MESSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 11, 2007 FROM DANIEL 9:20-23
This week, we return to Daniel chapter nine that we have said is
divided into two parts. The first 19 verses, which we looked at two
weeks ago, are a prayer uttered by Daniel. Daniel had been reading
the writings of the prophet Jeremiah and in response to the promise of God through Jeremiah that the time of God’s
exile of his people to
The main idea for these transitional verses is very simple but also life changing. That is—God brings his will to pass on earth through the prayers of his people. That’s an intensely simple message, but how few of us really live and pray as if we believed that. We believe it “up here” in our heads, but we don’t believe it in our hearts because if we did, our individual and corporate prayer lives would look radically different than they does now. If we genuinely believed prayer moved the hand of Almighty God, we would pray much more. I see three points that manifest the power of prayer in verses 20-23. The first is found in verses 20-21. The author says, “While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the Lord my God for the holy hill of my God, 21while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice.”
One truth as it relates to God and his response to prayer that is easy for us to forget or even tacitly reject. That is--God is eager to answer the Spirit-led prayers of his people. We see this in at least two places in these verses. First, the first word in these two verses in the original is the word translated “while.” “While I was speaking” begins both these first two verses. The author’s burden is to stress that God’s answer came even before Daniel said “Amen.” Daniel didn’t have to finish his prayer because God, who knows what we ask before we open our mouths, was already responding to his prayer, giving him his answer. This same truth is emphasized a bit differently in verse 21 where Daniel says that Gabriel “came to me in swift flight.” The point here is not to provide a commentary on comparative the speed of angel flight in contrast to the snail-like pace of human locomotion. Daniel is not primarily saying, “Wow, that Gabriel is speedy quick!” He is merely re-emphasizing the eagerness of God to respond to this prayer.
here is not that God always instantaneously answers prayer. We know
that is not the case. The truth that is laid down here is that God is eager to answer the Spirit-led prayers of
his people. That begs the question, “How
do you know if a prayer is led or directed by the Holy Spirit and not just our selfish hearts?” Daniels’ prayer bears the marks of a Spirit-led prayer in at least three
ways. These are not necessarily the only three marks of a Spirit
led prayer but these are central to what comprises a prayer that reflects Gods’ heart and therefore one that he
is certain to answer. These marks of Spirit-led prayer are important
for us to know because they help us to know whether our prayers are led by the Holy Spirit.
The first expression of the Spirit’s influence on this prayer is that it was in rooted in the Spirit-inspired
promises of God. If you want to greatly increase the likelihood of
praying Spirit-led prayers, root them in the Spirit-inspired truth of God’s word.
The Holy Spirit will never lead you to pray something contrary to God’s word.
We stand a much greater chance of praying by the Holy Spirit if we are grounding our prayers in the word
of God authored by the Holy Spirit. Daniel’s confession is in perfect
harmony with Biblical truth—he is in total agreement with the messages the Spirit-inspired prophets spoke about
the sin of
prayers like, “God, make Mount of Olives a church of 900 people”
do not stand nearly the chance of being led by the Holy Spirit as Bible-saturated prayers like, “God,
make Mount of Olives your house of prayer” or “Make Mount
of Olives an army of militant, joyful believers fervent for your glory” or “Cause Mount of Olives to show forth the radiant glory of your bride, without
spot or blemish” or, “Cause Mount of Olives to more powerfully
reflect the wonder of the interdependence seen in your body.”
Another way we can be more assured we are praying Spirit led prayers is if our prayers are, like Daniel’s prayer, motivated by a passion for His glory. As we saw two weeks ago, Daniel grounds his prayer in the promise of God through Jeremiah that the Jewish exile will end after 70 years and is motivated by God’s glory to be preserved among the nations. Jesus says of the Holy Spirit in John 16:14, “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” If the Holy Spirit is sent to glorify Christ, then prayers that plead for God to be glorified in Biblically valid ways are a sure bet to in agreement with the Spirit. These verses show us how eager God is to answer those prayers.
This is so important because many of us believe in our hearts that God is anything but eager to answer prayer. If we are honest, most us of would admit to being influenced by the lie that prayer is simply the spiritual leverage we apply to God in order to sufficiently twist his arm so that he will finally but hesitantly acquiesce to our requests. That’s not what Jesus says in Mark 11:24, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” One of the great tragedies of the health/wealth prosperity gospel is that in our sense of indignation over how verses like this one are abused, we have reacted to that by banning them from our belief system. Although we need to be careful how we apply that promise, one implication of that verse is one reason we do not have more answers to prayer is because they are not prayed with faith and they are not offered in faith because deep in our hearts we do not truly believe he will answer our prayers. How far we are from William Carey who said, “Expect GREAT THINGS from God, attempt great things for God.” Do we truly expect great things from God for our family, our church, our world? If they are solidly grounded in the promise of his word, then we should expect them and with that sense of expectancy, ask them. God shows his eagerness to answer Spirit led prayers in Daniel chapter nine.
A second truth relating to God and his response to prayer is God’s answers to our prayers are often different than we intend. Any married person who has ever prayed—“God, make our marriage more healthy” and assumed his immediate answer to that prayer would come in the form of “straightening out” your partner knows this. He wants us to prayer for our marriages, but the overwhelming testimony of the church is that when we pray for our marriages, more often than not God begins NOT by revealing to our partner how grotesquely unsanctified he/she is, but by taking his scalpel to our hearts. We see this unexpected answer to prayer in verse 23 where Gabriel says to Daniel, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding.” In the first 19 verses of this chapter in this profoundly anointed prayer of Daniel, you will look in vain for even one request for “insight and understanding.” It’s not there. Daniel is praying for God’s mercy for his people and that God would be glorified as he allows his people to return to the Promised Land. Daniel has no way of knowing that God will answer his prayer of confession and pleas for mercy with yet another prophecy for the future of his people, but that is one way God chose to answer it.
We could give countless testimonies of how this dynamic has played out in our lives.
We ask God for a richer faith and in response to that prayer he sends us trials and tribulations that force us to learn to trust him. We ask that God would help us love others with his love and one of our dearest friends deeply wounds. God’s love, we forget, loves those who killed his Son. We ask for holiness and we begin to experience temptations at an intensity never before experienced so that we are forced to pursue God and holiness with unprecedented zeal. The list goes on. The lesson we learn here is not: Don’t pray for these things because God will zap us. What does that say about God? The lesson is that we ask God to want him and the reality of his kingdom in our lives so desperately, that we would bear any burden, pay any price to get it and in the process of his work in our life, discover, not the curse of a cruel God, but the blessing of a wise Father who is working for our joy.
A third truth as it relates to God and his response to prayer is God’s answers to prayer are rooted in his grace to us, not our work for him. I want to clarify this because of what is could be wrongly inferred from this amazing statement the angel Gabriel makes to Daniel here in verse 23. He tells Daniel the reason he has come to give him understanding into God’s plan for God’s people is because, “you are greatly loved.” The word in the Hebrew more literally means “precious” or “treasured.” The NASB translates it “highly esteemed.” In addition to this reference, another heavenly being twice more addresses Daniel with this exact word in chapter 10 in verses 11 and 19. This is at one and the same time intensely encouraging and if wrongly understood, a potentially enslaving statement. It is very heart warming to know that God has a genuine, passionate affection for his servants. It is deeply encouraging to reflect on this incident where we see God sending an archangel from heaven in part to tell this aging prophet that he is “greatly loved.” These angelic Fed Ex messages of love to Daniel are not seen anywhere else in the Old Testament like this and so their uniqueness peaks up our ears. That’s good and we should be encouraged by these words.
The caution we must include here is that if these words are not understood within a larger Biblical context, they can become a trap for us. Let me explain. If we look only to the immediate context of the book of Daniel, it would be easy to understand this angelic message of love from God this way, “Daniel, you have consistently stood for my name. In the midst of a dark chapter of my people’s history as they have dwelled among a group of pagans, you have been my main instrument to proclaim by word and deed that I, the God of Israel reign over the nations, now and in the future. Thank you, Daniel. I love you because you are faithful to me.”
From only the immediate context of Daniel, we could understand this verse that way and that would also not only be Biblically wrong, but also spiritually toxic to us. The reason is because THAT message is riddled with a works righteousness theme that is completely contrary to grace. That skewed implication is--God loved Daniel because of what he did for him and therefore God will love me if I live like Daniel. The other half of that thinking is—and if I don’t live like Daniel, God will not love me. That message is absolutely contrary to the Biblical message of grace and it is spiritually lethal. It’s not Biblical because the Bible teaches from beginning to end that God’s love for his people is not conditioned upon their performance, but by his grace. When we read the book of Daniel and see the amazing, courageous integrity of this man and his message and the miraculous ways God used him, our response should be to marvel at the grace of God operating in this man. Two weeks ago, when we preached on Daniel’s prayer in chapter nine, I was careful NOT to place the stress on the personal piety of Daniel— “wasn’t Daniel a GREAT prayer!?” That would have not only been wrong, but not helpful. The stress was placed on the marks of God’s grace in Daniel as seen in that prayer. That response is very different than putting Daniel’s personal piety—disconnected from God on display. When I hear those kinds of works/piety-centered messages, I walk away feeling crushed by condemnation because my piety never stacks up.
The message of the whole Bible is clear. The reason people like Daniel and Samuel and Noah and Abraham did what they did is because God funneled His grace through their faith in him. In Hebrews chapter 11, when the author places on display all those examples of people God powerfully used in the Old Testament, the clear message is the reason they lived that way and the reason God used them is because God’s grace operated through their faith in him. Romans 4:3 says, “…Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Galatians 2:16 says, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” No one is righteous or acceptable or God’s “precious treasure” by virtue of what they do—not Daniel, not no one. No sinner has ever earned the love of God by what they have done. God’s love is an act of absolute, undiluted grace and is not based in any way on our performance and that goes for Daniel as well.
One reason for this is because even in Daniel’s case, his indisputably good works were doubtless riddled with less than pure motives and intentions. That is the way it is for all of us on this side of heaven who have not been fully sanctified. Every ministry, every prayer, every thought we think must pass through the blood of Christ in order to be made acceptable to a holy God. They are all tainted with our indwelling sin. The basis of God’s love for us must be God’s grace given in response to our faith in Christ. That’s the teaching of the entire Bible and the faith that we have is itself a gift of God according to verses like Romans 12:3. Paul says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Our faith is included in what Paul asks about in First Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive?” The implicit answer is—nothing! We have received everything from God and that must include the faith by which we have responded to God’s grace and the same is true for Daniel. Daniel, in spite of all the miracles God did through him had no room for boasting and had done nothing to deserve the love of a holy God. Only one Person in history has earned any merit before God on the basis of his righteousness, Jesus Christ.
The point for us is that though (as I suspect) none of us has ever had the angel Gabriel personally tell us that we are “highly esteemed” in the sight of God, those who trust in Christ have received that same assurance from God in dozens of Biblical references. Let me dwell on just one that you may not have thought about. One verse that makes this point powerfully is Matthew 4:17 where God says to Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” God is well pleased with his Son, Jesus. You may ask, “How does that impact me?” The glorious Biblical truth of justification by grace through faith assures us that God confers to each one of us who have placed our trust in Christ the same status and passionate affection he has for his Son with whom he is well pleased. Think about it. If God is well pleased with Christ and I am in Christ, then de-facto—God is well pleased with me. This is what Jesus says in John 17:23 as he prays about those who would believe through the apostolic witness. “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and [you] loved them even as you loved me.”
D.A. Carson in his commentary on John says the truth in that verse is “breathtakingly extravagant.” He says, “that Christians themselves have been caught up into the love of the Father for the Son, secure and content because [they are] loved by the Almighty himself.” If we are in Christ—brought into unity with Christ, that means we have been caught up into the fellowship of the Trinity and that means we are regarded by the Father with the same love and affection as he has for His beloved Son. In our justification, Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness, his righteous standing before the Father is ours and the love that the Father has for Christ, he also has for us. Beloved, do we genuinely believe that? I have a strong concern that many discerning and sensitive, morally conservative people in the church have witnessed North American evangelicalism with its often relentless and exclusive focus on God’s love divorced from God’s holiness. And in response to that gross imbalance, have become suspicious of ANYone and ANY message that speaks of God’s love because they have tragically come to wrongly equate God’s love with compromise. The truth is, it’s not believing in God’s breathtakingly extravagant love for us that brings compromise. Compromise and cheap grace enter into play when we ground God’s love for us in something other than what the Bible grounds it. Things like, God loves us because when you get right down to it, he is obligated to love us—“He is God, God is love, ergo, God loves me, he has to do that.” Another lie is that God’s love for us serves to show how special we are. This is the self-esteem heresy expressed in statements like, “Do you want to know how special you are?—the Lord of the universe loves you!” Who is glorified in that statement?
THAT’S what invites compromise because it is a demonically twisted, man-centered view of the love of God. God’s love for us says nothing about us and any intrinsic worth we allegedly possess, but it says everything about God. Romans 5:8 says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The reason God’s love is so breathtakingly extravagant is because he has the same love for rebel, finite, fallen, God-hating sinners who killed his beloved Son, as he has for that same beloved, infinite and holy Son. If by the grace of God you believe THAT truth, you will never be the same! If you are going to be healthy spiritually, you must have a deep, penetrating understanding of God’s love for you. You cannot even attempt to fulfill the Great Commandment to love God with everything in you unless you are convinced of God’s love for you. First John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.” God’s love for us is the ground for our love for him. That means if I don’t have a deep understanding and TRUST in God’s love for me, I will not begin to be able to love him as I ought. The well from which we draw our love for God expressed through our joyful obedience is the assurance of God’s love for us. That understanding of his love must be driven by the truth of Scripture and not the self-esteem heresy or in any belief system that is divorced from God’s holy hatred of sin, but God’s love for us must be a dominant truth shaping our belief system.
of the cross is seen in that it is where God’s holiness and his love intersect.
God’s holy hatred for sin is seen in the horrific hurricane of his wrath as he punished sin at
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