This is a rather lengthy text from a sermon I preached in January 2007. It was the introductory sermon I preached in a series of sermons from the book of Daniel. I have also uploaded it to box.net if you would prefer the .doc version. jerry
The Church in Exile, pt 1
The People of God will Go Into Exile
Grounding Text: Jeremiah 25:1-14
1 The word came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. 2 So Jeremiah the prophet said to all the people of Judah and to all those living in Jerusalem: 3 For twenty-three years-from the thirteenth year of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah until this very day-the word of the LORD has come to me and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened.
4 And though the LORD has sent all his servants the prophets to you again and again, you have not listened or paid any attention. 5 They said, “Turn now, each of you, from your evil ways and your evil practices, and you can stay in the land the LORD gave to you and your fathers for ever and ever. 6 Do not follow other gods to serve and worship them; do not provoke me to anger with what your hands have made. Then I will not harm you.” 7 “But you did not listen to me,” declares the LORD, “and you have provoked me with what your hands have made, and you have brought harm to yourselves.”
8 Therefore the LORD Almighty says this: “Because you have not listened to my words, 9 I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the LORD, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. 10 I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp. 11 This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
12 “But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD, “and will make it desolate forever. 13 I will bring upon that land all the things I have spoken against it, all that are written in this book and prophesied by Jeremiah against all the nations. 14 They themselves will be enslaved by many nations and great kings; I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.”
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We are beginning a new series of sermons today. It is a series from the book of Daniel, but before we get to Daniel’s book next week or even this week, we need to do some preliminary investigation and background work. Daniel’s book is a book about Israel in captivity, in exile. It is a not a pleasant story to read. It is not a mere children’s story. People being thrown into fires, people being thrown into lions’ dens, wars without end, ghost-hands writing on walls, and people getting sick are not normally the things that make up children’s stories.
Daniel is a difficult story to read, but I don’t mean difficult to understand, or comprehend. What I mean is this: If Daniel is reckoned as a canonical book that is inspired of the Holy Spirit and is thus binding upon the church for it’s theological content and practice of faith, then the message of Daniel is not only relevant and timely but it is also a terrible reminder of just how powerful is the Lord God whose Spirit inspired the book.
But, on the other hand, it is a magnificent book of just how powerful and mighty is the Lord God whose Son is attested to in the book. We encounter a majestic Lord in this book. One who is not given to really care too much what man thinks unless man thinks in the wrong way as in the case of Nebudchadnezzer or Belshazzar or any of the other kings we will encounter who think they are unshakeable, unbreakable and invincible. God proves over and over again to these malcontents that this universe is His and that He will not be wished away or disregarded. The Book of Daniel is the story of a God who will not be pushed away from the center to the periphery. It is the story of a God who is control and who, in spite of appearances, protects his people.
We shall learn about this God over the course of the next several weeks. We will travel all through the 12 chapters that make up Daniel’s book. And, in that course, we will read every word from the book. Some might think that is uneccesary, but Daniel is a book of the canonical Bible and as such it is a part of a larger narrative of God’s purposes and plans for this world. In it we learn far more about the nature and actions of God than we do of man-even though man plays a prominent role in the story. We learn about God’s plans for this world and for the people who inhabit it. We get a peak into why God does what he does and the means he uses to bring about his purposes. Scary as it sounds, God used Babylon to bring judgment on Israel, but he also used Israel to redeem Babylon. It is an amazing story that I believe needs to be read in complete context-not only within itself, but also within the greater biblical narrative.
So to begin our series on Daniel’s Gospel, I would like us to travel to the book of 2 Kings and read a few selections from that book to set the context of Daniel’s book. I will read these selections without commentary or any detail analysis. Furthermore, there will only be the barest minimum of application. Here they are, unfiltered, uncut, in the raw.
The History Behind Daniel’s Book
Grounding Text: 2 Kings 23:36-24:4; 24:8-20; 25:13-17, 21
Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eleven years. His mother’s name was Zebidah daughter of Pedaiah; she was from Rumah. 37 And he did evil in the eyes of the LORD, just as his fathers had done.
During Jehoiakim’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon invaded the land, and Jehoiakim became his vassal for three years. But then he changed his mind and rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. 2 The LORD sent Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite and Ammonite raiders against him. He sent them to destroy Judah, in accordance with the word of the LORD proclaimed by his servants the prophets. 3 Surely these things happened to Judah according to the LORD’s command, in order to remove them from his presence because of the sins of Manasseh and all he had done, 4 including the shedding of innocent blood. For he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the LORD was not willing to forgive.
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8 Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months. His mother’s name was Nehushta daughter of Elnathan; she was from Jerusalem. 9 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father had done.
10 At that time the officers of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon advanced on Jerusalem and laid siege to it, 11 and Nebuchadnezzar himself came up to the city while his officers were besieging it. 12 Jehoiachin king of Judah, his mother, his attendants, his nobles and his officials all surrendered to him.
In the eighth year of the reign of the king of Babylon, he took Jehoiachin prisoner. 13 As the LORD had declared, Nebuchadnezzar removed all the treasures from the temple of the LORD and from the royal palace, and took away all the gold articles that Solomon king of Israel had made for the temple of the LORD. 14 He carried into exile all Jerusalem: all the officers and fighting men, and all the craftsmen and artisans-a total of ten thousand. Only the poorest people of the land were left.
15 Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin captive to Babylon. He also took from Jerusalem to Babylon the king’s mother, his wives, his officials and the leading men of the land. 16 The king of Babylon also deported to Babylon the entire force of seven thousand fighting men, strong and fit for war, and a thousand craftsmen and artisans. 17 He made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in his place and changed his name to Zedekiah.
18 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eleven years. His mother’s name was Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah; she was from Libnah. 19 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, just as Jehoiakim had done. 20 It was because of the LORD’s anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence. Now Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.
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13 The Babylonians broke up the bronze pillars, the movable stands and the bronze Sea that were at the temple of the LORD and they carried the bronze to Babylon. 14 They also took away the pots, shovels, wick trimmers, dishes and all the bronze articles used in the temple service. 15 The commander of the imperial guard took away the censers and sprinkling bowls-all that were made of pure gold or silver.
16 The bronze from the two pillars, the Sea and the movable stands, which Solomon had made for the temple of the LORD, was more than could be weighed. 17 Each pillar was twenty-seven feet high. The bronze capital on top of one pillar was four and a half feet high and was decorated with a network and pomegranates of bronze all around. The other pillar, with its network, was similar.
21b So Judah went into captivity, away from her land.
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This is the context of Daniel. Daniel was one of the young men taken to Babylon. Key, I believe, is what is said in verse 3 of chapter 4: Surely these things happened according to the Lord’s command. So even this time of exile for Israel was under the provence of the Lord God. This comports with what we read in Daniel chapter 1:
1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.
It is important to see the hand of the Lord involved in the activities that surround and fill this book. This will enlighten and strengthen our faith and understanding of God’s actions in our own world. It is important to understand that, for a little while anyhow, the Lord gave the appearance of his own defeat and demise.
This is the background. This is why Israel went into captivity. This was the nature of the capturing that the Babylonians exacted upon Israel. It was a brutal time. There was violence and bloodshed. Many people died in the process. Some rebelled and suffered worse. Nebudchadnezzar was not, apparently, known for his compassion on those he sought to conquer and destroy. He forced them, rather brutally, into compliance.
Now there is another side to this story. Kings tells us the history of the nation going into captivity. He tells us of a long succession of failed rulers and violent upheavals and overthrown kings and rulers. There is another side which, for lack of a better idea, I might call God’s point of view. This is the story of the exile and captivity told in the Prophets. We must here turn to Jeremiah. Again, I’ll read some selections without offering much commentary. I want you to hear these words at face value. Simply listen to the prophet’s voice and imagine yourself a captive, a young Hebrew in a foreign land, under a brutal Babylonian guard, imagine hearin the Words of the Lord from the prophet. The Lord continued to make clear through the prophet Jeremiah how life was to be lived under Nebudchadnezzar and why it was to be so. We will begin in chapter 27 where we learn about Judah’s impending disaster.
The Theological Point of the Exile
Grounding Text: Jeremiah 27:1-22; 28:10-16; 29:4-23
1 Early in the reign of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the LORD : 2 This is what the LORD said to me: “Make a yoke out of straps and crossbars and put it on your neck. 3 Then send word to the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon through the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah. 4 Give them a message for their masters and say, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Tell this to your masters: 5 With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please. 6 Now I will hand all your countries over to my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him. 7 All nations will serve him and his son and his grandson until the time for his land comes; then many nations and great kings will subjugate him.
8 “If, however, any nation or kingdom will not serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon or bow its neck under his yoke, I will punish that nation with the sword, famine and plague, declares the LORD, until I destroy it by his hand. 9 So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your interpreters of dreams, your mediums or your sorcerers who tell you, ‘You will not serve the king of Babylon.’ 10 They prophesy lies to you that will only serve to remove you far from your lands; I will banish you and you will perish. 11 But if any nation will bow its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will let that nation remain in its own land to till it and to live there, declares the LORD.”‘”
12 I gave the same message to Zedekiah king of Judah. I said, “Bow your neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon; serve him and his people, and you will live. 13 Why will you and your people die by the sword, famine and plague with which the LORD has threatened any nation that will not serve the king of Babylon? 14 Do not listen to the words of the prophets who say to you, ‘You will not serve the king of Babylon,’ for they are prophesying lies to you. 15 ‘I have not sent them,’ declares the LORD. ‘They are prophesying lies in my name. Therefore, I will banish you and you will perish, both you and the prophets who prophesy to you.'”
16 Then I said to the priests and all these people, “This is what the LORD says: Do not listen to the prophets who say, ‘Very soon now the articles from the LORD’s house will be brought back from Babylon.’ They are prophesying lies to you. 17 Do not listen to them. Serve the king of Babylon, and you will live. Why should this city become a ruin? 18 If they are prophets and have the word of the LORD, let them plead with the LORD Almighty that the furnishings remaining in the house of the LORD and in the palace of the king of Judah and in Jerusalem not be taken to Babylon. 19 For this is what the LORD Almighty says about the pillars, the Sea, the movable stands and the other furnishings that are left in this city, 20 which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon did not take away when he carried Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, along with all the nobles of Judah and Jerusalem- 21 yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says about the things that are left in the house of the LORD and in the palace of the king of Judah and in Jerusalem: 22 ‘They will be taken to Babylon and there they will remain until the day I come for them,’ declares the LORD. ‘Then I will bring them back and restore them to this place.'”
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10 Then the prophet Hananiah took the yoke off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah and broke it, 11 and he said before all the people, “This is what the LORD says: ‘In the same way will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon off the neck of all the nations within two years.’ ” At this, the prophet Jeremiah went on his way.
12 Shortly after the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: 13 “Go and tell Hananiah, ‘This is what the LORD says: You have broken a wooden yoke, but in its place you will get a yoke of iron. 14 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: I will put an iron yoke on the necks of all these nations to make them serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and they will serve him. I will even give him control over the wild animals.'”
15 Then the prophet Jeremiah said to Hananiah the prophet, “Listen, Hananiah! The LORD has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies. 16 Therefore, this is what the LORD says: ‘I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This very year you are going to die, because you have preached rebellion against the LORD.'” 17 In the seventh month of that same year, Hananiah the prophet died.
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4 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the LORD.
10 This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
15 You may say, “The LORD has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,” 16 but this is what the LORD says about the king who sits on David’s throne and all the people who remain in this city, your countrymen who did not go with you into exile- 17 yes, this is what the LORD Almighty says: “I will send the sword, famine and plague against them and I will make them like poor figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten. 18 I will pursue them with the sword, famine and plague and will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth and an object of cursing and horror, of scorn and reproach, among all the nations where I drive them. 19 For they have not listened to my words,” declares the LORD, “words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets. And you exiles have not listened either,” declares the LORD.
20 Therefore, hear the word of the LORD, all you exiles whom I have sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon. 21 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says about Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying lies to you in my name: “I will hand them over to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he will put them to death before your very eyes. 22 Because of them, all the exiles from Judah who are in Babylon will use this curse: ‘The LORD treat you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon burned in the fire.’ 23 For they have done outrageous things in Israel; they have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives and in my name have spoken lies, which I did not tell them to do. I know it and am a witness to it,” declares the LORD.
It is clear, then, how God wanted his people to live while they were in exile. Exile was not about abandoning Israel or destroying them from earth. It was about disciplining them and chastening them. They had done outrageous things, they were idolators, they were full of bloodshed, and, worse, the land was full of false prophets that the Lord continued to warn them about. He says to them, over and again, that there were true prophets that he sent whom the people of Israel refused to listen to. They rejected, out of hand, the words that the Lord had sent and instead delighted in false prophets and their false predictions.
However, there is also this thought: While you are in the land of Babylon, take advantage of the protection they afford you. Learn. Build houses. Plant crops. Marry. Seek the peace of the Land you live in. Prosper the city for then you too will prosper. But the trouble is, it is easy to listen to those who say they have some message that is contrary. It is hard to listen to the message that says: Settle down where you are because you will be there for a while. If Jeremiah warned the exiled Israelites about false prophets who prophesied smooth things, how much more did Jesus do the same thing? He constantly warned that there would be false prophets among us seeking to deceive the Elect. Peter warned about false prophets who are merely interested in fancy stories that will line their pockets with cash. I think those warnings are apropos for our generation too because there are a lot of storytellers in this world who tell stories that eventually take the place of the true Gospel of Jesus. When fiction becomes Gospel, we have cause to be concerned because many people get carried away by all sorts of strange doctrines.
Again, it is difficult to hear the difficult message. It is difficult to hear the Lord say: You are in captivity and exile and you will not be coming back for 70 years. And there is no equivocation in his voice. He said 70 years and he meant it. But sometimes, we want there to be equivocation. Sometimes we want to think that “God did not really mean that” and so we continue on with life and one day we just get smacked in the face with reality. Reality is: The Church is in exile, we are in captivity. Free as we are, we are being held hostage and it will continue to do so until the Lord returns.
Rejecting the False Prophets Who Will Appear Among Us
Grounding Text: Matthew 24:23-25; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1-6
Now I didn’t want to overwhelm you today with a host of lengthy quotations about the state of things. But I do want to make one final point in conjunction with these thoughts I have spoken and the conclusion. Here it is, first from Jesus, then from Peter, then from John:
23At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect-if that were possible. 25See, I have told you ahead of time.
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1But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them-bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.
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1Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
4You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
So what these witnesses testify to is this: Watch out for false prophets. Invariably when studying the book of Daniel words like ‘antichrist’ and ‘false prophets’ and ‘millenium’ will come up. Jesus, Peter and John all warn us that the greatest and most lethal anti-christ we will have to contend while we are in exile is the false teacher, the false prophet, the one who preaches something other than Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. So, we must be on our guard-this comports with the words of Jeremiah and the Words of Daniel. We must be careful of what we listen to and what we teach.
How Must the Church Live in Exile?
Grounding Text: 1 Peter 2:11-17; Hebrews 12:14-29
Why is the Church in exile and what things must be wary of in the land of desolation? Oh, be certain of this, we are not at all in the Beautiful Land just yet. We are here-and here is not beautiful. Here is desolation. We might also ask, why are we here and not there? That is, why has the Lord tarried so that we continue to inhabit a land where He is decidedly not central, where he is decidedly peripheral, and where his people are merely servants of His servants? Is the Lord using this time of captivity to chasten the Church? Is He using this time of exile to prune the church and discipline the Body is He preparing his people for the time when they will be returned to the Beautiful Land?
If these things are true, then how shall we act, how shall we behave in the Land of Exile? Here’s what Peter wrote to people just like us:
11Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. 13Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. 16Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 17Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.
We are here. And here we are. We live among a people who do not know God. But like Israel in Exile, we are witnesses of the Glory of God and we serve Him with excellence in all that we do. If he calls us to serve in government, if he calls us to serve in school, or in a hospital: We are witnesses all the same and we testify to the truth. We root out the false prophets among us. We seek the prosperity of the place we live. We live in peace and holiness. But we live for the true King to Whom we belong. We make the place we live better not worse. We are light and salt. We exalt God everyday by being unwavering in our commitment to Christ. We are unflinching in our resolve to see God honored. And we speak the truth even at the expense of our own lives. We speak the truth to all people: The greatest in the land, the weakest. No one is absolved from hearing the message and we are charged with redeeming everything here for the Glory of God.
As Daniel and his friends show, even Babylon and her mighty Nebudchadnezzar are not beyond the scope of God’s Providence, Power, and Plans. He shakes the unshakeable. He changes the unchangeable. He unseats the powerful. And he exalts the humble. He defends the cause of His own righteousness and holiness. And he throws down those who fail to recognize his holiness. He will not let anyone usurp His glory. He will not allow people to live without awareness of His greatness. He will not share his glory with another. He casts down the proud; He (alone) exalts the humble.
And he calls you and me, us, people not unlike Daniel and Jeremiah, people not unlike Peter and John, to testify to His truth in the midst of moral depravity, decay and decadence. He calls us to declare the goodness of His majesty in the presence of kings and paupers alike: And God will not be unjustified. He will be acknowledged. He will be Holy. And His purposes alone will prevail in this here earth, this land of our sojourn. God be Glorified! God be Exalted!
Soli Deo Gloria!