Daniel 1:1-21 God of all Nations: Daniels Character Established

Daniel 1:1-21

God of all Nations

Daniels Character Established

 

          Good Morning. Please go ahead and grab your Bibles with me and turn to the book of Daniel. Daniel, despite being a largely historical book, because of the prophecies in the second half of the book, is placed as the last of the Major prophets in our Bible.

Last week, we look briefly at the first few verses and generally looked at the background and introduction of the Book of Daniel. This week we will look at the whole of the first chapter and we will see the character of Daniel established. This is really the foundation for the rest of the book, and an introduction to Daniel and his friends, as well as an example of his dealings, interactions, and work that they would have with Babylon.

One of the things we will see clearly in this chapter, as well as, I think the main theme of this entire book, is Gods sovereignty over anything, anyone, and everything. God is in control. Everything that happens, happens because God allows it and decrees it. And we see that starting right at the very beginning of chapter 1.

This morning we are going to read and look at Daniel chapter 1. That is a bit of materiel to cover, and so there will be a lot of scripture being read. I am going to attempt to do this throughout the book. I have found that many of the Old Testament books are best broken down into those chapter segments. The New Testament can be broken down into smaller chunks and some of the Old Testament can as well, but especially with Old Testament books with historical narratives, I find it keeps its context best and keeps the flow best by breaking it down by chapter.

So, Daniel chapter 1, verses 1 through 21. I will be reading out of the ESV, and I greatly encourage you to read along at home in the translation of your preference. Daniel writes, according to the Holy Spirit:

 

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.  And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god.

Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank.

They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king.  Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.

 

But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.

So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food.  So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.  At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar.

And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.

And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.

 

 

May God bless the reading of his holy and inspired word.

 

So, as I was saying, we see right from the beginning, that God gave Jehoiakim, king of Judah, over to Nebuchadnezzar. This is why we have titled this series, “God of all Nations.” God raised up Babylon, made them a world power, brought them into a fight with Judah and handed Judah over to them. We looked last week at the reasons why, about Israel and Judah and their constant apostasy, or turning away from God, that God prophesied that he would turn them over to other nations as punishment and as judgment. And for Judah, the southern Kingdom, that time was now.

God handed them over to Babylon. They were told this was coming, all the way from Moses, through to the prophets, including but not limited to Jeremiah and Habakkuk. God not only knew ahead of time, he orchestrated it all ahead of time.

Nebuchadnezzar not only besieged Jerusalem and defeated Judah, but we took many treasures and vessels from the house of God, artifacts from the temple. This will come into play in a few chapters especially.

And just like the vessels and treasures of the house of God were carried away from Jerusalem, so too were vessels and treasures of God himself. Gods people were captured and carried away and brought out of their homeland of Judah to be exiled into a foreign and hostile land in Babylon. And not just to any foreign and hostile land, but to the land of Shinar. This was the place of the tower of Babel. Stephan Miller, in his commentary on Daniel, says that Shinar is “a symbol of rebellion against God.” And so, it is apt that Nebuchadnezzar brings the vessels and treasures of God including the vessels of God, his people, and takes them to the place of his gods, the physical location that most represents in that day, rebellion against God.

And again, we see that God is in control of all of this, as he is in control over everything. Not just the big picture stuff, like this is what the outcome will be, but everything that happens is under Gods complete control. Jesus tells us about the sparrows in Matthew 10, that if even a tiny sparrow falling to the ground is not out of his control.

We even see in the scriptures that the death of Jesus Christ was permitted, determined, and orchestrated by God far ahead of time. The reason that death exists in this world is because of sin. Adam and Eve brought it into this world in Genesis 3. Paul tells us the wages of sin is death. That means that our sin makes us deserve of death. Death is the penalty or the payment of sin. And we all sin, we are all guilty of sin the moment we become alive. That is our fallen sin nature.

Jesus, being himself God, God the Son, never had that sin nature. He, the Father, and the Holy Spirit, all One and all God, the trinity. They, before time began, figure out this plan to rescue and save those who would become his children.

Jesus was God, came down from Heaven, was born a man, lived a perfect and sinless life, therefore, having no need to die, no penalty to pay. His death on the cross was unmerited and therefore was big enough to cover our sins and he died in our place. By the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, we are reconciled to Him and the penalty for our sins are paid. Jesus then was risen from the dead, by god the Father. In order to defeat death so that we may have eternal life with Him. All of this was planned, orchestrated, and fulfilled because God said so. Because he willed it. Because he is sovereign overall, even life and death.

 

 

And so, the defeat of Jerusalem and the exile of many of the Israelites who were in Jerusalem and the placement of Daniel and his friends, all was orchestrated and planned out by God.

And Nebuchadnezzer wanted the cream of the crop from Jerusalem. He wanted to incorporate those he was bringing back from Judah to Babylon into the culture. He wanted to win them over as opposed to having to keep them all under guard or under lock and key. One of the ways to do that is to get the young generation and make them committed to you. Look around us today. If you win those who have influence, you will win those whom they influence. So, he called for young men, cream of the crop, from royal and noble blood. They were to be good looking, in good shape, they were wanted to be to be a good face for the regime. They were to be smart and wise, “to be competent to stand in the Kings palace.”

And as part of their re-education, they were to spend three years learning the ways, the language, the wisdom and the writings of the Chaldeans, the Chaldeans being the controlling culture within the Babylonian empire. This is what Iain DeGuid calls in his commentary, “Spiritual reprogramming.” We are not going to spend too much time on this because we spent some time on it last week as well, but this is what the world around us is trying to do.

All religions are good and valid. None are THE one. Even redefining Christianity to the point that Christ is not God, or the Bible is not the Word of God or Christ comes below our nation or political affiliation. That is exactly what Babylon was doing. Sure, Christ is fine, as long as He comes below Nebuchadnezzar. That’s what Rome did. You can believe in Jesus, as long as you call Caesar LORD.

Remember I quoted a number of weeks ago, Voddie Baucham. He said, “There is an easy way to avoid persecution. All you have to do is compromise.” And that’s what we constantly see the world around us, the cultures throughout history, including America and both sides of the current political climate are trying to do to us.

Yes, Yes, believe in Jesus, but make sure that you put America first. Make sure that you put these social issues first. Make sure that you vote for us first.

 

Daniel and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah. These are all names that have an el or a yah sound in them, showing that they are names that give credit and tribute to God. The true, God. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. Yahweh and Elohim.

In Babylon, their names were changed to names that gave credit and tribute to the Babylonian god, Marduk. Their new Babylonian names were Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego.

 

One of the things that we see through the book of Daniel is that he was willing to serve the King and to work for the good of the Babylonian Kingdom. He was not willing to go against his strong foundation of his faith in the true God. Part of that is that, though they answered to and responded to their new, Babylonian names, they did not fully embrace them. They still went by and answered to their Hebrew names as well.

Second, we have the words of the prophet, Jeremiah. Jeremiah 29:4-7 says:

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.

Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

 

And that’s what Daniel and his friends would do. They worked for the good of their new community. We know that Paul tells us that all that we do, do it to the glory of God. Seemingly, Daniel knew that God was orchestrating all that was happening to he and his friends. So, he knew that God had placed him right there in the Kings court. He was going to bring God credit and glory by do what he was called to do to the best of his God given abilities.

And yet we see in verse 8, that he would not allow himself to be defiled by eating the king’s food and drinking the kings wine. Now, the Bible does not tell us how he would have been defiled or why that was the line that he would not cross. Of all the theories I have read, the one that makes the most sense to me specifically, is the fact that the king’s food would have gone against the Jewish dietary laws that were laid out in Leviticus. However, again I must say that all speculation into why that is exactly, speculation.

Miller, in his commentary makes the point: It would have been completely natural to argue that since God had not protected them from captivity- this horrible situation- they did not have to be careful to obey his commands. They could have become bitter toward God during this time. Sometimes believers fall into this trap. All these factors could have caused some people to compromise, but Daniel and his friends remained faithful to their God.

 

Daniel was not going to allow himself to be defiled. But notice how we acted. He did not fight. He did not protest. He did not do whatever he wanted, and the King and his servants would just have to deal with it. This wasn’t a hunger strike, and this certainly is not a recipe for a godly diet today, no mater how many books that would sell. I was reminded this week of a quote by Oswald Chambers, when he says, the only right a Christian has is the right to give up his rights.

Daniel did not appeal to his rights, Daniel simply asked. The man that was in charge of him and his friends, was in charge of feeding and providing for these young men. God worked on Daniels behalf and gave him favor in the head Eunuchs eyes. This guy did not want to stick his neck out. The King wanted Daniel and his friends to be in their tip physical shape. If they weren’t, it could cost the chief eunuch his head. He liked Daniel, but not enough to die for him.

Scientifically and nutritionally, Daniels diet was terrible. IF you compare it to someone eating a full complete diet, vs eating vegetables and drinking water, you see no protein, no fat, no calories, etc. One of them would be in much better physical shape.

That’s why the king didn’t want to agree to this. But Daniel offered a 10-day free trial. Let him and his friends try it for 10 days and if it doesn’t work out, they would rescind their request and the king would not hear another word about it.

Again, the point is not that Daniels diet was better, or even good. The point of it is that God took care of Daniel. He rewarded Daniels faithfulness and his hunger for righteousness. God caused Daniels diet to make him big and strong and then he was brought before the King. And we see in verse 19:

And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. 

Again, using their Hebrew names at this juncture.

 

We see again, in verse 17, the phrase, “God gave…” God gave these four youths knowledge and wisdom and understanding and all the things, the skills and the talents they needed to stand before the king and serve him. They impressed the king and they were 10 times better than all the other of the king’s magicians and enchanters. In a bit of foreshadowing, though not too far into the future, we also see that Daniel was given by God the ability to interpret dreams.

 

 

Now, the moral of the stories of Daniel and especially of this first chapter of Daniel is not, repeat, not Be like Daniel. The moral of this story of Daniel and this first chapter especially is Gods sovereignty and his faithfulness.

I am going to finish us off with an excerpt from Iain DeGuid’s commentary on this first chapter of Daniel. He writes:

 

There is one final note that we must not miss in all of this. The reality for most of us is that when we look at our own lives, we find that we are not like Daniel and his three friends. We are far more like the nameless multitude who were deported along with Daniel, who adopted foreign names, ate the king’s food, and all together became like the Babylonians. In many respects, we are assimilated to the world system in which we live, and our futures are mortgaged to it. So, if the message of this book is simply, “Be like Daniel and all will be well,” then we might as well stop reading now. The more we get to know Daniel, the more we come to realize that we are not Daniel.

The Good News of the Gospel, however, is not simply that God is faithful to those who are faithful to Him. It is that a savior has come to deliver faithless and compromised saints like us. Our salvation rests not on our ability to remain undefiled by the world, but rather on the pure and undefiled that Jesus has provided in our place. Jesus Christ came voluntarily into this world, with all of its pains and trials. He suffered far great temptations and sufferings than Daniel did, or than he ever will (Heb 4:15). Yet he remained entirely faithful and pure until the very end, without spot or blemish, and grants the perfection of his obedience to all who trust in him by faith (1 Peter 1:19). What is more, Jesus has already returned from his time of exile ad now sits at his Father’s right hand in Heaven. He has prepared our places there, and his presence there already is our guarantee that one day we will be with him there as his people. The cross is the means by which Gods faithfulness redeems the unfaithful; the resurrection and ascension are the surety of our inheritance in heaven.

Remind yourself often of this Gospel. Fix your eyes on Jesus Christ crucified, raised, and exalted. He has not only pioneered the route home; He is the route home. Trust in him and ask him to work in you a true faithfulness. Ask him to put you in places where you can be a blessing to your community. Be a breath of heavenly wisdom in your home, your school, your workplace. Be constantly dependent on his sanctifying work, looking to him to keep you faithful, not your best efforts to “Be a Daniel.” Finally, long for the day when his heavenly kingdom will invade this earth and bring the fullness of your inheritance.

 

Let us Pray

Romans 12:14-21 Good is Greater than Evil

Romans 12:14-21

Good Is Greater Than Evil

Good morning! Please grab your Bibles with me and turn to Romans chapter 12.

We will be also spending quite a bit of time in Matthew chapter 5, if you want to put your finger there as a bookmark

Now, as usual, if you do not have a Bible, or if you do not own a Bible, please take one-off the back table as our gift to you.

Now, we have been going line by line, verse by verse through Paul’s letter to the early churches in Rome, and, believe it or not, we are over ¾ of the way through it. I think we can all agree that Paul has had some hard truths to share with that church, some hard truths for us today to hear as well.

And I don’t know about you, but I tend to respond one of two ways when I hear something like that. Of the two, hopefully I respond with the first I will share with you. I hear it, I don’t want to hear it, so I reject it. Or I justify why I’m not doing it, or I lash out at it, claiming its wrong. But in the end, I knows it’s the truth and hopefully I make any changes that need to be made.

But there’s another way that I might react, a way that occurs much to often. A way that I think is much more in line with, unfortunately, how the typical American churchgoers responds. You hear the truth, you affirm your belief that this is, in fact the truth, and you continue on in life with no change, no adhering to that truth, and no acknowledgment that you are not adhering to the truth.

As we move into the section of scripture we are going to read this morning, I ask that you look inside yourself and don’t respond with the second one I mentioned. This passage, I think, requires a lot of introspection and soul-searching. Because this is one of the passages that directs us the most against what our natural human sinful instincts are. It is some of, if not the hardest commands tat are found in the New Testament, commands we are required, as followers of Christ to follow.

So, with your curiosities piqued, let’s go ahead and read this weeks passage. Paul is writing in Romans chapter 12, and we will read verses 14-21. I will be reading out of the English Standard Version and I encourage you to follow along in your Bibles.

Romans 12:14-21, Paul writes:

 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.[h] Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Well, that’s super easy to follow, right? One of the first things that is interesting to me when I read this passage is that it sounds so much like Jesus. Paul is borrowing heavily from Jesus teachings in this passage. Now, to be sure, all of Paul’s words that we have in scripture are inspired and inerrant. They were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and as we see in John 1, Jesus is the Word. So all the words that Paul has written in scripture are the words of Jesus.

But Paul will be the first to mention at times, that during Jesus physical, earthly ministry, we don’t have a record of him having addressed everything that we would want him to, or everything that the other New Testament writers make mention of.

But this passage here is heavily influenced by Jesus words during his earthly ministry, namely the Sermon on the Mount. The first couple of verses that Paul writes here, for example, sound an awful like an abbreviated version of the Beatitudes. Jesus speaks in Matthew 5:3-12:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Paul starts by saying, Bless those who persecute you. Jesus made it clear, that if we follow him, we will face opposition, we will face hate and we will face persecution. And the natural way of responding to that is to fight back. To treat those who are persecuting us as evil. To use the same standard in who we act towards them as they use in how they treat us.

But we are not called to the same standard. I said this recently as well. To clarify, the standard by which God will judge us is the same across the board, for each and every single human being. God’s holiness is the standard by which we will be judged. But the World has one standard of behaviour, one standard of right and wrong, one standard of morality, and the Bible has another standard. Our responsibility is to strive to live up to the bibles standard.

And so, we do not answer persecution with persecution, but instead, we bless those who persecute us. We treat them better than they treat us. Dr Martin Luther JR has a famous saying, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/martin_luther_king_jr_101472)

And so, we are to bless, to love, to think of others as higher than ourselves and we respond to their mistreatment of us. Ah, but we are Americans and Americans have rights. Its my right to retaliate, its my right to fight back. Its my right! Oswald Chambers summarizes one key aspect of the Christian life. He says, The only right a Christian has is the right to give up his rights.

Wow. Thats hard to hear. Thats even harder to do. Now, I am tempted to put in some qualifiers here. Well, except for this situation, or except for this person. And some of those qualifiers may even exist, if you think so, we can talk later. But, as I was preparing to do that, I realized that Paul doesn’t put any qualifiers on that statement. And I reread the Beatitudes, and Jesus doesn’t put any qualifiers on his statements. And so, were I to put any qualifiers on this, I would be taking away from the words of Paul and Jesus.

So, no qualifiers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. We take to scripture and we look at the examples of Jesus as the Sanhedrin, as Herod and as Pilate put him on trial and sentenced him to death. Jesus had a lot of right sin that situation. Those were not, strictly speaking, legal trials. Jesus could have pointed that out, could have defended himself in the trials, refuted the charges. And yet, he didnt. He gave up his rights in that situation. Even more of an example, Jesus gave up his divine rights, as God, when he came down, born as a human baby.

Paul as well, often set aside his rights when, after his conversion by Jesus, he himself was being persecuted by the Romans and Jews. Pauls was often preaching the Gospel to the guards and Jailers, to the judges, to the governors and rulers who were to decide on his fate. But he set aside actual legal defenses to serve what ever punishment would be put in front of him.

Peter and john do the same thing in Acts chapter 4. They were submitting to the punishment of the council they were brought before. Now, this is an important distinction. This is an important part as we move forward and more and more about biblical actions and biblical beliefs become, not only frowned upon, not only unpopular, but as certain things will become illegal.

Peter and John set aside some of their rights, and they submit themselves to the punishment, but they also are very clear that they will continue to do what God told them to do, to speak on what they have seen. (Acts 4:13-22) We are actually going to look more at things like that in the next section of scripture.

But, instead of being a curse to those who persecute us, we are to be blessings. Peter writes, in 1 Peter 3:9: Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

In a way, Peters verse there helps draw what Paul said and what Jesus said even closer together. And, I think, the biggest aspect of this, the biggest motivation for doing blessing those who persecute you is because our reward is not of this world, but is in the next. Our blessing, our reward is in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus even blesses Paul, who he confronted for persecuting him. Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? (Acts 9) And Jesus then brings Paul into clear knowledge that Jesus was exactly who the early church was claiming him to be, The Son of God, the Forgiver of Sins, the Messiah and Savior. The ultimate blessing.

Paul says next that we are to have sympathy, empathy and compassion.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. We are to share in each others victories. We encourage others to do and be better. We celebrate the wins in their lives. We take pleasure in their highs and build each other up. Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 12:26, of the body of Christ, If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Right now, we all are grieving with Cindy and Randy and their family as we mourn OUR loss, as Gerri is now at home, at peace, fully healthy with Jesus. We grieve as a family. They know they are not alone, but that we are here with them. The same happens on the other end of the spectrum.

Hope and I feel from you all, our church family, the rejoicing in upcoming birth of Malachi. When one of us suffers, we all suffer together. One one of us rejoices, we all rejoice together.

Jesus, again, if we read the Beatitudes, we see he says two things, both, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. And he also says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

And so, if you are morning, if you are suffering, if you are struggling, Jesus says, that followers of christ will be comforted. Jesus is our comforter. And he tells us followers to follow his lead as comforters. Comforter those who mourn. And those who are merciful, those who comfort, those who have empathy, sympathy, and compassion will receive mercy.

Here’s how this happens. The things that Paul is talking about, the things that he is saying should be evident in a Christians life, are not our natural, instinctual normal abilities and nature.

And so it takes the change of heart, mind and soul that comes by grace alone through faith alone in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone. Jesus Christ is the one and only who can change our bondage to sin, who can break our sin nature and the Holy Spirit comes in and changes our heart of stone into a heart of flesh. It is the continual work of sanctification in us that allows us to reject what the world, and what our nature is telling us and it grows in us a new nature that helps us to set aside our rights, to bless those who persecute us, to rejoice with those who rejoice, no matter what we think of them, and to mourn with those who mourn, no matter what we think. It is what allows us to do the rest of what we are going to look at this morning, because we can’t and wont do it on our own, but only through the strength and love of Jesus Christ.

And Paul tells us, in verse 16, Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. This harkens back to what Paul said in this very same chapter, in verse 3, For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment,

Conflict comes when we each think of ourselves as better, or more important or having a higher status than each other, than those around us. When many of us have that conceit, we clash, because only we can be right. But when we think of ourselves as better than us, when we are not haughty, then we know that others can be right too, that others can have other lives, opinions, and gifts. They can do things differently than we do. And that s ok. They are not automatically trying to be better than or more important than us. Where there would otherwise be conflict and anger, now, we can let it slide. Love covers a multitude of sin. (1 Peter 4:8)

RC Sproul says that “One manifestation of this will be an absence of conceit and pride in worldly position.” I think of the letter that James wrote. Much of it deals with not treating people different ly because of perceived status or wealth. Not to treat some as better than others. And not to exclude or assume, not to look down on others because of anything.

That includes how they treat us. Verses 17-21, Paul tells us,  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

In Essence, this is how we react as Christians, to a non-Christian world. We don’t respond to others the same we they respond to us. We dont repay evil with evil, but we overcome evil with good.

Again, looking back at Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:38-48:

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,[h] let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers,[i] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Paul is simplifying and summarizing what Jesus said, so to truly understand wha the passage is telling us, we need to dig into what Jesus said, so that’s where the main focus of the rest of the sermon will be.

Right off the bat, Jesus acknowledges that a common saying that the Jews had heard was from the Torah, from the Old Testament Scriptures. Most of our Bibles will have the references there, showing Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20 & Deuteronomy 19:21 as where this statement is made.

But instead of looking at the context and the true meaning, The Jews made this a literal statement about karma. What you do to me, I’ll do right back to you. It reminds of a quote from a TV show, if any of you have seen Firefly, where the Captain of the ship tells the stowaway, “If someone tries to kill you, you kill them right back.”

That sounds real good doesn’t it? That sounds fair, that sounds like justice will be done. But here’s the problem. This line of thinking, this interpretation makes our behavior, our morals and our ethics very situational. It means that we can justify whatever behavior we want because the other person or other side did something first. It’s the theological version of the playground argument, “He started it!”

We see this every day in our own lives, but we don’t want to recognize it there. We see it every day in politics. Both sides. How often do we see someone taken to task for something stupid, something wrong or something evil. That persons party comes to their defense, not arguing what they did was right, but that the others side’s guy did the same thing, or something similar and the other side wasn’t bothered by it then. And while we do see the hypocrisy there on the other side, we don’t see our own hypocrisy of we had an issue with it when the other sides person did, but we don’t have an issue when our guy does it. Our behavior and our ethics and morals change based on whether it suits us or not.

And Jesus is going to point out that is missing the original point of the text and the whole of what God has taught us by a long mile. The original intent of the text is not individual retaliation, not modes of procedure in person to person conflict. Its not for if Me and one of you have an issue. But instead, if you go read those original verses in context, its about the civil justice system, administered by the government or leadership of the community or country. And the point of that text, quite simply is that the punishment should fit the crime. This is a mandate to not have excessive penalties for crimes committed or for personal retribution to pay a role in the punishment being administered.

RC Sproul writes, “Jesus opposition to the misuse of this verse involved, not the abrogation of the principle of equivalence, but a call to temper it’s application in light of the love commandment, in the interests of the Kingdom, and in the knowledge of Gods coming wrath.”

Each time this phrasing happens in the Old Testament, it is used in a legal context. It is used for the justice system and we need to remember that. We are not to seek personal retribution in place of or on top of what the legal system will bring. And, within the legal system, we are not to promote, or to enact different penalties for different groups of people; this means different social classes, this means different races and this means different nationalities, just to name a few that we see happen in today’s world. We are imperfect people, running imperfect social systems and giving imperfect justice.

God is a perfect God and he gives perfect justice. Scripture says that is we see injustices happen, first, we try to right them, but second, we rest in the knowledge that His perfect justice, will be administered, in his time. Thats what Paul is saying here.

 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Jesus goes on to give a couple examples that the people of those days would have clearly understood but may need a bit of context thrown in. To start, Jesus acknowledges that people with power will not always be fair to you. And there will always be someone with more power than you. They will unfairly exert power over you. At the time, Roman soldiers could come and grab, basically anyone they wanted and tell them to carry their gear, and the like for a mile so the soldier didn’t have to wear himself out doing it. We know that in the American Colonies, British soldiers could make any one give them quarter, house them for a time and feed them, just by showing up. That’s why we have our 3rd Amendment in the Bill of rights, was to prevent these abuses of power.

But, even in those situations, where you do have to go along with what someone says, say at work, is unfairly divvying up the assignments, or at school, if the teacher is giving you more work than the others, Jesus says there is still a way you can respond, that is obeying when you need to obey, but also takes away the power of the person ordering you around. Gladly do more. Go above and beyond.

People with power or influence, whether or not they are trying to use it wrong, but especially if they are, they can make you follow an order, especially if its not you doing something against Gods laws, but they can never make you do just enough. They can never prevent you from going above and beyond. It not only kills them with love and kindness but it takes the power out of their hands as well, and shows your strength and your freedom.

Then Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”

So, a couple of immediate things on this statement. First, While some of the things that Jesus is telling them that they heard wrong are misunderstandings of things found in scriptures, this is one where this statement is not found in scripture. Nor, if read in context, is anything that can be misconstrued as that.

But it was. It was a misunderstanding, possibly purposefully, at least at first, of who is my neighbor. The Jewish people thought that it was only those in the Abrahamic covenant, circumcised Jews. The ones who had the most open view, thought that it pertained to all of Israel, but no further. It was a very limited view. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this, but Jesus makes it quite clear in the parable of the Good Samaritan that our definition of neighbor is not to be limited.

But it sounds so inviting, doesn’t it? Love your neighbor, but hate your enemy. It just makes sense. It’s easy to see, to feel and to understand. It’s what we all want to do. There is nothing else that makes sense to do except hate your enemies. Its hard enough sometimes to love those close to us. Why should we have to do it to those that hate us, fear us, sin against us, those that don’t love us? We deserve to be able to hate those people. And we limit our definition of neighbor is limited because its easier to live life with a limited definition. It limits who we have to love.

Jesus says NO. We don’t get to take the easy way out. We don’t get to live the easy life, our best life now. We don’t get to hate our enemies. We don’t get to just feel animosity to those who hate us. But we are to love our enemies. Whether or not they love us. And we are to pray for those who persecute us. That’s the definition of the hard way. That is Jesus raising the bar well above, both what we thought it was and what we are comfortable living.

What’s interesting is that Jesus uses a little bit of continuity here when we tells us why we are to live by this higher standard. He says so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. Now, remember back to the Beatitudes. Remember the 7th one? Verse 9, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God.

This is not optional, this is a necessary result of being called a child of God. And if we are saved, if we have trusted in Jesus Christ as our LORD, as our Savior, if we have been transformed by the Holy Spirit, then we are told that we need to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Again, that’s Paul’s big point here in this section of Romans, that these are signs and evidences of our salvation.

But, again, we don’t get to take the easy road. Jesus continues on by making sure that we understand that he is raising the bar. He wants us to have no mistake that we are expected to be better, to live up to a higher standard. He says its easy to love those who love us. Everyone does that.

Jesus picks maybe the two groups of people who the Jews had the lowest opinion of. Tax Collectors, Jewish people who have turned on their people, went to work for the Romans to raise money for the Roman Army to continue to occupy and oppress the Jewish people. They were not well liked. And then also the Gentiles. Those who were not a part of the covenant Jewish people. Those who did not know God.

Jesus picked those two groups and said that if all you do is love those who love you and hate those who hate you, you are no better than those who you have such a poor opinion of. Your no better than those who you look down on.

He has raised the bar. The standard that God has is perfection. What the scriptures do, what Jesus does, what we are to do is to show, both, the impossible standard that is to live up to, and the wholly undeserved grace that is poured out on all who believe and follow Christ.

And how we treat others is one of the ways that we show that. We show the love of Christ by the way we love others. The parallel, the correlation is clear. The way we treat others is not dependent on how they treat us. Just as, the way that God treats us, the love that he shows us, the grace he pours out in us is not dependent on how we treat him. Because if it were, we would all be in hell. Not destined for hell, but upon our first sin, we would be immediately sent there. We are in constant rebellion against Gods sovereign reign over his creation. God says, I love you anyway, here is grace.

The choice we have to make is whether we settle for common grace, and often if we choose this, we will raise the things that God has graced us with, we will raise them up as idols. We can settle for common grace or we can accept his true loving, sacrificial saving grace. And when we choose that path, Gods saving grace, we need to remember that it was while we were unlovable, while we were yet sinners, that Christ dies for us.

Lets Pray

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