Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Paradoxes created by the Fall: The Tangent Universe & The New Universe

Growth as much as life itself is shot through with paradox. Though it wasn't always that way. The universe itself once used to be quite right.  It was good. Very good. And so were we.  But something terrible happened, that no one can quite understand, long, long ago. This is not legend, but a fact of our existence. 

In a perfect universe, paradox would not be necessary, aside from being something which would exemplify beauty.  But then something happened we call "fall."  

This was an event in which humanity became polluted with evil, that which is contrary to what is right and true.  And being polluted, humanity was quarantined. 

The universe became broken, by the command of God, if we're honest. The evil generated within the human heart, the desire to supplant god, and play god, and redefine good and evil to fit our emotions and pleasures became central to human consciousness and perception of reality. 

In our minds, good became bad and bad became good, in many ways, though not all. We became desirous to create our own utopia, apart from God. We became desirous to prove God wrong, and to smirk in the face of God, and to sneer toward any mention of God.  It became our base programming. 

Now this choice in the heart of our ancestors, then seems to have been magnified outside of them, and onto the world around them. That's just how central humanity is to the creation, the creation was created to house humanity, thus humanity's choice affected it completely.

Reality became fallen. Space became vast and lifeless. How was it before? Who could say? Perfect I imagine. Seasons became shattered. Conditions became difficult. The various creatures and animals having once been harmonious and peaceful, became vicious, and prone to consume one another. 

All of reality was struck through with paradoxes. Paradoxes, paradoxes, and more paradoxes. Just like two colliding storm fronts produce tornadoes, so the collision of humanity with God's objective truth created numerous paradoxes.  

Energy became limited. The human mind became debased. Earthquakes, meteors, storms, and such began to occur. Humanity knew shame and grief, and lostness and isolation from God. 

All this came about due to a choice that was made. It began with a choice made by a servant of God, named Lucifer. He apparently became prideful, and chose that path, and then attempted a rebellion against the Creator.  This rebellion failed. But somehow in this situation, lucifer managed to get humanity in on the destruction. He managed to trick us into rebellion against God. 

Now, every human born on the broken, tangent Earth is born in a default mode of rebellion toward God.  As much as we're born with the handprint of God on us, with eternal longings, we're also born with the handprint of Satan on us, defaulting toward rebellion, selfishness, and a deference for darkness. We cling to it, grasp onto it, it becomes us, and it matches us so well. We're like the horrid creatures in H.G. Well's The Time Machine in the far future, that live underground in dark tunnels, and love every minute of it.  That's the horrendous realization of our situation, we're the chief problem. And we don't often look intently at that angle because nothing in us wants it to be true.  But it is true.  And I can't help but stare at it.  It's terrible, but it's there and maybe if I can stare at it long enough, the Lord can defeat it in me.

That's what I'm afraid of.  I'm afraid that this fallen nature, this reprobate mind, this stamp of rebellion upon me will destroy me.  Even as a Christian, deeply in love with God, and following Him, I sometimes fear I will veer off course, because many times I'm so tempted, and many times, I feel the rebellion in me, and it's sway is strong.  But growing weaker and weaker as Christ works on me. But I think it's wise to have a good fear of falling away. Of course some would shout "you can't lose it!" And to those I would say, read the New Testament more, and listen to less sermons with catch phrases like that.  Read John chapter 15.  We're called to live holy and pure in Christ. Many Christians in our lukewarm era don't want to admit that. They refuse to believe that they can lose their position through endless sinning, but they can. And if they persist in it, they will. And something inside them tells them that, but they've been fed the catch phrases of popular evangelicalism too many times. And they've read too little of the New Testament. 

I'm so tired of hearing the lie of "once saved always saved." The preachers who teach this will one day have to stand before God and explain to God the Father why they taught endless millions of people that they could never lose their salvation, no matter how much they sinned. And they will have to explain why they taught endless millions of people why they must always continue sinning, and will never stop sinning, so you might as well go on sinning. They'll have to explain why they removed every impetus not to sin by telling millions of people they could never lose it, all for some theological ideology created by a man, long ago, who is long dead. But Jesus lives. 

We like to comfort ourselves in our sins, especially in the west. We don't want to have to deal with them. When Jesus tells the woman caught in adultery to "Go and sin no more" we cry out at Jesus, "How can you say that!?" We're so caught in our sins.  We love them. We want Jesus, we want Christianity, but we want to keep our little sins too. We don't want them to affect our faith in Christ, but they do. And they threaten our relationship with Christ. If you're reading these words, repent before it's too late. Let those dead things go. To him who overcomes, will be given the crown, so it says in Revelation.  

These are the sort of paradoxes we see in the fallen creation.  We can't see God here, but we believe in Him.  We are best friends with Jesus, yet we've never met Him face to face.  We're fallen yet redeemed. We bring honor for ourselves in the next life by serving others in this one. We defeat evil not by striking back at it, but by overcoming evil with good. We defeat our enemies by forgiving them, loving them, and praying for them. We achieve victory through surrender to God.  We find peace in constant trouble. We grow by constantly suffering through trials and difficulties. We are often poor and needy in this world, yet rich beyond imagining in the world to come. We are constantly in controversy as Christians, yet these controversies somehow bring others to know Christ. We find ourselves by losing ourselves. We come to know Christ by realizing our desperate lostness and brokenness. It is a world shot through with paradox.

There is a ticking clock on this reality, on this universe, on this planet, on this solar system, on every galaxy, nebula, planet, and person. In the old movie Donnie Darko, Donnie is visited by a rabbit who tells him the world will end in 28 days. Donnie has found himself in a tangent universe that will destroy itself after 28 days and his only way out is to realize that he must return to the prime universe.  With horror I realized once I'd became a Christian that though this film was fiction, it is reality for me and for every other person in existence. 

We all stand before a ticking clock, and we must somehow come to find Jesus, and come to faith in Christ, and repent of sin, and live for Jesus, before the clock runs out.  Otherwise we will perish with the tangent universe when it is destroyed and replaced with the new universe. We find ourselves in a desperately dangerous situation. Because those who do not come to Jesus will be judged before God according to their lives, which is a very dangerous thing, without Christ, no sins are forgiven, and then those sins they committed will have to be punished.  And the punishment is eternal torment in hell. How terrifying! But if they have Christ as their savior and have lived for Christ, they will escape the broken universe, and be restored to the prime universe, when the new heavens and new earth are brought about by God the Father. 

That's the goal. To wake up from the fallen Earth nightmare before time runs out.  And we can only do that through Christ. But if we do, we will escape the fall, we will escape the dumb rebellion of Satan, and be restored fully to right relationship with God. In fact that is our proper destiny, to be restored to God. That is what humans were designed for, to love and be loved by God, in a perfect universe. That is the goal, the return to paradise. And it's quite real.  It's quite a solid thing.  It's not going anywhere.  It will be real. Many will go to hell, and they won't quite be able to believe they are there. But they will be.  And there will be no escape.

I don't fully understand why it's like that.  It seems quite disturbing to me. But I don't make the rules. And from what I'd read and heard from near death experiences, which I've studied extensively, in that court room, when God shows the true evil of sin to us, in the end, after the review, we 100% agree with God when he gives us the sentence of "hell." Like, we see what we did, we see the penalty, and we end up nodding in agreement that this punish is 100% just.  So I've read and heard from near death experiences. At last those who had never seen eye to eye with God will, at their court date, when the sentence is read, of hell, be in 100% agreement, because they'll see their sins and wrongdoings and the punishment given from God's perspective and realize that it is completely and totally just. Wow. And I do believe that's true.  

I'm sure it's also true that many will attend to heaven, the New Jerusalem, the perfect reality believing that they were not quite worthy. But in fact they were, because of Jesus Christ, and what he had done for them.  So it may be surprising for many of us.  But beautiful, and truth will reign. 

But you realize then, that this whole fallen reality is simply a last chance for humanity to turn to God.  Our ancestors joined with the rebellion against God, with Lucifer and the others.  They chose to shake their fist in the face of God.  So this is really just a last chance for us. We can slide down into darkness with the rest, or we can climb up the ladder, the stairway to heaven, which is Jesus. It's that simple. This entire broken universe, this broken planet, is simply God giving us a last chance to turn to Him before time runs out.  And time is quickly running out.  We're approaching the conclusion of this reality.  So you better make that choice and put it into practice sooner than later. 

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Israel taken captive into Babylon: The Victories and Visions of Daniel

The hanging gardens of Babylon, the ancient majesty of a mighty capital city, splendid and mysterious, beautiful, yet danger lurks in every corner. This is not home. This is not the city of God. This is not Jerusalem. This is not Israel. This is the capital one might say of the kingdoms of darkness. And so enters the hundreds of thousands of Israelites, taken into captivity, by King Nebuchadnezzar. And among them, four men, who would change history forever, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and Daniel, all well educated young men of the royal court of Israel.

Now they are placed into the service of the King of Babylon.

It says in Daniel 1:3-7 (NET) 3 “The king commanded Ashpenaz, who was in charge of his court officials, to choose some of the Israelites who were of royal and noble descent— 4 young men in whom there was no physical defect and who were handsome, well versed in all kinds of wisdom, well educated and having keen insight, and who were capable of entering the king’s royal service—and to teach them the literature and language of the Babylonians. 5 So the king assigned them a daily ration from his royal delicacies and from the wine he himself drank. They were to be trained for the next three years. At the end of that time they were to enter the king’s service. 6 As it turned out, among these young men were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. 7 But the overseer of the court officials renamed them. He gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar, Hananiah he named Shadrach, Mishael he named Meshach, and Azariah he named Abednego.”

This is pretty common, they’re trying to assimilate the Jews into the culture and ways of Babylon. This tends to happen when immigrants come into a new country they assimilate to a certain extent into the values, customs and beliefs of the country they enter. But you’ll notice that throughout history, particularly from AD 70 to 1957 there was one group of people that never assimilated into the countries they spent time in, that was the Jewish people. They kept their unique cultural and religious heritage, and as a result many times they were feared and mistrusted and treated as outsiders. But it was God’s way of preserving the Jews as his own unique people, to one day be restored to Israel.

It’s the same thing here, as Israel is taken into captivity, they continue to stand out as a special people, beloved by God. Even in exile, God still loves the people of Israel and guides them.

So as they start trying to change these young men into Babylonians, Daniel decides that he is not going to submit to the reconditioning, the brain-washing, you might say, in Daniel 1:8 (NIV) it says "But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way."

So Daniel and his friends request permission to not eat the fancy food of Babylon. And they are allowed to do this, because God is with them.

It says in Daniel 1:17-19 “God gave these four young men knowledge and understanding in every kind of literature and wisdom. Daniel also understood visions and dreams of every kind. 18 At the end of the time that the king had said to present them, the chief eunuch presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king interviewed them, and among all of them, no one was found equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.”

God was with them in exile. He gave them wisdom, understanding, and they became advisors to the very king of Babylon. Amazing. God helps us. Even in exile. He helps us.

And we are in exile right now, as Christians. We’re in the world, a world that is not our home. We can tell too. Because the ways of the world hurt us. The evil of the world hurts us. I feel it every day, the pain of the sin I see all around me. It hurts so bad. But it’s because we’re exiles. This world is not our home. We’re citizens of heaven. We’re made for another place. And the world can tell that we aren’t part of the world, so the world doesn’t like us, it doesn’t accept us. And that’s OK. We should be worried if we feel too at home in the world.

So Daniel and his buddies are advising the king. And the king has some very disturbing dreams. He sees things in his dreams that he can’t explain. So he gathers together all his advisors and asks them to explain the dream to them. But one catch, he says, you tell me the dream that I saw, and then interpret it. I’m not going to tell you the dream, if you’re really seers and mediums and spiritual people, you should be able to tell me the dream. He’s smart, he knows if he tells them the dream, they could just make up any interpretation they want. But none of the advisors can tell him his dream. So the king says, then you’re all a bunch of liars and he orders them all put to death.

But Daniel finds out about this order, and he asks for time, to seek the Lord and try to understand the dream and it’s meaning. So God gives Daniel the information he needs, and he tells the king about his dream, he dream of this giant statue, made of various substances, bronze, gold, clay, and so on. And Daniel explained that the statue represents King Nebuchadnezzar powerful kingdom and kingdoms that would come after his. Then in the dream a rock struck the statue and destroyed it. And Daniel explains that the rock hitting the statue was the kingdom of God, that would destroy those kingdoms, and bring in the final eternal kingdom.

King Nebuchadnezzar is so impressed that he makes Daniel his chief advisor and gives him great honor, and honors the God of heaven. But later the King is so amazed with the dream and the power of his kingdom, that he makes a giant statue, just like the statue he saw in his dream. And he gathers his people together and insists everyone bow down and worship the statue.

So everyone bows down and worships this giant statue the king has made, every except Shadrach, Meshach and Abedigo. So everyone, probably thousands of people, are bowing down before this statue, and only three people are left standing, these three Israelites.

The King is so angry that he has his soldiers seize the 3 men. And his soldiers bring them to the king. And the king asks them why aren’t you bowing down before the statue? He said, if you don’t you’re going to die, you’re going to get thrown into a fiery furnace.

From Daniel 3:16-18 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to the king, “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. 17 If the God we serve exists, then he can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he can[f] rescue us from the power of you, the king. 18 But even if he does not rescue us,[g] we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.”

Bold response. Basically they say, God can rescue us from you. But even if God doesn’t rescue us, we won’t serve any of your false gods. That should be our response when facing difficulties or persecutions, or struggles, look, God can rescue me from this situation, but even if he doesn’t, I’m still not turning back. Easy to say, harder to do, right?

So the King is enraged by their response and he has his guards throw them into the furnace. And he orders the furnace to be fired so hot, that the guards who them in die because they get too close.

But as they look into the furnace, to watch the 3 men die, they realize, they’re inside the furnace, completely unharmed!

It says in Daniel 3:24-26 24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in alarm. He said to his advisers, “Didn’t we throw three men, bound, into the fire?”

“Yes, of course, Your Majesty,” they replied to the king.

25 He exclaimed, “Look! I see four men, not tied, walking around in the fire unharmed; and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”[k]

26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and called, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, you servants of the Most High God—come out!””

So the three Israelites come out of the fire, and they are completely unharmed. Their clothes don’t even smell like smoke. And King Nebuchadnezzar gives glory to the one true God. Our God.

Afterward the King had a letter sent out across his entire kingdom ordering the peoples of Babylon to worship the one true God of Israel. Amazing, how God can turn our tests into our testimonies, often times our most difficult moments will become a catalyst through which God will spread his word around the world.

Over time King Nebuchadnezzar again rebels against God, and his son becomes King. His son also rebels against God and in an incredible moment they see a hand writing on the wall of the king’s chamber, declaring destruction. Later, the next king became Darius the mede.

Daniel continues to serve under King Darius, and he once again distinguishes himself as a greater leader among the people. Daniel does so well that Darius decides he’s going to put Daniel over the whole kingdom. So now you’ve got the other advisors of the king getting very jealous of Daniel and how much Darius likes him. So they start to scheme and plot against him.

It says in Daniel 6:3-9 3 Daniel[b] distinguished himself above the administrators and satraps because he had an extraordinary spirit, so the king planned to set him over the whole realm. 4 The administrators and satraps, therefore, kept trying to find a charge against Daniel regarding the kingdom. But they could find no charge or corruption, for he was trustworthy, and no negligence or corruption was found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We will never find any charge against this Daniel unless we find something against him concerning the law of his God.”

6 So the administrators and satraps went together to the king and said to him, “May King Darius live forever. 7 All the administrators of the kingdom—the prefects, satraps, advisers, and governors—have agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an edict that, for thirty days, anyone who petitions any god or man except you, the king, will be thrown into the lions’ den. 8 Therefore, Your Majesty, establish the edict and sign the document so that, as a law of the Medes and Persians, it is irrevocable and cannot be changed.” 9 So King Darius signed the written edict.”

So these other advisors are looking for any charge they can find against Daniel. But they can’t find anything. So they trick the King into signing a decree that says no one can worship any god but King Darius himself for 30 days. They know that Daniel can’t agree to that. He has to worship God everyday.

It would be the same for me today. If congress or the president or the supreme court came out with an order and said you can’t worship any God for 30 days, or you can’t go to church for this long, or you can’t pray or read your Bible for this long, I would have to disobey that order. I would take my Bible and my prayer spot, and continue on seeking the Lord. No government has the right to stop me from worshiping God.

So Daniel continues to worship God. It says in Daniel 6:10-11 “10 When Daniel learned that the document had been signed, he went into his house. The windows in its upstairs room opened toward Jerusalem, and three times a day he got down on his knees, prayed, and gave thanks to his God, just as he had done before. 11 Then these men went as a group and found Daniel petitioning and imploring his God.”

You’ve got some spiritual warfare going on here I’m sure. This is evil at work, trying to stop Daniel from having such a big influence in Babylon. So these men see Daniel praying, he doesn’t try to hide it, he just keeps doing what he always does. So they run back, and tell King Darius.

And King Darius is in a corner now. He signed this law, it can’t be repealed, that’s how Babylonian law works. Darius spends the rest of the day trying to find some loophole to save Daniel. But he can’t find anything finally. So he sends his guards to arrest Daniel, and throw him into a den of lions.

It says in Daniel 6:16-18 “So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you continually serve, rescue you!” 17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den. The king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the signet rings of his nobles, so that nothing in regard to Daniel could be changed. 18 Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting. No diversions were brought to him, and he could not sleep.”

And it continues like this, in Daniel 6:19-24 “19 At the first light of dawn the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. 20 When he reached the den, he cried out in anguish to Daniel. “Daniel, servant of the living God,” the king said,[e] “has your God, whom you continually serve, been able to rescue you from the lions?”

21 Then Daniel spoke with the king: “May the king live forever. 22 My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths; and they haven’t harmed me, for I was found innocent before him. And also before you, Your Majesty, I have not done harm.”

23 The king was overjoyed and gave orders to take Daniel out of the den. When Daniel was brought up from the den, he was found to be unharmed, for he trusted in his God. 24 The king then gave the command, and those men who had maliciously accused Daniel[f] were brought and thrown into the lions’ den—they, their children, and their wives. They had not reached the bottom of the den before the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.”

The Lions don’t harm a hair on Daniel’s head. He’s safe. And the King is worried and upset he can’t sleep, and comes and brings Daniel out of the Lion’s den. Then casts those who spoke evil against Daniel into the lion’s den instead, and they are devoured.

Then Darius issues a decree throughout the kingdom that all peoples everywhere should honor and fear the God who Daniel loves. The one true living God. Once again, the word goes out, to the entire kingdom of Babylon, to worship the real God. Imagine how many came to God because of these decrees and letters going out from Nebuchadnezzar and now Daniel.

It’s an important lesson for us today, to continue to honor God. Don’t assimilate into the culture of this world, live a distinct, different life. Don’t pander to the ideologies of this fallen broken world. Instead stand out in stark contrast. Just like Daniel did by not submitting to the ways of Babylon.

When the world demands that we embrace their ideas, their ideologies, their causes, we should refuse those evil ways. Just like Shadrach, Mishach and Abendigo did, by refusing to bow down before the giant statue. And they may throw us into the fiery furnace, with cancel culture, and mockery, and attempting to get us fired, but so be it.

And thirdly, we must keep God’s laws above the laws of this society we live in. We are called to worship God, pray to God, and see the Lord, and if any law of our society goes against that, we should refuse to obey those laws, like some did in states like California, and New York, when they were told by power hungry governors that they couldn’t meet to worship God, despite the fact that sports games and other events were going on everyday. Some churches refused, and met anyway, and God honored that sacrifice.

After these events recorded in the book of Daniel, we see that Daniel experiences many dreams and visions throughout his life. And these dreams and visions are recorded in the book of Daniel. That’s why many when talking about the end times, the last days, they will point to books like Revelation and the book of Daniel. We see all sorts of prophecies, like this one, in Daniel 7

9 “As I kept watching, thrones were set in place,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was white like snow,
and the hair of his head like whitest wool.
His throne was flaming fire;
its wheels were blazing fire.
10 A river of fire was flowing,
coming out from his presence.
Thousands upon thousands served him;
ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was convened,
and the books were opened.”

This speaks of the end judgment, when God the Father will judge the peoples of the world. And again at the end of the book of Daniel, in Daniel 12:5-7 “ 5 Then I, Daniel, looked, and two others were standing there, one on this bank of the river and one on the other. 6 One of them said to the man dressed in linen, who was above the water of the river, “How long until the end of these wondrous things?” 7 Then I heard the man dressed in linen, who was above the water of the river. He raised both his hands[b] toward heaven and swore by him who lives eternally that it would be for a time, times, and half a time. When the power of the holy people is shattered, all these things will be completed.”

And again it says, “At that time
Michael, the great prince
who stands watch over your people, will rise up.
There will be a time of distress
such as never has occurred
since nations came into being until that time.
But at that time all your people
who are found written in the book will escape.
2 Many who sleep in the dust
of the earth will awake,
some to eternal life,
and some to disgrace and eternal contempt.
3 Those who have insight will shine
like the bright expanse of the heavens,
and those who lead many to righteousness,
like the stars forever and ever.” -Daniel 12:1-3

Some believe that Daniel saw Jesus, as the one floating above the waters, who declared these things to him, about the end times, when Israel would face great struggles, and the Lord would divide the wicked and the righteous to receive either punishment or reward.

Amazing, how God continued to use the Israelites even while they were in exile in Babylon. God is with you in the dark times of exile and evil, he continues to guide us, help us, and bless us. Our response is to honor Him by living pure lives, speaking truth in a dark world, and serving the people of the world to draw them to Jesus.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Worship of Graven Images and Icons: Should we bow down before paintings or statues of Jesus?

Should Christians bow down before statues or pictures of Jesus? Is it OK to worship a painting or sculpture or statue?

The early church leader John of Damascus makes several arguments in favor of the veneration of images. Though he rejects the outright worship of images. He deals with several scriptures from the Old and New Testament given in the law of Moses and then repeated by the Apostle Paul, but indicates that these scriptures were given to the Jews who were prone to idol worship, but delineates between the Jews, and Christians.  

He indicates that Christians are more mature, and can tell the difference between venerating images and worshiping God.  John then declares that once God comes in the incarnation, Jesus Christ, apparently then it's OK to create paintings and images of Christ, because Christ has become physical, and having that physical form, this somehow allows for humanity to create images of this person and venerate those images. John also makes the argument that various biblical figures like Abraham and Jacob worshiped people and angels, and so on. John also makes the argument that since Christ is the visible image of the invisible God this can be equated with an approval of worshiping images of Christ which are the image of God, though imperfect representations.

Those are some arguments for veneration of images and icons, though they don't seem particularly compelling to me.  The 10 commandments make it clear, we should make no "graven image" of God for the purpose of worshipping it. We serve the invisible God, the God who can't be seen by human eyes. Therefore we should make no carved images or paintings for the purpose of bowing down before them and worshiping them. Never, ever do that. It's expressly rejected by God's word. 

I was raised Catholic so I was quite familiar with the practices of bowing down before statues, and asking saints for prayers, and lighting candles and placing them around statues of saints.  I rejected that faith road and became much more protestant in my beliefs, at first being quite apposed to any practice of images or icons. 

I reacted quite far to the other end, and even felt concerned of basic items like a cross in a chapel.  However my views have softened over the years.  When I pray I will often light candles and burn incense. I have various paintings and pictures around my home that depict Christ as lion and lamb.  I have a reproduction of an old painting of Christ walking up Calvary's hill. There are others as well. But I'm still quite cautious. 

I would never bow down before a painting or an image or icon. I wouldn't want to risk that it might be considered worship of some kind.  In some ways I certainly do venerate the saints and the various historical figures, but simply through their writings and writings about them, not through images or icons. To venerate means to admire, but to worship, that is something different.  Only God should receive worship.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

King Josiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, & the Fall of Judah

“Surrender to Babylon! Save yourselves!” Cried out the young prophet Jeremiah in the streets of Jerusalem, the holy city of God. The walls around the whole city were completely surrounded by hundreds of thousands of soldiers from Babylon, firing boulders and arrows by the hundreds into the city defenses. King Zedekiah, only about 30 years old, younger than me, sat in the throne room hoping after hope that Egypt’s army might come to save them, but it was not to be. Not only had Samaria, the northern kingdom of Israel been destroyed, and taken into captivity, but now even the last holdout of Judah, was now crumbling before the attacks of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

What happened? What went wrong? How could a new enemy be at the gates once again? We know how King Hezekiah had done great things, and had been a godly king, and so God had delivered Judah from Assyria. But now Manasseh ruled in Judah.

Manasseh was an evil king, the son of Hezekiah, and he went his own way, and did great evil. His sins and mistakes led to his being taken captive by Assyria, the nation that had destroyed Samaria. Interestingly enough, while Manasseh was in captivity he changed his ways, and God had mercy on him. It’s an important reminder to us today that even the worst sinner who does the worst evil imaginable is not beyond the grace of God.

In any case, after Manasseh came a great king, named King Josiah. I love the events of Josiah’s life. This is a truly courageous king, much like Hezekiah. But Manasseh had done so much damage during his reign, it would be a steep climb to draw close to the Lord once again.

How often do we do the same thing? For a season we’re close with God, but then we start to drift away, then we draw close again, then we drift away, why is it like that? I wish I knew. It’s a struggle in my own life. In any case, in 2nd Kings 22 it says, “Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. 2 He did what was right in the Lord’s sight and walked in all the ways of his ancestor David; he did not turn to the right or the left.”

He was only eight when he became king. Nevertheless, he did the right things. He followed God.

The nation had so lost touch with God that they didn’t even know where the book of the law was. They’d lost it. The temple was in ruins. It was a mess.

But Josiah sent for the high priest, to discover what had been going on. During Manasseh’s reign, a sculpture of Baal had been put on the altar in God’s temple. Now that’s creepy.

It says in 2nd Kings 22:8-13 8 The high priest Hilkiah told the court secretary Shaphan, “I have found the book of the law in the Lord’s temple,” and he gave the book to Shaphan, who read it.

9 Then the court secretary Shaphan went to the king and reported, “Your servants have emptied out the silver that was found in the temple and have given it to those doing the work—those who oversee the Lord’s temple.” 10 Then the court secretary Shaphan told the king, “The priest Hilkiah has given me a book,” and Shaphan read it in the presence of the king.

11 When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. 12 Then he commanded the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, the court secretary Shaphan, and the king’s servant Asaiah, 13 “Go and inquire of the Lord for me, for the people, and for all Judah about the words in this book that has been found. For great is the Lord’s wrath that is kindled against us because our ancestors have not obeyed the words of this book in order to do everything written about us.”

So after hearing the book of the law read to him, that would include the Torah, the first five books, the ten commandments and so on, he’s so upset he rips his clothes apart. He’s shocked. And he can sense God’s wrath against them because Judah has fallen so far from God. So he sends word to the prophet of this time to discover what God is going to say in response so all this chaos.

So they go to a female prophet named Huldah and God says this through her: “I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. 17 Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made,[a] my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.’ 18 Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord: 19 Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse[b] and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. 20 Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.’”

So really at this point Josiah finds out that it’s too late for Judah. Judah is going to be destroyed. But God is going to delay the destruction until after Josiah, because Josiah is faithful to God.

So then we learn in 2nd Kings 23 that Josiah gathered the people to observe the Passover festival, this festival where they would celebrate each year how God had delivered them from Egypt to the promised land. But they hadn’t even been celebrating it for years.

It says in 2nd King 23 21 The king commanded all the people, “Observe the Passover of the Lord your God as written in the book of the covenant.” 22 No such Passover had ever been observed from the time of the judges who judged Israel through the entire time of the kings of Israel and Judah. 23 But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the Lord’s Passover was observed in Jerusalem.”

So it’s a big success, a Passover like no other Passover before it. The people hear the word of the Lord, they obey, they celebrate the Passover and its just a great moment of unity and hope for the nation.

Then it talks all about everything Josiah did, getting rid of the baal statues, the Asherah poles, the high places and so on. It says in 2nd King 23: 24 In addition, Josiah eradicated the mediums, the spiritists, household idols, images, and all the abhorrent things that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem. He did this in order to carry out the words of the law that were written in the book that the priest Hilkiah found in the Lord’s temple. 25 Before him there was no king like him who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength according to all the law of Moses, and no one like him arose after him.

26 In spite of all that, the Lord did not turn from the fury of his intense burning anger, which burned against Judah because of all the affronts with which Manasseh had angered him. 27 For the Lord had said, “I will also remove Judah from my presence just as I have removed Israel. I will reject this city Jerusalem, that I have chosen, and the temple about which I said, ‘My name will be there.’”

Josiah is a great king. He later dies in battle with Egypt after being hit by arrows during the battle. After Josiah, we see a series of increasingly bad kings, and there are several attacks by a powerful nation that existed in the area of present day Iraq, called Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar attacked Judah several times, carrying away people and supplies, and defeating several kings after Josiah. Eventually King Zedekiah became king of Judah.

During the reign of King Zedekiah, the prophet of the Lord is Jeremiah. History often refers to Jeremiah as the “weeping prophet.” Jeremiah’s job is very challenging. He cries out to the people to repent, but they really don’t repent. And Zedekiah kinda listens to him, but mostly doesn’t listen to him, and Jeremiah is persecuted, by the leaders and by false prophets who are telling Zedekiah everything he wants to hear.

Jeremiah tells Zedekiah he needs to surrender to Babylon. It’s really too late. He needs to surrender. But Zedekiah refuses. And brands Jeremiah a traitor.

But Jeremiah was right, and the other prophets were liars. It says in

2nd Kings 25: In the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon advanced against Jerusalem with his entire army. They laid siege to the city and built a siege wall against it all around. 2 The city was under siege until King Zedekiah’s eleventh year.

3 By the ninth day of the fourth month the famine was so severe in the city that the common people had no food. 4 Then the city was broken into, and all the warriors fled at night by way of the city gate between the two walls near the king’s garden, even though the Chaldeans surrounded the city. As the king made his way along the route to the Arabah, 5 the Chaldean army pursued him and overtook him in the plains of Jericho. Zedekiah’s entire army left him and scattered. 6 The Chaldeans seized the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, and they passed sentence on him. 7 They slaughtered Zedekiah’s sons before his eyes. Finally, the king of Babylon blinded Zedekiah, bound him in bronze chains, and took him to Babylon.”

Zedekiah refused to listen to Jeremiah, who told him to surrender to Babylon. But he didn’t listen. So his end is, he watches his own sons killed before his eyes, then his eyes are gouged out and he is taken as a slave to Babylon. How terrible! What a horrific end! And it’s an important reminder to us today. If we disobey God, if we persevere in sin, if we continue to reject god and turn against his ways, eventually, we can and will suffer the same fate of Zedekiah. A lot of people think oh no, God wouldn’t do that to me. He loves me too much.

God does love us very, very deeply. But god is a just judge. And he must punish sin. He does not show favoritism. He’s not gonna let it slide because he likes us. Though he certainly does like us, and love us deeply. But if we persevere in sin, and continue to reject God, and live in active sin as Christians, we can and will face damnation, and eternal hell fire. And I’m sure many people thought, this could never happen to me, and then it did. So I’m just warning you, be careful here, and realize we’ve gotta live right before our God who loves us.

Then we come to the final conclusion of the conflict it says, 2nd Kings 25:8-12 8 On the seventh day of the fifth month—which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guards, a servant of the king of Babylon, entered Jerusalem. 9 He burned the Lord’s temple, the king’s palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem; he burned down all the great houses. 10 The whole Chaldean army with the captain of the guards tore down the walls surrounding Jerusalem. 11 Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guards, deported the rest of the people who remained in the city, the deserters who had defected to the king of Babylon, and the rest of the population. 12 But the captain of the guards left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and farmers.”

This is the final despairing moment of it all, the Lord’s temple is burned to the ground, the kings palace is burned to the ground, and the houses of the city are all burned to the ground. It’s over.

So first Samaria, the northern kingdom was destroyed and taken into captivity by Assyria, and now Judah has been invaded and taken into captivity by Babylon. Basically the entire nation of Israel has so completely failed God that they are gone, collapsed… completely destroyed.

Have you ever experienced something like this in your life? You might call it a rock bottom experience. Everything has been lost. Your marriage falls apart, your addiction ruins your life, you end up in jail, or physically disabled, or mentally crushed. And off you go, into exile. You’ve lost everything. It’s a dark moment for any person to face. But many of us have faced it. Yet God still offers hope in the darkness.

I remember when I was 15, 16, 17 years old I had a poster in my room of The Smashing Pumpkins one of my favorite bands, and it was a promo shot from their music video Tonight, Tonight. And my family was falling apart, parents were getting divorced, I was about to be expelled from high school. And as I listened to that song, Tonight tonight, and looked at the poster, I felt like the Lord was telling me. You’re about to enter a dark path in your life. And it’s going to get very bad. You’re going to hit rock bottom, and lose everything in your life. But eventually, despite the chaos, I’ll bring you home to myself.

So, even in exile God continues to minister to the Israelites. Jeremiah continues to advise the poor remnants who continue to live in Judah, basically the poor farmers and beggars who are left by Nebuchanezzar. Meanwhile in Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel continues to minister to the many Israelites who were taken to Babylon in captivity.

Ezekiel challenges the Israelites for their failures. But he also offers hope, that one day, they will return to Israel and be brought close to God once again. Ezekiel even speaks of a valley of dry bones coming to life, In Ezekiel 37 it says, “37 The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

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