Reading Ramblings – October 19, 2014

Date:  Narrative Preaching #16 — Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego: October 19, 2014

Texts: Daniel 3:4-30; Psalm 91; John 20:1-23

Context:  The readings today remind us of a God who calls on his people to trust in him, even when things don’t seem to be going their way.  He does not promise us that we will not suffer, rather that He will be with us in and through that suffering.  When we waiver and are uncertain, we are prone to ask for signs and evidences to substantiate our faith further.  While He sometimes graciously grants these confirmations, His Word also directs our faith forward based on the acts of God in the past, most notably the life, death, resurrection and ascension of his Son, Jesus the Christ. 

Daniel 3:4-30 — Those Jews who were educated and part of the upper classes of Jerusalem went into captivity in Babylon, where their skills would naturally get them into positions of influence—in this case our three protagonists are said to be appointed over the affairs of Babylon (3:12).  But in a time and place where religion and politics are one and the same, this leads to conflict.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego do not protest their sentence, but neither can they obey the law and worship another god than the God of Israel.  They accept their fate undoubtedly with disappointment and fear, but also with a stunning confidence.  Their faith is not conditioned on their salvation from the furnace.  They profess their faith knowing that they may lose their lives.   They allow God to be God and determine how He will act in their situation—but their faith in him remains whether they live or die.  What a powerful testimony to us still today!  Our God reigns, and whether or not He miraculously intervenes in the difficulties and tragedies of our lives, the fact of his sovereignty remains.

Psalm 91  — In times of trial, where else can we turn for refuge?  What other stronghold can remain steadfast against the threats of this world?  This Psalm is a powerful statement of trust in God, trust that exceeds the limits of our mortality and looks towards a time of final and ultimate rescue.  Are these verses a denial that God’s people suffer and die in this world?  Of course not—the psalmist knew all too well the precariousness of our lives.  But our confidence in the midst of uncertainty is that our God reigns beyond this time, beyond our lifespan and our situations and conditions.  As such, no evil can ultimately harm us, even though it might physically kill us.

Verses 11-12 are famous because Satan quotes them in his temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4:5-6.  What Satan leaves out is that God’s angels protect all of our ways, not simply physical safety but in obedience to our heavenly Father.  Satan tries to ignore the call to obedience—and the assurance of God’s power towards that end—in order to lure Jesus into disobedience by testing God.

John 20:1-23— The reading from Daniel culminates in God’s saving of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fiery furnace.  The highlight is their dramatic rescue through God’s intervention, and the moment when that rescue is evident to those watching.

Likewise, the work of Jesus the Christ culminates not in his death, but in his resurrection and his explanation to his disciples as to what has been accomplished through these things.  In verses 1-10 there is confusion.  Where is Jesus’ body?  In verses 11-18, Jesus now makes himself known to Mary Magadalene.  At first she doesn’t recognize him (perhaps because He didn’t want her to right away), but at the end she does.  She runs off to tell the disciples of her experience.

In verses 19-23, the puzzle pieces are pulled together.  Jesus appears to his disciples behind locked doors and speaks his peace to them.  The power of God that spoke creation into existence should be remembered here.  Jesus isn’t making a wish or expressing a hope or sending good vibes their way.  He is giving them his peace as He speaks it to them.

What is the substance, the basis and content of this peace?  Is it simply that He is alive?  No, but rather what his life means for his disciples and those who will come after them.  Jesus reiterates his peace to them, this time elaborating.  Their peace is part and parcel of being sent, being commissioned by Jesus to share the Good News of his resurrection.  Every time they tell the story, every time they recount their experience with the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth, they will know peace.  Their story may not be received.  They may be personally abused and even killed for their confession, but that very confession is the source of peace in their hearts, not the reception of their hearers.  They have peace because they know something miraculous has happened.  They have seen the power of God at work in front of their eyes, and it will now be at work inside their hearts.

They are gifted with the Holy Spirit—this is the other aspect of the peace they have.  The Spirit of God now dwells within them.  They won’t receive that Spirit in power until Pentecost.  But already, the reality of Jesus perfect obedience in his incarnation, death, and resurrection, means that the power of the Holy Spirit is unleashed.  What power is that?  Is it speaking in tongues?  Is it prophesy or healing?

No.  The first and foremost power of the Holy Spirit is forgiveness.  This is what the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ accomplishes and offers to us: forgiveness.  We are reconciled to God the Father through faith in what God the Son has done—faith granted and sustained by God the Holy Spirit within us.  This gift—the most important and costly of any gift ever given—is the good news that once again instills peace and joy in our hearts.  That peace and joy impels us to want to share this good news with others in our lives.  We are forgiven!  Our sins are wiped clean!  There is hope not just for this day but for tomorrow.  Satan can no longer wield our pasts and our current failures against us because the love of God through Jesus Christ has forgiven us!

But this forgiveness is conditional on faith.  On receiving like a little child what the Holy Spirit offers us.  Failure to receive this gift, rejection of this gift means that we remain in our sin.  There is no forgiveness when we do not in faith trust in the person and work of Jesus the Christ as the Son of God.  Those who hear and receive this good news with joy have the good news of forgiveness pronounced.  Those who reject it must be told that their refusal means they remain in rebellion against God, their sins remains.  Our condition at any given moment is not where we draw our peace from—we draw our peace from the promise of the resurrected Son of God that we are forgiven through faith in Him!


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