Babylon is over; the Persians are no longer in charge. King Darius loves Daniel because he has an amazing spirit of the Lord and is able to help the king do his job well. But the other leaders don’t like Daniel and create a rule to bring him down. How will Daniel react; will it be with panic and anger, or will he trust in the Lord no matter what may come?
Fast forward 20 or 30 years. The current king of Babylon is not a good one. There are drunken parties every night, even though there is trouble at the gates. But when will this king open his eyes? Perhaps when the writing is on the wall. Or perhaps his heart will always be hard.
The king wakes up in a cold sweat, another bad dream. A huge tree that touches the sky is cut down and is prevented from growing out of the ground again. What does it mean, and will the king listen? Or will the king keep up his behavior of glorying his own image and become no different than a beast in the field?
The king sets up a huge image, and when the music plays, you are to make yourself reverent towards that image and join in worship. Daniel's friends respectfully decline, which enrages the king so much that we see his value of the image of God: human life.
The king wakes up and yells for his wisest men. They run in and see a distraught and angry king. He had a terrible dream and wants to know what it means or he will kill all of his wise men. Is this what true power looks like -- that it can wake up on the wrong side of the bead and end life in whomever it chooses? Perhaps Daniel’s description of the dream will bring comfort to the king, but maybe not.
Daniel and his 3 friends are the best of the best. They are all royal Hebrews: handsome and filled with wisdom. But when they are taken captive by Babylon, they are put in a place meant to demean them. They are given new names glorifying false gods and are given food sacrificed to those gods. How would you handle this situation? It’s interesting to see what Daniel does.
At the closing of the book of Acts, Luke beckons us to look back, not only looking at the successes and failures of the church but to look at them through the life of Paul. We see where challenges and struggles with eyes that will not see and ears that will not hear take place. Yet, Paul, in chains, still preaches without hindrance. He continues to say, “Here am I! Send me!” May we face the challenges with the same creed.
Paul has been passed from local official to local official. No one knows what to do with him; they think he is innocent, but he wants to stand before Caesar. This sends Paul into the chaos of the sea, riding a ship from the outskirts of the empire to the center of Rome. But along the way there are problems. Huge storms and a shipwreck show us God’s love and guiding grace among difficult times.
Paul wants to go to Jerusalem to visit the church there; however, on his way, folks keep talking about Paul in chains down in Jerusalem. When he arrives, a riot immediately ensues, forcing the rioters and the government to act in the only powers they know. Paul is showing them and us a different way, where we don't have to worry about what the opposition will do to us. Paul is showing us the way of the kingdom.
Paul walks into Ephesus, and he sees multiple displays of power. First he sees the Spirit of God when some are baptized and they begin speaking in tongues. Then he sees the Spirit when some begin to use the power for their own gain and are quickly humbled. Finally, there’s power of the crowd when they feel Paul’s message of Jesus threatens their city and their God.
Paul goes into a new city; first he goes to the Jews then he ends up with the Greeks. However, when he goes up to Athens, he does not go to the Jewish center but instead to the center of Greekness, Mars Hill, where the learned came and discussed the wisdom of the world. But sometimes gaps show up in the manufactured idols, and statues get made to unknown gods. Paul gives this unknown god a name and tells his story.
Back in Jerusalem the church is hearing all these amazing stories about how the pagan Gentiles are confessing their sins and turning towards the one true God. They are rejoicing until someone in their midst asks if they are circumcised. After all, this one God they are worshiping called for all His followers to be circumcised. What does the church do? Actually maybe the correct question is how does the church handle the issue?
Paul stands up before the willing synagogue and retells the story of Israel to them. However, he upsets all those in power in how he tells the story. Those powerful Jews then attack Paul and kick him out in a zealous rage. Watch your Zealous Nature.
Rhoda and all her Christian friends are praying for Peter. He is imprisoned by a murderous Herod, and suddenly he is miraculously freed from prison. He then goes to his praying friend’s house, knocks on the door, and yells, “Let me in, guys!” Rhoda hears Peter’s voice and thinks it’s a ghost and runs inside. Answer the door, Rhoda.
Peter is sleeping, but then he gets a vision from the Lord. Bacon, lobster, and Christmas ham: Oh my! The Lord looks at Peter and says not to call dirty what the He has made clean. The Lord has made all food good for Peter to eat. But when Peter meets a Roman general, he realizes it’s not about the bacon.
Saul sees his job as one of purity. He is trying to hunt down this new strand of idolatry, those followers of Jesus (this so called “The Way”) and imprison them. His job is done so well that those in “The Way” have left Jerusalem and have begun spreading to the ends of the earth. But his job is not done yet; he chases them to Damascus to imprison them. However, as he is pursuing purity, he discovers that their spreading has already happened.
The story of Stephen in Acts is remarkable. He’s a man who comes to prominence when the disciples needed help with the dishes. This man was a thorn of discomfort to the religious leaders of the temple, and they began to rile up the crowds against him saying Stephen wanted to destroy the temple. He then tells the story of God’s people saying that it has always been about letting go.
Outside the temple there was a gate called Beautiful. This gate was a sign post as to how the kingdom of God was here with the people, and that kingdom was making everything beautiful. However, outside this beautiful gate is a disabled beggar asking for change. This gate is hardly living up to the expectation of its name, but then Peter comes by and gives this beggar life and beauty in a name that is above every name.
The Spirit of God comes like a wind, and all these people begin to speak in other languages and perform other wild acts. The people around are all amazed, and some say that all these people must be day drinking to act so weird. But they were not drunk; they were just acting in love of God our Father.
Jesus is alive! He has been hanging out and teaching the disciples for 40 days now and they ask him a question. Jesus we have seen what you can do the power you have, when will you restore the kingdom to Israel. Jesus then looks at them, quotes Isaiah and says you will be…… and disappears into God’s presence.
How will you recognize Jesus? Now really think about that question because no one recognized Jesus after He rises from the dead. It seems those who recognize him throughout Luke’s gospel are all doing the same thing: eating with Him.
You were created, but you were not just as a sack of unfeeling chemicals. You were created as a great work of art. But what if the world does not seem like a great work of art? What if I think my life is just a dark mess? I imagine that's what the women carrying embalming spices to Jesus’ grave thought. However, what they saw that morning changed how they saw the world and changed how they saw themselves. Christ is risen, they saw the Art of Life.
Everything is going great! Jesus is finally showing us who he truly is. He came riding into Jerusalem to so many people crying out “Hosanna” and “You are the King of Kings.” All Jesus has to do now is take his rightful place on the throne in Jerusalem and in our hearts. Jesus must feel amazing today, but why is he over there weeping while overlooking Jerusalem?
Jesus says that the man went away justified. But who is this man? What if he did not deserve to be justified? What if he had hurt me or had stolen something from me? What if he was a tax collector, or if he was too young, or blind or too short? Yes, Jesus said he went away justified. Well then if that man went away justified, then perhaps I could as well.