Resolute Resolutions

I’m not the type of person to make resolutions when a new year comes. It’s not that I have anything against self-improvement. It’s not like I don’t want to be a better person. I don’t hold anything against others making resolution, but I’ve just grown a little jaded about resolutions over time. It’s almost as if we make resolutions simply to break them, and we make these resolutions with full knowledge that we will not keep them. Some resolutions, however, are worth keeping, and we don’t have to look any farther than our Bibles to find a few.

Resolute Examples

We see, in Daniel 1:8, that Daniel resolves to eat no unclean food while in captivity. Even though he is away from the temple, away from many of his peers, away from the priests and Levites, he resolves to do what is right in God’s eyes. This pattern then continues throughout the rest of his life.

Think also of Joshua, in Joshua 24:14-15, challenging the people of Israel to choose their allegiance between Jehovah and other gods. Joshua is resolute in his faith, and his example impacts his entire generation and the one to come after him.

In Acts 19:21, Paul resolves to go to Jerusalem despite the trials that will face him there. He purposes in his heart that this is the path he will take. Again, his resolute nature impacts many more than himself.

Being Truly Resolved

We should be resolute  followers of Christ, but our resolutions cannot be lip-service. Simply making the statement does not make us follow it. Nor can we be purposeful because of peer pressure, for we cannot maintain a resolution if we lack individual commitment. If we are to serve God the way He deserves to be served, it takes a sincere determination of will that we will put our all into working for our God.

How could Daniel keep himself pure in God’s eyes despite all the ungodly influences around him? He and his companions could maintain their faith because they were determined to do so. Joshua, as well, sincerely wanted to serve God despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges associated with that service. Paul, Peter, Timothy, Titus – determination of will is what separates them from the pretenders of their day.

We should so want to do what is right. We need to be determined and we need a heart willing to sacrifice for that resoluteness.  Paul, in Romans 12:1-2, speaks of spiritual service in terms of sacrifice, holiness, transformation, renewal, and proving. Long before Daniel, Joshua, or Paul demonstrated their own spiritual resoluteness, they had particular mindsets. We need to change our minds to be followers of God. Colossians 3:2 tells us to set our minds on things above, for we have died to all else. Philippians 2:5 simply calls on us to have the mind of Christ. When we set our minds to be like His, we can do anything.

This determination, however, requires a compliance of our hearts. In Matthew 22:35-40, one asks Jesus what the greatest of the commandments is. Jesus answers with two, and they both come down to love – loving God and loving our fellow man. We may readily submit to God intellectually while our hearts remain far from Him. Romans 10:8-10 reinforces the need of both heart and mind in faithful service to God. Finally, Ephesians 6:6, in the context of discussion serving earthly masters, admonishes us do God’s will from the heart.

Conclusion

Our spiritual resolutions do not have to be empty. Will you resolve to be a more faithful servant to God in all things? Philippians 4:13 encourages us that we can do anything in Him who strengthens us. We can rid ourselves of skepticism, uncertainty, and indifference if we are determined to have a Christ-like mind. We can be holy in an unholy society if we but yield our hearts and our minds to our Creator.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Being Resolute Without Resolutions

It’s the time of year again when we begin making resolutions for the coming year. Even if we aren’t in the habit of making resolutions ourselves, the topic is on our minds. Resolutions, however, can be hard to keep because changing the year on a calendar changes little else about our lives, our issues, our challenges, and our weaknesses. New Years Day is a new day, but it is a new day like any other.

To be resolved is to be unwaveringly set in a purpose, and perhaps it would be better to develop ourselves into resolute individuals without worrying about the tradition of drafting resolutions. In the Bible, we see individuals who demonstrate resolute characters despite their issues and challenges. Three such figures are Daniel, Joshua, and Paul – people who were unwavering in their dedication to following God.

Examples of Resolute Living

In Daniel 1, we meet a young man living under Babylonian captivity, and verse 8 tells of his purposing in his heart that he would not defile himself while living at Babylonian court. He behaves resolutely in his youth and captivity, even under pressure from those watching over him. In the face of his surroundings, from the beginning of his book to the end, he shows a fierce determination we sometimes lack.

Joshua 24 serves as a commentary on Joshua’s entire life. In verse 14, he challenges God’s people to put away the idols and commit to God. He warns them time and again of the dedication such a commitment will take, and the book records that the people living during his lifetime follow after God’s word, as do those of his generation who outlive him. His resolute determination leaves a mark on all those around him.

In I Corinthians 9:18-22, Paul speaks of his efforts in evangelizing the gospel, and he says he works that by all means he could reach anyone he can. He goes on to an illustration of those who dedicate themselves to win awards in Olympic games, but Paul says his determination comes from the incorruptible prize before him. He calls on us to know what we are working toward, to have a purpose and a goal in our lives. Philippians 3:12 returns to this idea, expressing the continual effort this race takes – leaving our former lives behind to press forward with purpose.

Conclusion

Our prayer lives, our attention to God’s word, our priorities – we should be resolute in our following of God. Rather than concern ourselves with numerous resolutions, we should be determining to be resolute Christians. In Ecclesiastes, the author resolves to find purpose or joy in the things of this life, but his conclusion is that true purpose comes from resolutely fearing God and keeping His commandments. We may make resolutions, but they are nothing if we are not resolute in our service to God.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Faith and Risk

In Children of Dune by Frank Herbert, a character merely known as The Preachers asks this question of the multitudes looking for some form of religious satisfaction: “Is your religion real when it costs you nothing and carries no risk?” In this question, he challenges his listeners to examine what they are investing in their religion versus what they expect to get out of it.

We live in a world where ideas of service, self-sacrifice, and personal risk are avoided. It is easier to sit passively in a “moving” worship experience safe and secure than to puts one’s self at risk in God’s service. Whether we are talking about missionary work in an unfamiliar country or taking the risk of inviting a neighbor to services, we suffer from serious risk aversion. Unless we are certain the path is absolutely safe, we refuse to take it, therefore making our faith superficial and unreal.

In this lesson, we’re going to look at three examples of people whose faith cost them. They gave up security, safety, wealth, and influence to follow God and do His will. In doing so, though, they demonstrated real faith and had a positive impact on others around them. These individuals experienced true risk in their service to God.

Three Spiritual Risk Takers

Much can be said about Daniel and his companions in the early chapters of his book, but let’s focus of the most famous event in Daniel’s life: that of the lion’s den. By Daniel 6, the namesake figure has already served Babylon for many years, has survived two kings, and is now in service of Darius the Mede. Daniel oversees a third of the king’s regional governors, and chapter 6:3 describes him a distinguished above all his political peers due to his excellent spirit. This leads, predictably, to some political contrivances to bring Daniel down.

Daniel 6:6 records the other officials coming to King Darius, persuading him to sign an edict prohibiting any form of petition (including prayer) directed toward anyone but the king himself for thirty days. Daniel knows of this edict, and his initial reaction, in verse 10, is to pray to God. He did this, knowing it could cost him his career. It could cost him his possessions. It could cost him his income. It could cost him his life. Still, Daniel prays to God, resulting in his attempted execution in the lion’s den. Daniel risks all for God, and God delivers Him, resulting even King Darius being awed by God’s power. Daniel’s faith could have cost him everything, but he held fast.

Jeremiah suffers much in his service to God. He dedicates his life to the mission of reforming God’s people as the destruction of Jerusalem at the hand of Babylon looms ever closer. Other prophets, such as Hananiah in Jeremiah 28, oppose Jeremiah’s message, luring the people away with more attractive prophecies. We see Jeremiah’s life threatened for the first time in chapter 11:18-23 and again in chapter 18:18. King Jehoiakim seeks Jeremiah’s death in 26:21, and he is imprisoned for treason in 37:11 because of the content of his message. After this, Jeremiah is thrown into a dank dungeon in chapter 38:6, but he is saved only to witness the destruction of the city he worked so hard to save.

Wouldn’t it have just been easier for Jeremiah to write Jerusalem off and just go with popular opinion? Wouldn’t it have been easier for him to settle down with a wife and family and try to eek out a measure of happiness in the time he had left? Instead, he dedicates all to God, and few listen. A few are moved by his words, and those words still exist, showing God’s path to ultimate salvation and a new covenant with all nations. Jeremiah’s costly message speaks of eternal rewards.

Finally, we have Paul. Philippians 3:3-6 recounts a brief overview of Paul’s history before his conversion. He is a respected Pharisee. He is of the faithful tribe of Benjamin. Paul claims to have been blameless in the ways of the Levitical Law, and he pours his heart into defending his true faith from the heretic Christians. Philippians 4:8, though says he counts those past accomplishments as worthless when compared to his service for Christ.

Paul gives up a life of esteem and honor to be beaten, stoned, imprisoned, harassed, shipwrecked, plotted against, imprisoned again, and – quite possibly – eventually executed. In the midst of all these tribulations, however, Paul writes that he knows his Savior and trusts Him to keep His promises in II Timothy 1:12. Through this confidence, Paul sets up numerous congregation, turns countless souls to Christ, shares the gospel with government officials, and leaves us a legacy upon which we build much of our faith.

Willing to Face the Cost

In Luke 14:28-33, Jesus gives two examples of the need to count the cost of something. He cites building a tower and going into battle, how a failure to account for the cost of such projects will adversely affect the one undertaking said project. We can relate to this pretty easily. How many of us have made big purchases or started home projects that ended up overwhelming us monetarily or size-wise? Sacrifices are needed to see such projects to completion, but, in the end, we hope the sacrifices are worth it.

Jesus precedes these illustrations with the admonishment that those who are unwilling to take up their crosses cannot follow Him in verse 27. Too often, we speak of a “cross to bear” as some kind of inconvenience or physical malady, but, in the context of Jesus’ audience, a cross means death. Jesus is calling us to sacrifice self – self-interests, self-service, self-satisfaction, perhaps even self-preservation – in service to Him.

What am I willing to give up for Christ? What risks am I willing to take? Have I counted the cost in perspective of a priceless heavenly reward? Daniel, Jeremiah, and Paul serve as only three examples of faithful men who were willing to risk all and face terrible costs for the cause of Christ. Can we do any different in our service?

Daniel’s Seventy Weeks

Daniel 9 has been called the “dismal swamp of Old Testament criticism.” There are numerous takes and explanations to the vision of Daniel 9, including a church-age approach, among these being various Messianic approaches, millennial and pre-millennial interpretations, and various church-age interpretations. In this lesson, we’re going to look at this prophecy in context of Jesus statement that He had fulfilled all things written concerning Him and His kingdom and look for a simple, valid explanation to these difficult verses.

The Vision of the Seventy Weeks

The vision comes during the first year of the reign of Darius. Some scholars accept the theory that Darius and Cyrus were one and the same. Both names may refer to the same individual.  Historically, those in Jerusalem were carried away in 605 B.C., and now Darius comes into power 539 B.C. Here, Daniel is reading of the captivity from Jeremiah 25:11, realizes the time of captivity should be ending soon, and prays to God, making confession for the sins of his nation. He pleads for God to listen to his prayer, forgive the past, and restore His people.

In Daniel 9:20, Daniel’s prayer is interrupted by another vision of the angel Gabriel, and the angel says he has come to give Daniel understanding of what is to come to pass. He says that seventy weeks are declared to make an end to sing, make reconciliation, bring righteousness, seal up the past, and bring the anointed one. These weeks are divided up into other events, some tragic, leading up to wrath poured out upon the unfaithful.

The Context of Law

Back in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, we have recorded the blessings and curses of the covenant. Based on the loyalty of the people various results are numerated. In Leviticus 26:23-25, the ultimate consequence is being stripped from the Promised Land, a sword of vengeance, a seven-fold punishment. In verse 34, it is written that the land will have its Sabbaths (see also II Chronicles 36:17-21), and verse 40 promises that the people will one day confess their sins and those of their fathers – which is exactly what Daniel is doing in the ninth chapter of his book. Also, we learn in Isaiah that God is going to use his servant Cyrus in chapter 44:28 to restore Jerusalem and the temple.

Numbers As Symbols

Seventy weeks are seven sets of seven days. We have noted that God would smite His people seven times, and we know that the Sabbaths revolved around the number seven: the seventh day, the seventh year, and the foty-ninth + fiftieth year. This time period is difficult to assign a literal period to, so, in light of the importance of seven in Jewish theology, it is logical to consider the seventy years and the seventy weeks as symbolic period of time.

Seventy years would be ten sevens. Ten cycles of Sabbath rest. The seventy weeks would be seven times seven times ten. (Remember Jesus and Peter on the topic of forgiveness: seventy times seven.) Ten sevens point to Jubilee, a time when the land rested and freedom was granted to those under bondage.

These numbers demonstrates a period of absolute completeness. There is no sensible way you can assign literal years to these numbers and assign them to fitting events. These numbers have been used symbolically in other locations, and it makes sense to view them as symbolic now.

The Goals of the Seventy Sevens

What is to be accomplished in this time period of “ten Jubilees?” Six things are mentioned beginning in verse 24. A finish transgression and an end to sin are promised. Only one brings a true end to the consequences of sin. Binding up and removing sin is only accomplished through Christ’s sacrifice. Atonement for sin will come. Again, in the scriptures, there is only one who brings absolute atonement. This time will bring everlasting righteousness. Vision and prophecy will be sealed up or brought to completion. In Luke 24, Jesus says His life has fulfilled all things written concerning the Messiah. He says early in his ministry that He has come to fulfill, or accomplish, the law. Finally this period will anoint the most holy. Again, Jesus seems a logical conclusion to this statement. He, being seated at the right hand of God, is anointed prophet, priest, and king.

This whole passage pretty conclusively points to the ministry of Jesus, and this fits in with the rest of the prophecy. The anointed one is cut off and Jerusalem is destroyed (the abomination of desolation). Jesus offered Sabbath to His followers, offering rest. In Romans, we are described as free from sin. The Sabbaths and Jubilee years were times of rest and deliverance, and Jesus’ sacrifice releases us from the debt of sin and frees us from the captivity involved. We are granted inner peace and eternal rest.

Conclusion

God’s plan for man has always been restoration and freedom, and the final Sabbath rest is still awaiting His people. God’s plan is cohesive and builds up to the ministry and sacrifice of Christ. When we read these passages, we can see history unfold in God’s plan, and we can understand our Lord is one who keeps His promises for the restoration of His people.

lesson by Tim Smelser