Hope on the Horizon (November 18, 2018)
Hope on the Horizon
It’s End Time. Not just the season of the church year we are in, but also the time of history. When Jesus talked about his return, he mentioned some signs that would signal his return – Wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, Gospel going into the world. All these things are happening around us. We talked about that a couple weeks ago. Jesus gave these signs so that you know to be ready! He also gave these signs as a call for urgency. The time is short! Christ is coming. Share God’s Word and shine with the light of the Gospel so that many more may be saved!
How’s that going? How’s the “light shining” business? Do you feel like you, yourself, or even Christianity in general is shining very brightly around the world? How about right here in our own nation? Are we making progress and casting aside dark shadows? Or, are we simply holding out as the light of the Gospel seems to grow dimmer and dimmer?
The Prophet Daniel was actually ministering to people in a very similar situation as us here today. It started out with the nation of Israel itself glowing with God’s promises as a beacon of hope and salvation! But due to their unfaithfulness and stubbornness – constantly giving up the light of the gospel for false beacons of hope in other religions – God finally had to discipline his nation and refine true believers from false believers. He did that in a strange way. You might think that God would bring about a great reform or send powerful prophets to bring them back in line with God’s word. Which he did. But their stubbornness was so great that they ignored and even mistreated God’s prophets. So as of refiner’s fire destroys impurities and leaves behind only the pure silver, God used Babylon to melt down the nation of Israel and he scattered them among the unbelieving world.
And here’s what it looked like, the Babylonians would deport large groups of people into other parts of their empire. What you have left, then, is little islands of cultures all surrounding one another. And within their cultural island the Israelites would have their beacon of hope, the promise that one day God would bring them back home. In some places this promise, this light, was snuffed out by the cultures around them as they slowly integrated into the world where they now lived. But in other places, that beacon of light shone bright despite the darkness around them. Take for example three men by the name of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They refused to give in to the culture around them. They refuse to bow down to a statue worshipping a king. They refused to give up the promise by abandoning God. And God did not fail them. His promise prevailed. They trusted him and knew that even if they would face their death here at the fiery furnace, they knew that God would still keep his promise and bring them to their eternal home. Or take Daniel, for instance, who was threatened by the culture around him as they told him he could not pray. Did he give in? Did he forsake the promise that had held him so long? No. He even faced lions despite giving up that beacon of hope that he had. And God’s promise prevailed. How many other pockets of believers, islands surrounded by a dark sea, were there? How many other islands that perhaps didn’t have magnificent stories like Daniel or the three other men, yet they held onto that promise that God would one day bring them to home? They passed down that promise, that hope on the horizon, from generation to generation until finally God’s promise prevailed. And despite appearances, he knew exactly those who were his. He picked them out from the sea of people that surrounded them – many of whom looked, dressed, and talked just like them. But God knew those who were his, and his promise to them prevailed. A remnant was brought back to the Promised Land.
Does that sound like what you are facing in your day to day life? I hope that in your circle of friends and family you have pockets of people who still cling to God’s promise, but surrounding these pockets we live in a largely unbelieving world. There are many who have no problem living and interacting with you, despite not believing the promises of God. But it seems like more and more there are people who are hostile to God and threaten to take away the promise and snuff out the Gospel. They threaten the society we live in. They threaten our livelihood. They may even threaten your home or your very life. I don’t think we are there yet, but we aren’t too many steps away. And does that in any way change the promise that God has given you? Despite the darkness closing in, does that mean the light of the promise grows any dimmer for you?
Like the Israelites living in Babylon you may feel like an island in this vast and dark world. As you cling desperately to the promise you may feel like the light of the promise is getting dim. Perhaps you have slowly reduced the beacon of the promise that your lighthouse casts. Because what’s the point? We are becoming more and more outnumbered. At least in our nation Christians are becoming fewer and fewer. In fact, doesn’t Jesus even say that the world will become more and more ungodly? Are we ourselves at risk of being snuffed out? No. As God did for the Israelites living in Babylon, he knows those who were his. His record of the remnant prevailed, and he did not lose a single one of his own. The same is true for you and I today. Although we see the darkness closing in, God knows those who are his. His record will prevail. Daniel says, “There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then” (Dan 12:1). Yet despite this great distress, “At that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered” (Dan 12:1).
Your names are written in “the book,” that is, the “Book of Life.” They are already recorded in the book by the blood of the Lamb – the blood by which God cleansed you from all impurity, refined you, and made you his own. He knows you by name, and he’s recorded your name in his book of life. EVERYONE whose name is found written in the book will be delivered. For the Israelites, that meant that at God’s appointed time – no sooner, and no later – God would bring his own people out of the darkness of Babylon and back to the Promised Land. For you, for all believers, it means that at God’s appointed time – no sooner, and no later – God will bring you out of this darkening world and into the Promised Land of heaven – your true home. There’s no changing the record. It stands for all time. Christ died for you and he will deliver you.
There will come a time when God will finally makes good on his promise. Yet even for those who do not live to see the day, hope is surely on the horizon. And those who live their lives faithfully in view of this hope will be honored.
Not every Israelite who was taken into captivity under the Babylonians would live to see the dawn of that hopeful day when they were allowed to return home. In fact, a vast number of Israelites did not live to see that day. But they patiently endured as they held onto that promise of hope. Many settled down and made a life for themselves in Babylon as God commanded them through the prophet Jeremiah, “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters… Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile” (Jer 29:5-7). Their patient endurance spoke volumes to those around. Without having to combat the darkness around them or forcefully take it on, their faithfulness to the promise shone through them. Take, for example, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who weren’t trying to overthrow Nebuchadnezzar. But they wouldn’t forsake the promise and bend to his will either. They refused to bow. They willingly accepted the punishment for their actions, and God decided it wasn’t their time to come home yet. Rather, he preserved them in the fiery furnace and the light of the promise shone through them into the dark places of Nebuchadnezzar’s heart. He even had a change of heart. “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own” (Dan 3:28-29). And they were honored by this king.
The same went for Daniel, who refused to give up prayer – his connection to God – despite being threatened with the lions’ den. Yet it wasn’t time for him to be called to his heavenly home either. God preserved him among the lions so that King Darius would issue a decree, “that in every part of [his] kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. ‘For he is the living God and he endures forever… He rescues and saves’” (Dan 3:26-27). And Daniel was honored by this king. Yet even though there were many others who probably did die at the brutality of Babylon – or simply in old age – did they ever lose their honor? Could it ever be taken from them? God says through Daniel, “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (Dan 12:3).
You can’t ever take a believer’s hope. You can’t ever take their honor. Because God’s promise always prevails. Even as the world grows darker, even still the promise of hope that you cling to shines with a never waning brightness. At times God decides to cast that light out into the darkness through you. Other times, he simply preserves the promise among you for your own honor. But just think, for every one of you gathered here today, there was a time that you were in darkness. Somewhere in your life, God decided to have the light of another shine in your life. I actually tried to trace this back in my family. The light of the promise that I possess stretches back at least to my great-great grandparents, who passed that light down to my great grandparents, and to my grandma, to my father, to myself, and I am currently shining the light of the promise in my children’s lives.
So even though it may seem hopeless to shine the light into the world, hold on to that promise. The promise of hope on the horizon – the hope of eternal honor in heaven. Safeguard it in your life no matter how dark it gets. Because that light will guide you home, and you never know who else it will guide home. It has faithfully guided my great-great grandparents, and my great grandparents, and most of my grandparents home. And it will continue to guide generations of my family home until the dawn of the Last Day comes. And God only knows who else. And then, we will really shine! You will really shine! “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (Dan 12:3).