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Lively Lessons in Spiritual Service
Your God whom You Serve Continually
Daniel gives the heart something of a spiritual massage, bringing comfort. It is not that one wishes to polish a saint, but to recognise spiritual qualities. There may have been many failures of which we do not know; but of things wrought by faith in the power of God, with a cleanness of godly fear that is refreshing in its simplicity, and not simply wooden in its urbanity, here is something to behold.
A cadet when young, Daniel was a displaced person, though one commanded into another country. Here the culture, the rules, the laws, the regalities were all different. Peculiar conditions were imposed, dangers of being swallowed up by culture throbbed like a tooth ache. Early he found a point d'appui, where action could be taken. Here is the first lesson! If, on top of everything else which seems all but determined to swallow you up, deriding your patience, mocking your constancy of seeking to serve God, eroding your sufficiency, then do not RESENT that; for it is for your God.
Very good, does one hear you say ? derisively ? as if to mock encouragement. But do not do so, my Christian friend, or disaffected soul looking for the Lord, but discouraged. It is a fact that all things work together for good for those who love God, the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:29ff.); He has it all worked out and does not slip. He is very available to the call of faith (Psalm 145:17 'to all who call upon Him in truth'), and while His counsel has to be FOUND, in practice, though in principles it is clear in His word, and it will come to faith.
Later, we will hope to make a relevant reference to Paul in this matter; but for the moment it is Daniel who is in focus, and the immediate comparison will be with John and Peter.
Instead of seeing that almost unimaginable extra burden to your longsuffering soul, which is the last straw, so that you already reach for the liniment for the sake of that starting pain, rejoice! You are chosen to endure, as were the apostles, and are in good company (I Peter 4:7-19). Consider them in their constancy and in their rejoicing.
How can we ever forget the simplicity of the record when having done good, and indeed been miraculously used in the healing of a suffering man, before long, the envious, proud and riled remnants of religious officialdom in Jerusalem had them not only booked, accused, brought before their odious faces, but beaten!
Now it is true that this was not the IMMEDIATE reaction of authorities. As recorded in Acts 3, as they did good AND preached about the One whose power was responsible for the healing which HE wrought through them, following His resurrection, continuing to proclaim the murder and sacrifice of Christ as a basis for forgiveness in a way unappealing to the murderers in their lordly robes and imposing official presence, so the case opened. They were arrested but allowed to depart unpunished. They had done a good work, and it would be hard to punish for that, when the people were so impressed with the compassion joined to power, expressly attributed to the name of that famous and amazing Messiah who had just come and gone, as and when predicted.
He rose on the THIRD day as foretold, and died in the DATE foretold (cf. Christ the Citadel ... Ch. 2), trampled on the FATE prescribed by the authorities, itself FORETOLD, and overcome their METHOD of crucifixion, also foretold, thus establishing the Gospel for the Gentiles, equally foretold (and in fact to be implemented for the rest of the Age, as also foretold). What more does reason require!
True, then, that the punishment for the plain-speaking, graciously acting apostles did not come at once; but it did not wait too long. Imagine yourself in their position. You go right on preaching through Jesus the resurrection of the dead (Acts 4:1-2), as so many pastors for so long in our century have failed to do, spiritualising it into a verbal farce and utter fraud, contradicting faith, history and scripture with equal ease*1. You however, as we put you in spirit in the place of the apostles, to increase the sense of empathy, YOU faithfully DO preach it, despite the known opposition of authorities who can punish, and even might even manage the death penalty through manipulation of other higher authorities, in the government, as with Christ, and perhaps with James; for Herod may well have been impacted with their powers before killing James (Acts 12).
So you go on, preaching and teaching faithfully, as many still do in many lands to this day; and now your reward, the carnal soul might feel ? Where is it ? At least let me live in peace and productivity, being hard-working and functional in the kingdom of heaven, sowing and reaping ...
Yet in a little, as you are faithful, and indeed BECAUSE you are, the authorities once more take knowledge of your emerging PROFILE, and decide that now, the pressure building, their names mud, it is time to show that they are not ninnies, but holy men who can wield whips (or this perhaps being demeaning to their grace and gravity, pay other people to do so). You are charged to STOP this talk, to CEASE speaking thus of Christ (and the inference is clear about themselves, as to His death - and not always left to inference!); and of course you refuse. "Whether," Peter and John replied in the actual historical case, "it be right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you judge" (Acts 4:19). They even dared to speak with an impelling irony.
There, you have done it. You have been faithful, not a little courageous, and have done what you should. Now perhaps ? Not at all. You are in a war against a merciless and relentless enemy. His social suicide he does not desire. Your rebuff, therefore, desire he does! "We cannot but speak of the things we have seen and heard!" you (from their crusty viewpoint, provocatively) add.
That is a hard one to answer, and we notice that there is no recorded answer: they are not ABLE to deny the things they have seen and heard. Mere negation will not do; there is too positive and clear a testimony, and the verbal farce of pretending the soldiers slept, as if this were evidence of some kind or variety, and that the disciples stole away the body while, first moving the stone, they did so without waking them, is too thin. It cannot even with slight plausibility be actually presented to those who had obviously met Christ, as they experienced the case of dealing with them (Acts 4:13). It was not merely a past and lost leader who was in view, whose departure left them as dead men; they had BEEN with Him. They could sense the robust courage, the assured evidential certainty, the sense of their own noxious, obliterative attitude to reason and truth which would obtruded. They liked it not at all, and had only force to their hand.
This they did not hesitate to use; only murder being suspended for the time being. This we will shortly see.
In fact, of course, the disciples had been growing to be flaccid at the first when Christ was killed: rather dejected, deflated and even afraid; but then Jesus, arisen, did meet them, did amaze them. He met doubt by physical proof (John 20), taught and ate with them, and it was not a matter of conjecture, but of what they had over a considerable period seen and heard. In the face of such attestation of logic, experience and spirit, the authorities were discomposed, knowing their lie was ludicrous, and that IF the soldiers slept then HOW on this earth or out of it could they attest except by desire, that it was not an ESCAPE but a theft on the part of the disciples! If you are going to lie, it might at least be plausible.
Once again, then, as recorded in Acts 4, they are not able to punish them, but proceed to charge them, to make the future easier on authoritarian grounds alone, for confrontation and whipping.
So far, so good, then, says the carnal soul, wanting always more pleasure than pain, more progress in society or at least in psychic self-relish, than what might appear as regress. Remember, for reasons of empathy, you are imagining yourself in the place of the apostles here.
Do you now begin to lick your wounds - after all, you HAVE now suffered two verbal AFFRONTS by authority, the RELIGIOUS authorities still deeply respected because of their high office in what is allegedly the work of their God, and perhaps it is time to lay back a little, to take off the foot from the spiritual accelerator, and proceed with caution ? Many are they who have so done, until their faithlessness becomes palpable surrender. I have seen in it in Churches, as they proceed to die, suddenly, as in New Zealand, or slowly in Australia or the USA, and indeed in Canada. It has been experienced. The soulful become prudent, the passionate become dulled, and even the conservative may become enemies of the faith.
Now there is a purging in the Church in terms of the utter purity of heart required, and a little over-statement about bounty is deemed lying to the Holy Spirit. You see the case in Acts 5. God knows, and lies do not please Him. Indeed, truth is a first essential with love, in spiritual living, for LOVE REJOICES IN THE TRUTH (I Corinthians 13), In Acts 5, then, we read of two extraordinary deaths. The fear of God comes upon the people of God (Acts 5:11). Now many signs and wonders are done in the same power which Christ used as Son, this being accorded for testimony to His body, the Church. Believers abounded, startling public events multiply, healing with people on stretchers brought near the apostles in the streets, becomes common: doubtless such things became all too well known to the subversive and increasingly fatuous-seeming authorities, who WOULD not even open their eyes to the facts (Matthew 13:15ff.).
The High Priest had had enough. His position had to be protected, or his dignity, or continuance in his post. He did not want to look bad: in a way, he resembles some politicians to this day. Therefore he acted, the apostles imprisoned, they were again confronted. Again their reply was not self-indulgent: "We ought to obey God rather than men," they replied, adding this: "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him."
That was not a compromise with authority. One well recalls meeting with the South Australian Government officials to whom another Minister and myself came in absolute affront at the subversion of youth, as perpetrated by false teaching on creation, ordered by the Government, and that WITHOUT RIGHT of RATIONAL ARGUMENT at any point in the school, by students to the contrary being so much as permitted. It was more than any breach of so-called human rights: it was human oppression, pure and simple. It was a horrendous assault on education, scientific method and truth, wrought by authority and carried on as ruthlessly as in a prison camp, minus the whip, that being purely verbal. The case has not shown any evidence of change since that day!
My colleague was about to concede this and that, and I could hardly believe it. It seemed that he had grown accustomed to allowing this and that in the hope of at least achieving the other. Yet when it comes to the word of God, WHAT may be conceded ? Is He to be rewritten! Does a servant change the word of his Master! One sought to correct this error by speaking to him, but before long my colleague withdrew suddenly from the work, and this was an appalling lapse; but it came to be, and it is for a grief that such things could be.
Not so with Peter and John. What a denunciation they gave to OBVIOUSLY HOSTILE and authoritarian mis-rulers! as we have just seen. This the officials COULD not let pass, with any self-respect (you see in Dickens' Oliver Twist, how much self-respect even Fagin managed to project upon himself and his professional ways as a thief-director). The apostles, this third time, they were whipped. Now that is not a nice sort of a thing. It might have been severe, up to 39 lashes being permitted, and they were not sparing, for death being averted, there was all of life to play with, and even that was not too important for such victims as were stricken! Had not the Christ been decisively, if slowly - but that not out of kindness but cruelty - simply murdered! Is the servant greater than his Master ? Not yet however did they have to follow Him in that.
Let us however continue our imaginative work in empathy, where the reader is feeling as if he or she WERE the apostle.
By now, the double-minded soul is affronted. What, he or she cries, have I not been faithful in all these things, in interview after interview, and have I not served with a clean heart and conscience in all things, and now look! Is it not enough to suffer such things, and my salary ? where is that! But now I am whipped, my very strength is stricken, my mind is temporarily all but numbed with pain, the thing has become staggeringly physical, and I stagger. THIS IS TOO MUCH!
Really ? But nothing is too much for love, and "love bears all things": that is its way! You find this in I Corinthians 13, but also in spiritual life in Christ. HE did, He bore all things! His disciples have a path before them.
What then am I going to get out of it ? is it merely for the future, maybe, say some.
Is this the talk ? Where then is faith ? besides, is the motif, arising from the motivation, to become this: how much glory, joy and pleasure can I reap, taking this earth and the next world in one composite ? Is THAT the aim! How low! If pleasure is what you are after, then WHOSE PLEASURE is it ? Your own. Is that love ? SInce when and how! The essence of love is that it does NOT calculate its advantage: why that is the very opposite, being a literally self-serving posture.
In such ways, the frauds are found out. To be sure, some stumble and recover, but overall, this is the way of it.
Let us then rejoice in the CONSTANCY of the apostles in all of this.
The notable figure, Gamaliel told the authority, as a respected member, that if the thing was of God, it was no use to fight it; but if of men, then it would fail anyway (Acts 5:33ff.). They warned them. They received this talk, but how deeply did they consider it ? Almost as if an afterthought, after heeding Gamaliel to the point that they did no WORSE, they had the apostles beaten. They had even begun plotting to kill them! It is hard to make a pleasure out of that...
The apostles however even REJOICED when whipped, because they had been found WORTHY of doing such particular labours for Christ. It IS a privilege to write, for my own part, though it is far from being my choice to do it for so long and so much; but since it is He who enables, strengthens, so appoints and directs, then I count it a privilege to do it. Here is the apostolic message from John and Peter to us all: count your blessings and in the very midst of their multitude, be THANKFUL and praise God if you are allowed to suffer for His sake: for there is no greater sake in earth or in heaven, than His!
But we have moved from Daniel, with whom we began, to the apostles; yet in so doing, there has been a reinforcement of the message to come from Daniel, by making the whole thing move closer to our own time, and into our own New Covenant in the blood of Christ. After all, it is the same God with the same heart, whether in the Old or the New Testament, and the law made the exceedingly great sinfulness of sin apparent (Romans 7:13), that the wonder of the mercy of God should be appreciated in truth, and not in slovenly or slipshod daftness.
Look again at Daniel. When quite new as a cadet, expatriate of Israel, new citizen of Babylon by virtue of being taken and put there, he has a chance to be sad, and an opportunity to be faithful. What of the new 'life-style', and its ways ? Would he, must he, should he follow that ? No! By careful request, in which his appearance became a test, when allowed simple food, had managed to have his rich food diet, food and drink, changed to simple fare. It seems he not unwisely was thinking that under such tests and in such disciplines, he could not afford to indulge in ANYTHING: for the tests were great, the adverse circumstances were severe, the dangers were intense, and nothing could be allowed to dull his mind, bring luxurious pleasantness to his body or be indulged to the detriment of the closest possible supervision of his own conduct.
Time passes. He interpreted Nebuchadnezzar's dream with that combination of meekness, giving the glory to God most explicitly, for the amazing feat of first confirming his integrity by stating what the king had dreamed, before saying what it meant. The reason for his correct knowledge of another man's dream, he gave tellingly to God where it belonged, and to Him he attributed his strength, having the answers accorded to him by this same God. Then came relief; for he was honoured by the King for this staggering feat, and doubtless, for his realism in not pretending he made it from his own mind!
His friends then were tested in the matter of refusing to BOW to an image, such as the State now erects and servants of God must NEVER allow to direct ANY of their ways, whatever the cost personally. They were thrust into a furnace, according to the stipulated punishment, and one cannot help thinking of what some Christians, especially pastors have suffered in China, for example, during those godless years of the Communist bullying, when many remained faithful, doubtless some to death. The slow method is often chosen by tormentors, to increase the pain and help the hope of spoiling the testimony, for it is truth which is to be feared by the guilty, the guileful and the unfounded*2.
Out of this they came, unscathed, furnace or no furnace, and the King discerned another figure int he furnace with them, like the Son of God. Thus, this time, God provided His own testimony. Never forget in all trials, with God NOTHING is impossible. You are not following here the stock or housing market, but God who made and OWNS the earth (a fact often forgotten in imaginative dealings with indigenous people, and with armies alike).
Again, the King was amazed, and acknowledged as many scientists do not now do, the basic facts. What REQUIRES GOD for its happening, had happened, so the King gave glory to God! (cf. The gods of naturalism have no go! and SMR pp. 140ff. in particular).
Daniel continued and was in much honour, but here comes another test. HAVING BEEN faithful and suffered much, you can then suddenly find yourself honoured by at least some; and discovering a new niche for self-content, you may be tempted to relax and compromise with this or that, in order to catch up on pleasure or importance or some other useless and unimportant consideration. True, God made pleasures, but not least they are a test. Enjoy good food if it comes ? why not, so long as it does not betray. But live for it, or insist on it, or let it order your desires, then that is an entirely different matter! Pleasure and pains are indexes, no more; and God is good who has given us so many lovely things for the eye, the ear and the heart; but it is He to whom one looks, for this is a battle, and soldiers do not need to be gobbled up by their social life.
In due course, Daniel was so eminent in the new Empire, that envy and competitiveness began their awful progress. Plotting against him came from below, from his subordinates. They thought, considered, pondered, like a cricket captain looking at the other side's powers and canniness, with a strategic interest, seeing where the weakness might lie, and finding members of his team to exploit it. Such testing can be fun, as wits and ways interlock, giving wisdom about challenges and applications for real life. It can in that same real life, however, be potentially all but deadly.
Thus his envious colleagues decided to ask the King, relatively quietly to be sure, if in his eminence he might make an unalterable law (as those kings tended to do) to the effect that for some days NO ONE could pray except to him! The King thought the point good, and passed the law. Good! thought the envious workers, and they watched and saw what ?
Daniel for his part was not moved. He did not even make his prayer sufficiently private that they COULD NOT KNOW what he did! It was just as usual. The fear of God is such, a clean and wholesome fear because He REALLY is wonderful, that you DARE not fear anyone else. It would be unsightly, unfitting and irrational, contrary to faith in the end, to fear others. Serve such a monarch and fear a mere underling ? How could this well be done at all!
Daniel continued on his way and so was taken into custody, and refusing to obey, he became a captive not of a king's wrath, but of his necessity: for the King evidently had the highest regard for this unique man in his Empire, whose powers were obvious and whose God he continually made even more obvious in a magnifying testimony that reached far. The laws being incapable in that kingdom of mere abrogation, the King himself could not deliver Daniel from the lion's den, and there he went.
Now the point here is this, for us. Daniel could have made this a last straw case. Have I not from my youth been faithful, allowed perils innumerable to surround me because I would not compromise, did not dare to bend to alien pressure, put God first in all things, and have I not again and again put myself where only a thread suspends my life, and put all into the pot, ready to boil, in my life, to change the figure; for in times of stress the imagination can be most active. Such might have been his thoughts, had he been a different person.
NOW, he might have said, that I am old, now that I am eminent, have passed all the tests, met all the rigours and had all the rigors, am I to be threatened by mere underlings, and am I to be made an example, so that others might fear the King, the State and the things of this earth, so making my whole testimony to be undermined.
In fact, of course, this would not, could not and did not undermine his testimony, for it is when you become great and STILL do not change in faithfulness to God in all things, that the matter escalates as a testimony. Yet the devil loves a lie, indeed as Christ stated, he is the 'father of it' (John 8) and it is of him. Foolish is he, is she, is the man, woman or child, that listens to that talk.
Daniel at this time did not bend, but instead he made an enhanced testimony. It was God who made it possible. Your God, said the King, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you.
In other words, Darius had noticed the outstanding fact, that whatever the circumstances, Daniel served God, followed Him, enacted what He required, did what he had to do, in order to be faithful, and was an utterly reliable servant of the Most High. Therefore he valued him mightily, and the fact that the King, disabled from delivering Daniel by his own power through the ways of the laws in his kingdom, fasted and tried hard to help for hours, attests that perhaps he even had affection, and certainly shows the depth of his admiration for Daniel and awareness of what in the end, made him so different!
This serving God continually: it is not payment matter. It is not a discipline for the rugged. It is joy for love. Without love, there is nothing to be done in the kingdom of heaven; that is the way of it. This world's ways are not only tirelessly trivial, endlessly mundane, shamelessly contrived and artfully guileful very often, but they are NOTHING LIKE the actual way of life, of the One who made it, and has cursed the earth and subjected the creation to what Paul calls 'vanity', or worthlessness, seeming meaningless littleness in its ways, as a contrivance to harass man, at times to mock him (as in the case of the plagues in Egypt*3), indeed as a judgment, so that choosing the evil, mankind and any others can watch it in detail, and be revolted by it.
It is not that enormous peace and purity and beauty and sacrifice (as seen in the parents of many kin for their offspring, to a vast and impressive degree in the natural realm) is not still upon the earth; it is that it is not a generally ruling thing, for the way of God is other and must be found, not impounded. It is fine to find it. The King looked well.
His Majesty was not disappointed, but rather rejoiced in relief. God DID deliver Daniel. It was not just a simple case. His head had been on the block repeatedly, but this time, in the face of such an opportunity, God resolved to deliver Daniel, just as He TWICE delivered Peter from prison by miraculous means (Acts 5:17ff., 12:5ff.). In fact, Peter before the beating given to him by the authorities, as in the record of Acts 5, had already not only been miraculously delivered from prison, but instructed by the angel doing it, to go right out there publicly and to continue preaching this way of life! He did this, and was then taken and then beaten! Deliverance did not cow him, but he continued its purpose of serving God continually. Praise the Lord for that! He may have failed earlier, but not now. Not only had he learnt, but he had been empowered in the New Testament Age, at the birth of the New Testament Church, speaking not in bubbles of bits of words, but in intelligible words at Pentecost, for the edification of many from many nations, the Gospel plainly.
That is REAL Pentecostalism! (The other is properly called Corinthianism cf. A Question of Gifts).
Daniel, then, DID serve God continually and made the most of his opportunities to stay put, where truth, and the love of God works. It is this same love which was made so express to him when given some of his most amazing visions of things to come, all (not naturally, but supernaturally) fulfilled in history. You see something of the love of God for him in Daniel 10:11. It is basic to His kingdom, with truth and peace, a combination of fascinating beauty and heart-joy.
Jesus Christ, paragon, God Himself as man, was able to say these things, at which we now look.
In John 8:29,we read:
who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone,
His approach to test is, in part, seen here also. Speaking of death to come, and the troubled feeling this gave to His sacred soul, He declared this (John 12:27-28):
"Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say ?
Father , save Me from this hour ? But for this purpose I cam to this hour.
Father, glorify Your name."
*1 See, for example, on the bodily resurrection of Jesus the Christ, the following.
Great Execrations, Great Enervations, Greater Grace Ch. 7;
Barbs Appendix 3,
Biblical Blessings Ch. 15, Extended Endnote 2,
BIBLE TRANSLATIONS 33
Acme, Alpha and Omega ... 11,
With Heart ... Ch. 3,
Spiritual Refreshings ... Ch. 5
The Magnificence of the Messiah, Endnote 1,
Spiritual Desecrations ... Ch. 11, SMR Ch. 6 and Index,
The Kingdom of Heaven Ch. 9, Section 14,
Joyful Jottings 25, A Spiritual Potpourri Chs. 15, 16,
Stepping out for Christ Ch. 5, Things Old and New Ch. 2, Excursion 2A;
The Light of Dawn Ch. 3,
Beyond the Crypt ... Ch. 2; DDHCBIT 2; Spiritual Refreshings ... Chs. 5, 6,
Ancient Words ... CH. 8 (on resurrection and Lazarus, yes and both with Jerusalem); contrasting Greek bodily terms - GBG 2 ;
and New Zealand Dizzy Dashes ... and the Brilliant Harmony of Inevitable Truth Ch. 6,
The Frantic Millenium Ch. 4;
Bewilderment ... or the Beauty of Christ's Holiness Ch. 1.
On Communism, see the following.
Aviary of Idolatry, Delusive Drift or Divine Dynamic Ch. 5,
News 37. 44, 69, 97 (the exploiters, the fanciful,
the Communists, the de-godders and the realities), 98,
News 150 - Taiwan,
The Grating Grandeur and Aggrandisement of Man,
and the Meekness of the Majestic Messiah Ch. 2
Beauty for Ashes
Hong Kong, and the movement of nations in the last century a
Tender Times for Timely Truth
SMR pp. 925ff., 971-972;
Beauty of Holiness
(war and force, rising downwards, Tiananmen and truth),
Ch. 4 (liberty, Tiananmen, worship and its direction in time, its terms and code of truth); History, Review and Overview Ch. 1,
Impossible to Men, Open to God Ch. 5
See also Lord of Life Ch. 8.
On the plagues of Egypt, see MC 1.