Saturday 26th November 2022

1 PETER 5

“Young men: submit yourselves to your elders” – have some respect!  “Elders” is simply a label for church leaders, and Peter counted himself amongst that crowd!  The metaphor of ‘shepherd’ is a very apt one for Peter: recall when, after the Resurrection, Jesus commanded Peter to “Feed my Sheep” and “Feed my Lambs”.  The same Peter who had denied Jesus and deserted Jesus’ disciples was being rehabilitated and restored to a key pastoral role in Christ’s church.  Pastoral care is voluntary and comes from a willing servant heart and a lifestyle that emulates the Christ we worship.  He is the Chief Shepherd and we leaders are the Under-Shepherds, taking our orders and our example from Him.  But there is a great reward for faithful service.  Younger men – in age and seniority – should submit themselves to their leaders.

Everyone be humble towards everyone else too.  Pride is the ultimate curse of God’s creation, down to, and including, the Devil himself.  Understandably, God opposes it.  Those who humble themselves – who are realistic about their worth and abilities – He shows favour to.  If you are prone to worrying, then… don’t.  Pick up your anxieties in one great wrestling hold and fling them down… on top of Jesus!  He is strong enough to bear those burdens easily, and you cannot.  He is very happy to remove all those burdens from you because he cares for you as a unique individual (5:5-7).

Watch out for lions!  This kind of Devil-lion is very powerful, but you are actually stronger if you stand still and resist him with your faith.  This lion may make you suffer, but he won’t overcome you.  Soon, the Eternal One will call you to glory and restore you to something far mightier.

So ends this letter from Peter.  He gives credit to Silas who helped him draft it – and who probably corrected his spellings and grammar!  The message, in a nutshell: the gospel you have heard is the true faith, so stand firm in it, whatever the trials you have to go through.

DANIEL 1, 2 and 3

Who is really in charge?  Who’s the boss and who just thinks they are?  That is the question posed by the Book of Daniel.  And the answer is “The Most High God is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth” (4:17 and 5:21).  Daniel was almost certainly written by the Prophet Daniel and is a book of two halves: historical narrative in chapters 1-6, and then prophetic vision and symbolism in chapters 7-12.  It is also a book in two languages: Hebrew (chapters 1 and 8-12) and Aramaic (chapters 2-7).  Remember that we have a nation within a nation here: Jews held captive in Babylon, taken from Jerusalem in 605 BC, including Daniel and his friends, followed by more in 597 (including Ezekiel), and then the third and final cohort in 586 when Jerusalem was totally destroyed.

Aramaic was the everyday language throughout the Babylonian empire and the parts of Daniel that are written in Aramaic relate to matters concerning the entire empire and surrounding nations.  The parts written in Hebrew relate specifically to God’s people.

‘Daniel’ means ‘God is Judge’.  He and his friends were selected from the Jewish exiles who belonged to the nobility, and even the royal family.  Nebuchadnezzar decided that he wanted a group of wise and cultured counsellors who had been trained and totally immersed in the Babylonian culture.  Therefore, he chose some handsome, healthy, and intelligent young men and enrolled them on a ‘degree’ course in the language and literature of the Babylonians.  They were entitled to a luxurious food and drink allowance, but according to custom a portion of each had been offered to idols on a pagan altar.  Daniel and his three friends therefore refused this food on spiritual grounds and chose to exist on a diet of vegetables and water that was safe from spiritual contamination.  Since they were faithful to the Lord, He was a blessing to them.  At the end of the three years, they passed their Babylonian degrees and impressed the king’s court.

A couple of bigger tests awaited the intrepid Four.  The king had a weird dream that he knew was a coded message from the ‘gods’.  The problem was that his magicians and astrologers were always so wise after the event, but rarely any help in advance – basically, they usually just guessed!  How could he be sure that their interpretation was genuine?  Simple: don’t tell them the dream; if they really have divine power, they can find that out as well as interpreting it!  And just to make it interesting, if you guys fail to tell the king his dream, you’ll be put to death!  This edict extended to Daniel and his three friends too.

Daniel rushed home and got those friends praying, and then went to bed.  By the mercy of the Lord, he dreamed the same dream as Nebuchadnezzar and God also gave him the full interpretation.  As Daniel began to reveal the details to Nebuchadnezzar, he was careful to give all the glory to the Lord and not to take any for himself.  A giant statue was visible, with a golden head, silver chest and arms, bronze abdomen and thighs, and iron legs and feet, with the feet of iron mixed with dried clay.  Interpretation: obvious!  Gold = Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian empire, the grandest one from a wealth and opulence point of view.  Silver = the Mede and Persian empire under Cyrus.  Bronze = the Greek empire under Alexander the Great.  Iron = the Roman empire.  Notice how the metals become less costly but more tough and enduring; each successive empire lasted longer than the previous one. 

The rock cut by divine hands from the mountain symbolizes the Kingdom of God – the eternal kingdom that will outlast all others, crushing and destroying every other empire under the sun.  “The kingdom of this world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and He will reign for ever and ever”.  (Revelation 11:15).  For this revelation, Daniel was given instant promotion – just as Joseph had been in Egypt – and was made ruler over all Babylon.  The world has a hunger for divine wisdom and we, God’s people, can most easily supply it if we are faithful.

The final scene in today’s readings is the blazing furnace.  Worship this gold image of Nebuchadnezzar’s god ‘Nebu’ or else you get fried!  Bravely and faithfully, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego declared that what they had been asked to do was wrong, that God would save them from death, and that even if he didn’t, they still wouldn’t comply.  Fighting talk!

An hour later, they were conversing with Jesus in the middle of the blazing furnace at a temperature hot enough to melt silver.  No-one felt too hot, and no-one’s clothes were even singed.  The bemused king called them out – amazed at having seen another miracle.  (Jesus seemed to disappear in the process).  The Lord gained in glory and the Jews earned the right to worship their own God in their own way (or in His way).  What a result!

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