying, sorcery, and religion were the “classes” they had to take.

After three years of thorough indoctrination, Daniel and his friends were to appear before the king as true Babylonians, having forgotten their former life, morals, education, and especially, the God of Israel. Today we would call this “brainwashing,” especially when you consider that in order to achieve that goal, Daniel and his three friends were offered almost anything a natural heart could want. They could live like princes. Nebuchadnezzar would spoil them into forgetfulness of their past and into allegiance to himself.

Dear friends, is the situation really any different today in our world? Babylon rightly became a symbol of the “world.” Perhaps the world today does not tempt you in precisely the same way, but are not its current temptations, albeit somewhat different in content, just as powerful as in Daniel’s day?

Consider worldly language. Is not our “Babylonian” world full of it? Profanity abounds. Secular humanism is even more commonly revealed in the speech of millions. Of the billions of words spoken every day, how many do you think honor God? Of the words that proceed from your mouth, how many are there in a day that glorify and exalt God?

Are matters better with clothing? Let us be honest—much immodest “Babylonian” clothing is worn nearly everywhere in society today. Our clothing conveys a message. What message are you conveying?

With food and drink some of us fare no better. Many eat like a heathen, refusing to acknowledge God as the giver of all that we receive. Are you among them—or else, do you quickly say a prayer without concentrating upon the great God whom you are acknowledging?

“Babylon” is alive and prosperous today—also in its education. All around us today it is taught either that God does not exist at all, or an attempt is made to portray Him as a God who loves everyone. Devil-worship and spirit-worship abound around the world. In fact, the devil has his visible classroom in many homes through television. He uses TV as an effective tool to teach principles contrary to the Ten Commandments hundreds of times every day. He uses radio, newspapers, magazines, books, movies, music, videos, and the internet—all to educate our minds in worldly, unbiblical ways.

“Babylon” is still here. The temptations are great and many, especially for young people. The pride of life, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye increase ten times faster than inflation, and we are all guilty of them. We are in grave danger of being overcome by the flood of worldliness that sweeps over us and lives within us. Dear friend, has worldliness ever become sin for you? Do you realize how deeply you are prone to drink in its philosophy and its sins? Do you feel its dangers? Are you afraid of the vulnerability of your own worldly hearts?

“Yes,” perhaps you will say, “but did not Daniel have to go along with it? It was not his choice to be in Babylon, was it? After all, was he not in the land of the enemy, and is it not true, ‘when in Rome we must do as the Romans’? If he objected, the king would not hesitate to take his life—surely then he had better compromise somewhat, hadn’t he? Otherwise, he would lose his honorable position and perhaps even his life. And besides, aren’t such things as clothing, food, names, and language rather small things to protest about?”

This was precisely Daniel’s temptation. It is still our temptation today. Many align themselves with the world while professing to be Christians. They attend church faithfully, pray and read the Bible regularly. For the rest of the time, however, they think and act as the world thinks and acts, not wanting to be viewed as being “different.”

Young people, you understand this kind of peer pressure, don’t you? When in school or at work, do you easily go along with “the crowd” or do you pray for strength to resist sin? Mixing Christianity and worldliness, Babylon and Jerusalem, keeping a form of religion but doing away with a separated and godly lifestyle—this is your temptation every day.

Part of this temptation of a mixed lifestyle is that it appears to make daily living so much easier. Little self-denial is needed. It is a lifestyle that can always be positive, can always say “yes”—“yes” to the church, “yes” to the world. How few realize that they are then saying “no” to God! God will not have a mixed, half-hearted people.

Dear young friends, what is your life? Is your talk “Babylonian”? Are you worshipping worldly idols—the idols of entertainment, of riches, of ease, and yes, of sinful self? Are you leading a life of compromise?

Compromise is one of Satan’s favorite words when sin is involved. He likes to take us one step at a time down the slippery slope of iniquity. Gradually he aims to lead us into what has been rightly called “practical atheism”—that is, living as if there were no God.

The first step down this slippery slope begins with abandoning secret prayer. Then the Bible is increasingly neglected. Searching of the Scriptures stops. We reason, “There are more things to do; I am so busy. Besides, we can’t always be so strict; I would not care to have others see me so. It is wrong to be ‘righteous overmuch.’ I won’t let happen what Jesus said must happen: ‘The world must hate you.’ After all, don’t I have to be kind to everyone?”

Such are Satan’s reasonings and devices. More and more conscience is overstepped. Babylon. Compromise. Worldliness. It is a never-ending cycle. Eventually, the slippery slope leads to a whole variety of sins, perhaps even drugs. And all the while, Satan is whispering, “Try it. How do you know what it is like unless you eat with the Babylonians and share their food? You will soon be used to it. It is not so bad. Experiment! You’re old enough.”

What a seemingly easy life Daniel could have had if he had only been willing to compromise! He could still have kept his own religion privately, couldn’t he? All he had to do was go along with these customs but not take them so seriously. By grace, however, Daniel could not compromise. The fear of the Lord was planted in his young heart. He could not be at home in the world. He had to say “no.”
“But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank.” Here lies the secret: “Daniel purposed in his heart.” Not because of parents, church, or any person, but because it was the conviction and desire of his heart. It was not legalism. It was not fear of God’s punishment. It was out of love for the Lord who was so worthy to be feared that “Daniel purposed in his heart” to say “no” to the world.

Daniel desired to walk before the Lord, to live to His honor and glory. He knew from experience: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Young people, can you say from the heart that you agree with Daniel? Do you dare to be a Daniel, dare to flee the world, dare to stand alone? Is the divine pressure of God’s Word more weighty for you than the peer pressure of your friends?

There is still another reason “Daniel purposed in his heart” not to defile himself—jealousy. He was jealous for the Lord’s Name; therefore, he would not eat what was offered in the name of other gods. But he was also jealously guarding his own heart. He knew the power of temptation, of the world, and of Satan. He knew his own heart. He knew how quickly his conscience could be dulled, how soon secret prayer could suffer, how quickly communion with God could be broken. Therefore, Daniel “purposed in his heart.”

By grace, Daniel was more afraid of the snares of the devil and the pollutions of sin than of losing his own life. He would rather die than sin. That is not legalism. That is not being “righteous overmuch.” Rather, that is love, God-given love, returning to the God who gave it.

Daniel received the courage to say “no” to sin from his heart as a gracious fruit of the Lord Jesus Christ who purposed in His heart from eternity to say “no” to sin for His entire life on earth. He gave His heart and life to the death of the cross in behalf of His Daniels who were by nature enemies of God but were made to fear and love His Name. May the Lord make us jealous of such Daniels. We often purpose in our minds or consciences, but how different that is from purposing through faith in our hearts!

This is real life, real living, real purpose. “Daniel purposed in his heart not to defile himself.” Let us pray for grace to reject the world’s selfish lifestyles and to seek “first the kingdom of God and his righteousness!”

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Why Lies Spread Faster than the Truth

False news travels six times faster than the truth according to a new scientific study. It’s 70% more likely to be retweeted. The study analyses 126,000 false stories tweeted by roughly three million people more than 4.5 million times. We’re aware of fake news and robots that generate it online. It seems that the robots are not responsible for the speed at which fake news travels – we are. What is it in human nature that is drawn to sharing falsehood?

It should be of great concern to us. The author of the study, Professor Aral makes a striking comment. “Some notion of truth is central to the proper functioning of nearly every realm of human endeavor. If we allow the world to be consumed by falsity, we are inviting catastrophe”. Of course, the trend of post-modern thought has been to claim that truth is relative, not absolute. This undermines a concern for truth, even the facts because it is claimed that such truth claims are an exercise of power and privilege.

A biblical perspective gives us, however, a clear basis for distinguishing truth and lies. The study laments the effects of fake news: “False news can drive the misallocation of resources during terror attacks and natural disasters, the misalignment of business investments, and misinformed elections”. While these are important, it is also a matter of moral and eternal significance. The concern about the speed at which lies travel is of course not new.

If you want the truth to go round the world you must hire an express train to pull it; but if you want a lie to go round the world, it will fly; it is as light as a feather, and a breath will carry it. It is well said in the old Proverb, ‘A lie will go round the world while the truth is pulling its boots on.’ (C H Spurgeon)

It is not a unique feature of social media; we have the same tendency to want to share certain news more than others. Apparently, false stories have greater novelty and produce greater surprise and disgust. It is just as true when we get news by word of mouth, text or email. These driving forces make people spring to a quick judgment about what they have heard and often want to share it. David, for instance, was too hasty in accepting Ziba’s lie about Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 16). There may be many “spiritual” factors that cloud our judgment and make us rush to characterize another believer and their words or actions.

There are many reasons why this may be so. Fundamentally the problem is not so much with the mouth as with the heart. The mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart (Matthew 12:34). The following are some of the ways we rush to judgment in the heart as outlined by James Durham. It comes from his exposition of the ninth commandment which forbids false witness. They are some of the reasons as to why lies travel faster than the truth.

1. Rushing into Suspicious Judgment

Suspecting others unjustly is called “evil surmising” in 1 Timothy 6:4 or as it is in the original Greek “evil suspicion”. This is when people are suspected of some evil without grounds for it, as Potiphar suspected Joseph. It is jealousy when this suspicion is mixed with fear of something that we love or value being endangered. Thus Herod was jealous when Christ was born, as were the neighboring kings when Jerusalem was being built. There is, I grant, a right suspicion; e.g. that which Solomon had concerning Adonijah (1 Kings 1 and 2). Yet Gedaliah failed, in not crediting Johannans information anent Ishmael’s conspiracy against his life (Jeremiah 40).

2. Rushing into Unjust Judgment

We may be guilty of rash judging and concluding unjustly concerning someone’s state. This was what Job’s friends did. We may judge unjustly of someone’s actions, as Eli did with Hannah in saying that she was drunk, because of her lips moving. We may judge unjustly of someone’s objectives. The Corinthians did this with Paul when he took wages; they said it was covetousness. When he did not take wages from them they said it was lack of love (see Romans 14:4 and 2 Corinthians 11:41 following).

3. Rushing into Hasty Judgment

By hasty judging, we pass a verdict too soon in our mind from some apparent evidence. We might draw conclusions about what we assume to be in the heart though it is not in the outward behavior. This is merely to judge hastily and before the time (Matthew 7:1).

4. Rushing into Judgment on Weak Grounds

There is light judging, basing our conclusions on arguments or other means that will not support them. The Barbarians suspected Paul to be a murderer when they saw the viper on his hand (Acts 25:4). King Ahasuerus trusted Haman’s slander concerning the Jews too quickly.

5. Rushing into Presumptuous Judgment

The ninth commandment may be broken in our hearts when we are constantly suspicious of our neighbor failing. We act contrary to Matthew 18:15 when we are not willing to be satisfied but rather base our judgment on what we presume to be probable.

We ought to be thankful that there is mercy for such sins of the heart that rise all too easily. How much we need truth and a love of the truth in the inward part. There is grace for this from the One who is full of grace and truth. Durham also observes that the ninth commandment requires us to preserve and promote the truth. It advances honest, simple and straightforward attitudes and behavior among people. We should have a sincere and cordial loving regard to the repute and good name of one another. We ought to take delight and joyful satisfaction in this as well as having a suitable love to and care for our own good name. These principles will restrain the rapid judgment that is ready to accept a false report concerning someone else whether they are in the public eye or in our circle of acquaintance.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The God of Miracles

"Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years” (Luke 1:18).

Zechariah had been faithful all his life, blameless in his walk with the Lord. Now, when God’s angel finally appeared to him with a promise, Zechariah’s faith faltered just a little bit. He forgot all the barren wombs God had opened in the Old Testament and the aged women who gave birth to children, and he said, “How can this be? We’re too old.”

We read that the angel replied, “I am Gabriel.” A simple statement, a statement of authority. Gabriel means “Man of God.” What Gabriel is saying is that he knows all about Zechariah and Elizabeth, and how old they are, but that he is bringing a message from God Himself. “I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news” (v. 19). Because Zechariah did not receive the speaking of the angel, he was judged to “be silent and not be able to speak until the day this happens” (v. 20).

Meanwhile, the people were growing restless because Zechariah was taking so long. Why was he staying in the Temple? Had something happened? Finally, Zechariah came out, but he could not speak. Yet “they realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak” (v. 22). How did they know he had seen a vision? Perhaps they figured it out eventually from the signs he was making.

Yet the text implies that they realized it immediately. I think that the minute they saw his face, they knew that this man had been in the presence of God. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai after speaking with God, the reflected glory that shown from his face was so brilliant that the people could not bear to look at him. Just so, I think Zechariah brought the light of God’s glory with him when he came out of the Temple.

God is faithful to keep His promises. Does your faith falter at times when it comes to God’s promises? Select one promise today (perhaps Romans 4:20–22) and meditate on it this weekend. Observe the comfort His promises bring to daily living.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Servants of God (Luke 1:11-17)

"Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense" (Luke 1:11).

Angels seem to have very little to do with our day-to-day experience, but they are very important in the New Testament. The Greek word usually translated as angel (occasionally as messenger) occurs more times in the New Testament than does the Greek word for love. It occurs more times than the word sin.

Angels surround the life of Jesus. They have two functions. As messengers, they announce very important events with which God is involved. They announced the birth of John and the birth of Jesus. They announced the resurrection of Jesus and His ascension. They will also return again to announce the second coming of Christ. Their second function is to minister to God’s people in times of crisis and trial. They ministered to Jesus in the wilderness, and they ministered to the apostles in the book of Acts.

Zechariah saw an angel standing at the right side of the altar of incense and was overcome with fear. The angel’s first words to him were, “Don’t be afraid.” The angel went on to say “your prayer has been heard.” What prayer is this? We might assume that it was Zechariah’s prayer for a child. While that prayer had indeed been heard, it is probably not what Zechariah was praying at the altar of incense. After all, he and Elizabeth were quite old, and they had long ago given up on the idea of having children. They had prayed for children 30 years ago, and now that prayer was being answered—true enough. But the angel is referring to the prayer Zechariah was praying at that moment. What was it?

Zechariah was offering on behalf of the nation. He was praying for the Messiah to come and save Israel and the world. It is that prayer that was being answered. Their child would be the forerunner of the Messiah.

Just as Zechariah faithfully prayed for the coming Messiah, so we need to earnestly desire and pray for the final coming of the Lord Jesus. Consider this the next time you pray “Thy kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer. Make John’s desire in Revelation 22:20 your own.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Chosen to Serve

"Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside" (Luke 1:8–10).

Zechariah was of the priestly division of Abijah. By the time of King David, there were so many descendants of Aaron that it was impossible for all of them to serve as priests at the same time. David, therefore, divided the priesthood into 24 groups, and among these was the division of Abijah. At the time of the Babylonian exile, this system fell apart, but it was reconstituted after the exile.

The greatest honor any priest could ever hope to have was to serve in the Temple itself. While every Israelite citizen had access to the Temple courtyard to offer sacrifices, only the priests could go inside the Temple into the Holy Place to take care of the lampstand, the table of showbread, and the altar of incense.

There were, however, thousands of priests by this time. The average priest would carry out spiritual duties in the towns and villages, and only occasionally would he come to Jerusalem to do any work in the Temple area. In order to be fair, lots were cast to see when and whom God would choose to have duty on a particular day. Because there were so many priests, it was established that a man would only minister inside the Temple once in his lifetime.

After years of service and patient waiting, Zechariah finally received his opportunity when he was an old man. In the evening it was Zechariah’s task to offer incense on the altar of incense, which represented prayer. The people thronged the areas around the Temple, joining in prayer while he burned incense inside. They would wait for him to come out, to see if God had given any sign to him for them.

The people of the Old Testament could only worship God at a distance. Even the priests, who theoretically had the right to draw nearer into the temple, only got to go in once in a lifetime. Under the new covenant, we can come into God’s presence, the Most Holy Place of all, anytime through prayer. Jesus has opened the way for us. Are you too often absent before the throne? Reassess your use of this holy privilege to come before His throne of grace.