Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A Palm Sunday Answer to, "Is God True?"

How do you know God is true? How do you know God is real? That’s a couple of questions I get a lot. And I love to respond to these types of questions because there are so many ways to answer them. Recently with the teens, I asked them what they struggled with when it came to God. We then spent several weeks going through each question; some of which I’ve shared with you on Sunday mornings. In these questions, we saw several struggles on this very idea of, is God real?
But no matter how many years I’ve answered the question, there is always a new way to answer it. So today, I want to jump right into it. If you have your Bibles, we’re going to be all over the Scriptures, but mostly we’ll be in the book of Daniel chapter 9. So if you’d like, you can open up there.
And as you open up to the book of Daniel chapter 9, I want to share with you Daniel’s life story. Daniel was a teenager when he was taken from his home in the land of Judah, and brought to the kingdom of Babylon. The Jewish people had been conquered. God had sent many prophets, like Jeremiah and Isaiah to warn of the coming exile, but the nation didn’t respond, and so now they were scattered. But God was with Daniel, and Daniel became a great advisor to the kings. Not just of Babylon, but even when that kingdom was conquered by the Medes and Persians, God was still with Daniel, and Daniel became an advisor to the new kings.
And as we come to the 9th chapter of Daniel, we come to a point where Daniel recognizes the work of God happening right in front of his face. So let’s pick up in Daniel chapter 9 starting in verse 1.

1 In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom— 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. 3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.

Daniel a faithful and godly man, studied the Scriptures and found that the time of the Jewish people to return to the land of Israel was coming soon. What did he read from the prophet of Jeremiah to give him this idea?
Well, in the book of Jeremiah, the 11th verse of the 25th chapter, Jeremiah writes this, “11 This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.”

Daniel understood these 70 years of exile were in response to the Jewish people not following God’s law of allowing the land to rest from use, we can find the reference to this in 2nd Chronicles 36:20-21. Because God had instructed the Jewish people to allow the land to rest every seven years. But for 490 years they didn’t follow God’s command, and a part their exile would be a forced rest of the land from Jewish hands. 

But that time was coming to an end, so Daniel began seeking God to return the Jewish people to their home land. Daniel recognized that they had sinned, but he knew that God was good, and would fulfill his word. Daniel knew that God was on the brink of extraordinary work, saying in verse 19, “Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”

God answered Daniel’s prayer with a visit from the angel Gabriel, and a glimpse into the future that God had planned. Saying to Daniel,

“22 Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. 23 As soon as you began to pray, a word went out, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the word and understand the vision:
24 “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place.
25 “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. 26 After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. 27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”

At the end of Daniel’s 9th chapter, we are left with these words as if to contemplate them. Chapter 10 moves on to a new vision, and so these words are left here, calling out to us to understand.
And so, let us comprehend them together.

Gabriel said to Daniel that, “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city…(v. 24)” These two words in Hebrew are Shibim (shib-eem’) Shabua (shaw-boo’-ah), meaning 70 groups of 7. Some translations translate Shabua as weeks, but the idea here is a group of sevens, whether that be weeks, years, months, or a number of other possibilities. We have a similar idea when we say a dozen. A dozen weeks, bagels, kids, and other things.
So what do these seven groups represent? Well, later on in Daniel, we are returned to the topic of this passage in chapter 12. In the final words of chapter 9 we are told of an abomination; in the 11th verse of chapter 12 we are told that, “the abomination that makes desolation is set up, there shall be 1,290 days.”

In the Hebrew understanding of years, this is a half year. See you and I hold to the Roman concept of a year as 365 days. But to the Hebrews, the Egyptians, Babylonians and Persians, to them, a year was 360 days. We can confirm that this 360 day year is used in Scripture because the first book of the Bible, Genesis chapters 7-8, uses it; and the last book of the Bible, in Revelation 11, uses it also.
And so these sevens are years. So we are told that 70 groups of 7 years are declared. But then we are also told that these 70 groups of 7 years are split up. There is 7 groups of 7 years, then 62 groups of 7 years, and then 1 more group of 7 years.

In the time of the first two groups totaling of 69 groups of 7 years, the city of the Jewish people will be rebuilt, but in trouble times. After these 69 groups of 7 years, an Anointed One will arise, be put to death, the city will be destroyed once again, and then a new prince will eventually come from the people who destroyed the city. Then the last 7 group of 7 years will happen. 

But it’s these first two groups totaling of 69 groups of 7 I want us to really focus on. Because answering this question of “How do I know God is true,” is found within these first 69 groups of 7 years.
If we turn our eyes away from the Scriptures and into history, we know that Daniel has his interaction with Gabriel in the year 539 BC, because we know when Darius son of Xerxes began his reign. Three years later, in 536 BC the 70 years of exile was up, and then the decrees began to follow. The first two were to rebuild the temple of God, but only the third references  the rebuilding of the city that Gabriel talked to Daniel about. This decree to rebuild the city was given to Nehemiah in 444 BC (Neh. 2:1-8). Knowing that the use of a biblical year is 360 days. We can take our 69 groups of 7 which would be 483. Multiply that with a biblical year of 360, and we have 173,880 days, now converting that into a Roman year that we use, that gives us 477 years.
Take 444 BC, count 477 years later and we get 33 AD. Which, April 3rd of 33 AD is one of the most accepted dates of Jesus’ crucifixion. This date is accepted because of both the biblical evidence of what’s happening around Jesus’ death, and the historical evidence of earthquakes and eclipses. 

How do I know that God is true? Because that’s just one example of the complexity of prophecy that God has given to us through Scripture. 
Not only that, but by looking at the decree given to Nehemiah, some scholars have traced the time of the days of 173,880 starting on March 4th, 444 BC, and ending on March 29th 33 AD. And what happened on March 29th 33 AD if Jesus was crucified on April 3rd 33 AD? This…

29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”
35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.
41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you (Luke 19:29-44).”

The Anointed One Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, fulfilling the words of Gabriel to Daniel, that, “From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens (v.25).”

I know God is true, because again and again, he proves himself true through his word. And this is just one example of how I can answer that question. So today on Palm Sunday we’re not just celebrating that Jesus came into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey and over palm leafs. No, we are celebrating the fulfillment of God’s promise to Daniel, and the truth that God is real, living, and active among us. Because God proves himself true again, when four days later at Jesus’ crucifixion, he fulfills the words of Gabriel to Daniel, “After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing.”

But then God proves himself one more time, but let’s save that for next week.

We can all struggle with the question of, is God real? That’s why God does things like this in the book of Daniel. This is why God gives us prophecy so specific as to help us see he is real. And this is why it is so important that we study the Scriptures, because it is there that we can find assurance that God is true, and we can have a life changing relationship with him. 

This week I want to challenge you to examine the Scriptures. To explore for yourself some of the prophecies that are given. A few of these that would speak to Palm Sunday are Daniel 9, and Zechariah 9. Let us as a community, explore the Scripture that God has given us, to see that he is true and he is worth of our shouts of Praise, for the Anointed One of Daniel has come, and he is Jesus our God! Amen!

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