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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Thanksgiving in Trials



Being as this is the last Sunday of the year it seems good to me that the message this morning should be based on a text that will help us to make sense of a bewildering year. A year where, quite aside from the usual trials and challenges we may expect to face in our personal lives, we have all been drawn into a collective struggle of worldwide proportions. That means that this has been a very unique year for all of us, and a very challenging year for most of us.

Thankfully the bible is always relevant. It always speaks the truth. It always has some way of speaking into our current circumstances.

That’s why I’ve chosen Daniel 2:21 for this morning’s text. These are Daniel’s words to God, inspired by God and therefore God’s words to us.

Daniel says, ‘He [that is God] changes times and seasons’. Daniel is saying that God is in complete control of all the seasons and times – times like Coronavirus times. And he is the one who changes them.

None of us in Christmas 2019 had a clue about Covid- 19. None of us knew that 2020 would be dominated by isolation and lockdowns; mask wearing and R numbers; grim statistics and government briefings; or furlough and vaccine talk. But between Christmas 2019 and 2020, God has seen fit to change the season. What I want us to ask this morning is, what kinds of things has almighty God got in mind when he makes a Coronavirus type change in the course of history? I think that Daniel chapter 2 reveals at least 6 key consequences of God’s changing the season as he has in the past year.

Occasion for the phrase Daniel’s profoundly significant 5-word phrase comes at the beginning of a song or prayer of praise to God which is itself, the result of the events that unfold in chapter 2. In case we missed it when we read it, it’s worth pointing out, that the second half of this chapter is revealing to us the reader, the contents of the dream that Nebuchadnezzar had in verse 1 of the chapter and, the content of the vision Daniel received after he had prayed to God in verse 19. In other words, it’s because Daniel sees in the dream Nebuchadnezzar had, a revelation of the procession of the future – starting with Nebuchadnezzar and ending with the establishment of the kingdom of God, with key steps along the way – that he is moved to say: ‘He changes times and seasons’.

Daniel is shown by God the way that he is going to change times and seasons in order to bring about his kingdom. Daniel sees a statue with a gold head – that is Nebuchadnezzar – a chest and arms of silver; a belly and thighs of bronze; legs of iron; and feet of iron with clay mixed in. All these different materials represent the characteristics of powerful kingdoms that succeeded one another. And God causes this succession to happen. Then finally, Daniel sees a rock cut out of a mountain – not by human hands. It hits the feet of clay and iron and destroys them and the whole statue (v.45). Then the rock itself grows, and fills the whole earth. The implication in verse 44 is, that the rock is the kingdom of God. It is a kingdom that will never be destroyed – unlike the others. And it is a kingdom that destroys all other kingdoms, bringing them to an end.

So, this is the basis for what Daniel says in verse 21. God brings about all these kingdoms by changing times and seasons, and finally he brings about his own kingdom that endures forever. The whole scene is so impressive to Daniel, that he gives praise to God and honours him as the one who is powerful to change times and seasons and in the context of the dream, to ‘depose kings and raise up others’.

With all that in mind, what I want to do, is to make one observation from the text that is important for shaping our thoughts at the outset, and then to state six key consequences of God’s changing the season, as he has done even in this past year.

Crises are for Christians too The one observation is a simple and important one. And it’s this: the events recorded in chapter 2 of Daniel mean significant trouble for devoted followers of God.

That means that if Daniel is correct when he says that God himself changes the times and seasons – and he is – then God does not spare his own people significant trouble in the changes that he makes.

For whatever reason – either unreasonableness or forgetfulness - king Nebuchadnezzar makes it his firm determination that his wise men (magicians, astrologers, enchanters and sorcerers) should be able to not only interpret his dream, but tell him what it is. And, if they can’t do that, then he’s going to ‘cut them all into pieces’ and ‘turn their houses into rubble’. Since Daniel and his friends were part of the band of the king’s wise men, they were directly implicated in the king’s decree also – verse 13 clearly says that ‘men were sent to look for Daniel and his friends to put them to death’.

So, any expectation that God might protect his people from significant trials, and even threats, during the changing of the seasons, ought to be completely dispelled based on this account.

And, if that leaves us asking the question, why would God, who is sovereign over the changing of seasons and times, not spare his children the pain of the trials of life, then we need only turn to a text like 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 to help us out. It goes like this:


We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced...we were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead’.

According to 2 Corinthians 1, Daniel and his friends - Paul and his friends; us and our friends – share in the troubles of life which God is in complete control of, for one very important reason –

that we might learn not to rely on ourselves, but on the God that we claim to follow.

So, the opening observation from Daniel 2 and for this season of Coronavirus is that, though we be God’s people, yet we will be subject to God’s perils which, he’s designed to shape our reliance on him and not ourselves.


Now, the rest of our time is to state and comment on the six consequences of God’s changing the seasons that we can see in chapter 2 and which will serve us in our understanding of the year past.

Consequence 1 - God uses his changing of the seasons to unsettle people who have no regard for him and bring some of them to faith in Christ.


After Daniel had received the revelation from God containing the details of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and had explained them to the king, here’s how Nebuchadnezzar responds – verse 47:

The king said to Daniel, “surely your God is the God of God’s and the Lord of Kings and the revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery”’.

Verse 46 tells us, Nebuchadnezzar fell at Daniel’s feet. The king of the greatest empire on earth at the time was humbled onto his knees by the revelation of God about changing times and seasons. There’s no evidence that he came to faith in God there and then, though perhaps later he did. But, there’s no doubt that he was deeply unsettled.


In Acts 2, Peter’s words to the on-looking Jews were accompanied by some remarkable Pentecostal events, and the result was that people were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter relied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins...and about three thousand were added to their number that day’.

So, when God changes the seasons, people who had zero regard for God, can be cut to the heart and come to faith in Christ. I have no doubt that many have been awakened to their need of God during this pandemic year – perhaps even amongst our small number.


That’s consequence 1 – God uses changing seasons to awaken sinners.

Consequence 2 - God uses his changing of the seasons to cause his people to encourage each other to Godliness.

When Daniel learnt of the kings decree he went into him and asked for time to interpret the dream. Then he returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends and ‘urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery’ (v.18).

Significant trials motivate the Lord’s people to encourage one-another in serious godliness. We’ve only recently considered Godliness in the book of Titus. According Titus 3:14, Godliness serves to meet urgent needs. We can’t be any use to the world we live in unless we are seriously spiritual. When circumstances are easy, we have a habit of getting spiritually lazy. But real trials sober us up and encourage us to spur one another on towards love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). And, I think that has been a feature of 2020 amongst us. God has seen fit to make us see the world more for what it is, and the hindrance it really can be to godliness.


Consequence 3 - God uses his changing of the seasons to move his people to urgent prayer. I think it’s implied in verse 18 that along with his friends, Daniel went home and prayed earnestly about the serious situation that had developed in Babylon. We know from chapter 6 that Daniel was a man of prayer, and I think that when it says in chapter 2 verse 19 that, ‘during the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision’, that it was revealed to him while he was praying. It doesn’t say the mystery came to him in a dream, as though he had been asleep like the king had been, but it says, in a ‘vision’. I think he was awake, and I think he was praying, when God revealed the mystery to him.


Trouble forces us out of a comfortable dependence on ourselves and into a needy dependence on God, and therefore it glorifies his power and his wisdom. James encourages those in trouble to pray (Jam 5:13), and Paul asks for prayer for himself, so that words may be given him to preach Christ fearlessly (Eph 6:19). Assuredly, we can testify to the way in which God has answered so many of our needy prayers this year.

Consequence 4God uses changing seasons to reveal his wisdom and might. Right after the mystery has been revealed to Daniel he says, ‘Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever, wisdom and power are his’ (v.20). When Nebuchadnezzar gives his decree, the wise men object saying, verse 11 – ‘no one can reveal it to the king except the gods and they do not live among humans’. And in verse 47, Nebuchadnezzar says, ‘surely your God is the God of Gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries’.

The wisest men on earth in Daniels day, acknowledged that no one except God could do what the king was asking of them. King Nebuchadnezzar in the end admitted, the God of Daniel is a revealer of things that are utterly mysterious to the wisest of human beings. In verse 30, Daniel says, ‘this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than anyone else alive’.

God shows himself to be mightier than any man or woman alive, then or now. And wiser than them all. Peter says in his first letter and chapter 4, ‘if anyone speaks, they should speak the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should serve in the strength God provides and then he gives the reason... so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be glory and power for ever’.

In all things, if God is to get the glory, all things must be done with the wisdom and strength that God supplies and not that we try to conjure ourselves. This changing season of Coronavirus has shown us our weakness and our inadequacy –

we are not equal to the task – but God is neither weak nor inadequate. And so, we have learnt to rely on him for wisdom from his Word and for strength from his Spirit – two more tangible characteristics of 2020.

Consequence 5God uses changing seasons to reveal truths to his people that they wouldn’t see without the change.

It’s so straight forward as to almost not warrant mentioning, but everything Daniel sees about the future kingdom of God, he sees by virtue of the king’s decree. If the king had not determined death for his wise men, Daniel would not have entreated God for the revelation of the dream.

And, he would not have been privy to the surpassingly great realities of the future. 2 Corinthians 4 is so useful in this regard. The context is present difficulties also - just like for Daniel and us. The apostle Paul says, ‘we always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body’. In other words, there is a kind of revelation that is disclosed through us as believers to on lookers when, in the midst of severe trials, we count God as more precious than life. The distinctiveness of a Christian’s deportment during trials and difficulties serve to point up the life of Christ in us and make the gospel of Christ compelling.


Perhaps this year has been more influential for Christ than we give credit for. Perhaps there has been a witness beyond our words, by our behaviour in the face of difficulties. If so, then the change of the season has served to promote Christ by revealing more of his qualities to us and to those around us. I know that this year has made me reflect on the nature of Jesus’ endurance in the face of the greatest suffering ever experienced, and to strive to emulate that example. To walk in his steps.

Consequence 6God uses changing seasons to attract praise and thanksgiving from his people.

Daniel’s song is full of praise and thanksgiving. Daniel is overwhelmed by the gracious revelation God has given him of utterly secret things. He is amazed at God’s power and wisdom, which illicits his praise. And he’s profoundly grateful that, not only had he and his friends had been spared death, but all the other wise men also, which illicits his thanks.

Peter in his first letter says, these trials have come ‘so that the proven genuiness of your faith...may result in praise and glory’. And Paul in 2 Corinthians 4 says all these trials are ‘for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God’.

So, praise and thanksgiving flow more freely; more tangibly, out of times of trial and difficulty, than in times of ease. Praise and thanksgiving are pleasing to God and so we should not be surprised that seasons like 2020 should come upon us his servants.

So, I think those are six really compelling reasons to be grateful for 2020. And to allow all praise and thanksgiving to flow to the glory of God here at the end of this year – even as it has been, a season of incredible change wrought by the mighty hand of our God.

May the Lord bless his word to us. Amen.


 

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