When Will We Have Justice and Peace?

Text: Daniel 2:1-49

And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed… it shall stand forever.” —Daniel 2:44

Have you ever had a troubling dream? One that left you unsettled or perplexed in your spirit? I sometimes get in trouble for things I did in my wife’s dreams. Something about that just doesn’t seem fair!

In the ancient world, dreams were thought to be shadows of future events, not just aftereffects of bad pizza! For a king, his dreams might have significance for the nation as a whole, and the interpretation would be critical for steps to be taken in order to prepare for the events the dream anticipated, or even to counteract them.

As we continue in our devotional series in the book of Daniel, we find King Nebuchadnezzar deeply troubled by some dreams he was having. He knew that one in particular was unusually significant. So Nebuchadnezzar called upon his staff of specialists over the DODI—Department of Dream Interpretations. These were the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans. The name “Chaldeans” initially referred to a part of the Babylonian Empire, but it developed into a descriptive term for a special group, known for their expertise in magic lore and interpreting dreams. He told them if they weren’t able to make known the interpretation, they would be “torn limb from limb,” and their “houses would be laid in ruins.” Perhaps he sent it out in a Tweet!

The Chaldeans found the interpretation too difficult, saying that no one could reveal the meaning “except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” Despite all their wisdom—real or imagined—these wise men had no answer for the king, because it could only come from God. The king was enraged, and commanded that all these “wise men of Babylon” be executed, which would have also included Daniel and his friends. But Daniel intervened, responding with “prudence and discretion,” and petitioned the king to give him time to make the interpretation known.

Daniel and his three amigos (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) prayed and sought the God of heaven concerning this mystery. Then it was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Probably quite relieved that he would be spared from execution, Daniel takes time to praise God with a hymn of worship—a beautiful declaration of God’s sovereignty and control over the troubling situation (Daniel 2:20-23). He then advocated for the other wise men’s lives to be pardoned and announced that he would come before the king and show the interpretation of the dream.

It turns out that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream didn’t just concern himself and his kingdom, but it also spoke of future kingdoms and “the latter days.” Daniel prophesied that four powerful human kingdoms would have their dominance then ultimately be shattered by “a stone cut by no human hand” (v.45), referring to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ (Psalm 118:22, Isaiah 8:14, Isaiah 28:16, Zechariah 3:9): “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever…” (Daniel 2:44).

At that time, God will establish a kingdom that shall never be destroyed. It will never be toppled. It will never be overthrown. It will start small but grow to fill all the earth and, unlike the earthly kingdoms, it will endure forever. From humble beginnings—think of a lowly king riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and a small band of misfits turning the Roman empire upside down with their Gospel message—to ultimate, united glory as a single kingdom that fills the whole earth forever.

The kingdoms of this world do not have the degree of power they surmise. Rest assured, beloved, that every human society—whether dictatorships, democracies, or anarchists—will ultimately yield to the reign of Christ (Revelation 19:11-16). True justice and sustained peace will one day be realized when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). The Bible describes it as an age when “the lion and the lamb will lay down together” (Isaiah 11:6). No more war. No more hostilities. No more division. No more suffering. No more pain, and can you imagine… no more political bickering? Our hearts don’t need to be unsettled by troubling times when we know what the Almighty has already revealed about the future. The Bible proved to be accurate in its ancient prophecies, and will hold true for this generation as well. God’s historical track record should give us great confidence over the affairs happening in our world today.

Christ is that “stone” that will break in pieces all these other little earthly kingdoms (Luke 20:18). He is the mystery of the ages, the one in whom God plans to unite all things in his glorious kingdom (Ephesians 1:9–10), and His is a kingdom from everlasting to everlasting. Rest in this promise as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, you are sovereign over all the affairs and kingdoms of this world. You haven’t left us to ourselves in all this madness. You are actively advancing Your kingdom, and we understand there is a human rebellion against that kingdom that cannot succeed. Remind us that the culture wars all around us are not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Keep us vigilant, and may our lives continue to be active agents of Gospel fluency for the lost you are seeking to save in this hour. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What has been your happiest dream or your strangest nightmare? If you knew that our nation would come under the control of another world power within a week, what would you do?
  2. What did Nebuchadnezzar do about his troubling dreams and what did the king expect from his wise men (Daniel 2:1-9)?
  3. What contrast do we see in how the astrologers approached the situation and how Daniel responded (Daniel 2:10-18)? What did the king do in response to Daniel’s interpretation (Daniel 2:46-49)?
  4. What can we learn from Daniel about how to deal with unreasonable or demanding people? Why do you think the Bible says it is better to get wisdom than gold (Proverbs 16:16)?
  5. How can you trust God with an unreasonable or difficult person in your life? What can you do this week to seek God’s kingdom above the kingdoms of this world?

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.

This VBS curriculum is based on the Old Testament book of Daniel. The theme teaches children how to live with courage in uncertain times. It was designed as a camp curriculum for children 8-12 years of age. Can also serve as a 5-week Sunday morning children’s ministry teaching series.

Get That Muscle Car Out of the Garage

Text: Matthew 16:13-20

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” — Acts 1:8

In high school, I had a friend who owned a 1969 Pontiac GTO—a stout muscle car. This bright red beauty had a V-8 engine with close to 400 horsepower, a rear-deck spoiler for aerodynamic favorability, and wide-tread Polyglas tires made to grip the road for traction and handling. Manufacturers named it “The Judge” because the vehicle embodied authority on the highway. This powerful machine was made for the road. The only problem was my friend never took it out of the garage. The car was stuck in preservation mode—all that horsepower left idle in a confined shelter. It looked bold, beautiful, and commanding, but rarely saw the world for which it was designed and made.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus manufactured a vehicle to change the world. He gave it power and authority to make a difference in society. He called it the “church,” and in Matthew 16, he said the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Then he gave his disciples the keys to this new vehicle saying, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Did you get that? They were given the keys to God’s hot rod!

That early church didn’t have many garages in which to take shelter. They gathered together in homes for worship, prayer, and devotion, but their greatest moments of flexing the power that had been given them happened in the most public of places—street corners, market places, riversides, city squares, sports arenas, roadways, etc. Church buildings were not erected until the early 200s, and yet this movement became a phenomenon without a garage to preserve it.

As Ken Curtis said:

“It was unthinkable that a small, despised movement from a corner of Palestine could move out to become the dominant faith of the mighty Roman Empire, an empire steeped in fiercely defended traditional pagan religions. The spread of the Christian church in its earliest centuries is one of the most amazing phenomena in all of human history. The church was considered a religio prava, an illegal and depraved religion. Wave after wave of persecution was unleashed to squash it. At least two of the persecutions were empire-wide and intended to destroy the church.”

And yet this fledgling movement thrived in the face of adversity.

Humanly speaking, the odds were all stacked against it. So how did the early Christian church not just survive, but thrive? There is no shortage of debate about this among modern ecclesiologists, but one thing can surely be agreed upon: the early church wasn’t defined by a building. In other words, the muscle car wasn’t defined by a garage; it found its identity in its robust design, its authority in the matchless power under the hood, and its purpose in the road for which it was made to traverse.

The church was made for times like this—rebellious, immoral, pagan, godless landscapes. It was never intended to be in preservation mode. You were made for times like this. God has given you the keys of the kingdom, beloved. You were designed to make a difference in the times you are living.

You have power (Acts 1:8).

You have authority (Luke 10:19).

You are favored and equipped (Psalm 90:17, 2 Peter 1:3-4).

What is holding you back?

Where do you need to get your faith out of the garage and into proximity with others who are lost without the hope of Jesus? Pray about this as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, our times are in your hands. Thank you for making us and positioning us for such a time as this. You are building your church and the gates of hell will not prevail. You have equipped us with the power of the Holy Spirit to infiltrate this generation with gospel hope. Teach us how to abide in you to do that. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. If you could ask any person any question, whom would you ask, and what would you want to know?
  2. What broad, impersonal question did Jesus ask His disciples, and what answer did Peter give (Matthew 16:13-16)? What difference does it make what we believe about Jesus?
  3. What did Jesus promise about the Church? (Matthew 16:18)
  4. What task did Jesus assign the apostles, and Who would help them get their job done (Acts 1:8)? Why would it be important that they didn’t go in their own power?
  5. Are there practical ways you can keep your faith from drifting into preservation mode? Where might God be calling you to rely on His power this week to bring hope or encouragement to others?

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.

Have You Passed By the Other Side of the Gospel?

Text: Luke 10:25-37

“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” 1 John 3:17

Everything in our society is screaming at us to pick a side. Choose one over the other. Go right, go left. Love one side, hate the other. Acrimony is the norm. Sadly, this form of divisiveness has also crept into the church. The latest reprising of an age-old debate seems to be drawing lines of partition among Christians. The debate is fueled by this questiohttps://www.jimmylarche.com/wp-admin/edit.php?post_type=pagen: Is the gospel mere proclamation or is it acts of compassion and charity?

Oddly enough, proponents on one side or the other dichotomize what was meant to be biblically harmonious—making a division between two things Jesus has united in Himself. In Christ’s teachings and in his holistic example of fleshing out kingdom compassion, the voice of truth was never divorced from the hands and feet of mercy.

[bctt tweet=”Oddly enough, we make a division between two things Jesus unites in Himself.” username=”jimmylarche”]

In today’s text we read a very familiar story that Jesus told. It was in response to a question that a scribe asked in a self-serving effort to justify his own theological views. Jesus spoke of a man who traveled from Jerusalem to Jericho, and while on his journey was robbed, beaten down, and left in dire straits. Two devotedly religious characters passed him by, as they turned a deaf ear to his plight. Interestingly enough, the passage says that these men passed by on “the other side.” They chose their “side,” and it was the other side of the street, a safe distance away from the bleeding man. To this day many religious people are still choosing to walk on the “other side”—very far from those societal margins where hurting people are in distress.

The next character, a Samaritan, was the least likely to have shown compassion, due to the prejudices that Jews and Samaritans had for each other. But he spent his own money in taking care of the man, nursing him back to dignity. The scribe (also known as an expert lawyer or theologian) was told to “go and do likewise,” implying that he shouldn’t divorce his orthodox beliefs, or his verbal creed, from his practical responsibilities of fleshing out compassion in society.

Jesus’ point was loud and clear. Don’t separate what should be integrated.

In the very same context, the same gospel that has graced us with unmerited salvation tells us that we are God’s workmanship for good works (Ephesians 2:8-10)—works that Jesus tells us should be demonstrated as light shining in a dark world (Matthew 5:16). The same Bible that compels us to proclaim God’s truth with boldness (2 Timothy 4:2, Ephesians 6:19-20) also commands us to “open” our mouths for the “rights of all who are destitute,” to “judge righteously” in defending “the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9). God has promised: “And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday” (Isaiah 58:10).

It’s been said that if you cut out every Bible verse that is related to poverty and social justice, you will have removed over 2,000 texts from God’s sacred book. While it is vital that the blood-stained cross, the empty tomb, and the “go and preach” directives never get jettisoned on the waves of a Christ-less social gospel, it would be equally reckless to throw out compassion and acts of mercy in favor of mere Christian rhetoric—as seen stigmatized in the characters of the priest and Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

We shouldn’t have to choose between proclaiming the good news of salvation and practicing our charity in serving society’s distressed and downtrodden. Truth-bearing and mercy-giving should not be pitted against each other. In Jesus they are always both-and, never either-or. If we try to choose one or the other, we leave a giant, gaping hole in the beautifully redemptive gospel we have been entrusted with—a gospel we need to be taking to the very ends of the earth. It’s what we are still here for.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, help us to never divide what you have united in Christ. Help us to identify prejudices that have been rooted in fear, which may unknowingly be affecting how we flesh out the gospel. Help us to never add or take away from your Word, but take the whole counsel of God into consideration. Keep us from unnecessary and divisive arguments with other believers, and help us to live out our faith in a divided and hurting world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What legitimate concerns are there in addressing social justice issues while abandoning the proclamation of biblical truth?
  2. What legitimate concerns are there in adopting a “proclamation only” approach to the gospel, which often neglects practicing compassion and fleshing out acts of mercy in society?
  3. How did the scribe redefine the word “neighbor” after he heard the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:37)?
  4. How do you define the word “neighbor” and why is that definition important to the redemptive work of the gospel in our world today?
  5. What did Jesus command the scribe to do in response to the parable, and how should this parable affect the faith of those who desire to follow Jesus in this generation?

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.