Seeking Christ in the Chaos
Reid A Ferguson
Video for this sermon can be found HERE
As we come here this morning, my heart is burdened in that I am – both personally and in regard to you all – mindful of the turbulent, troubling, and disturbing time in which we find ourselves. As a nation, and as The Church.
The current complexities and debates surrounding Covid-19 and how it’s to be understood, managed and responded to;
Violence erupting all over the nation and not least of all here in Rochester itself;
Racial tensions at an all time high;
The dreadfully contentious Presidential election just before us, with last week’s spectacle;
Corruption and what appears to be ineptitude in every part of government: National, State and local;
Leaders acting like spoiled children;
Mixed signals from experts and agencies;
Morally failing leaders in Christian circles;
What Al Mohler often refers to as the moral insanity which has gripped our culture;
The truly unpredictable future of the way of life most of us grew up with and assumed would be passed on to those behind us;
None of these even yet touching on the personal trials, tribulations and challenges each of us faces today.
And all these tensions can even foment divisions among Believers.
The internet is rife with Christians sniping at other Christians over every conceivable difference – destroying the genuine unity we are called to promote and work for.
Where is Christ in the midst of all this chaos?
How are Christians to think and respond to such a chaotic point in time?
And my goal this morning is not to try and formulate a “Christian” perspective or answer to each of the individual things we are facing right now.
It is to back us up for a moment, to gain some perspective. To view all of this through a quite different lens than mere, personal perception. To speak to us not as American citizens, but as Christians, as God’s people living in this present America as we await Christ’s return.
And hopefully to remind you all that God’s people in all the generations before us have faced wickedness, insanity, upheaval, disaster, national and even global chaos before.
That God has always had His people.
That He has been with His people in these places before.
That He will be with us as each of these unfold in our generation.
And that our hope and stability cannot be found in political parties, platforms or personages; nor in movements, legislation, judges, revolutions or even absolute unanimity on every point.
And I hope to do so by taking us back to a time when God’s people were under great judgment by God. And how the faithful among His people found their stability and means to live rightly and confidently before Him, in the midst of social, political, religious, moral and military chaos.
Back to the time of Daniel.
Who was Daniel and what was his situation?
Daniel was part of the Jewish nobility taken captive to Babylon in the siege of 605 B.C by Nebuchadnezzar. He is there with 3 close friends, as well as huge numbers of other Jewish people.
Now this downfall of Jerusalem was many years in the making.
They had endured a parade of yoyo leadership. Good kings followed by wicked kings followed by good kings – on and on.
But there had come a tipping point.
After the reign of a very good King, Hezekiah, who for the most part was a godly and powerful reformer in turning his nation back to God from idolatry and all sorts of sins – came his son Manasseh.
Scripture testifies that it was Manasseh’s sin that broke the proverbial camel’s back.
2 Kings 21:1-7
2 Kings 21:1–7 ESV
Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem will I put my name.” And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. And the carved image of Asherah that he had made he set in the house of which the Lord said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever.
After him, the King who led the best and most complete reforms in Israel arose – Josiah. But God had had enough. And even after all his reforms, we read: 2 Ki 23:26–27
2 Kings 23:26–27 ESV
Still the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. And the Lord said, “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.”
But there’s one more note on that. For the truth is, leaders never sin alone. They have a populace which goes along with their sin. And so it was in this case. Je 16:10–13
Jeremiah 16:10–13 ESV
“And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, ‘Why has the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?’ then you shall say to them: ‘Because your fathers have forsaken me, declares the Lord, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law, and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me. Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.’
The people had become a people who held no law above themselves – even the Law of God. Instead, “every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me.”
The plague of personal, human autonomy.
Sounds a bit like today doesn’t it?
Well this is what brought Daniel and his 3 compatriots along with the rest of the exiles into Babylon.
About 3 years into this captivity, the very pagan, brutal and despotic Nebuchadnezzar had a disturbing dream.
He was so distressed by it – he demanded that his counselors not only interpret the dream for him – but actually tell him what the dream was. If not, they would all be killed. Daniel and his 3 friends would be among those killed.
At this point Daniel asks for some time from the king to meet the demands.
And then Daniel & his 3 friends begin to pray to God for mercy to avert this slaughter, and as a result Daniel is made aware of the dream and its interpretation.
Daniel then tells the King his dream is about four world empires (Babylon being the 1st) which are to come. All four will at last be brought to extinction by the advent of another kingdom which is not man-made. That kingdom will last forever.
And all through the book there is a display of remarkable wisdom, nuance and instruction in the way Daniel and his companions responded to this extremely hostile environment into which they were thrust.
There is a passel of them we can’t unpack today. They would make a great study on your own. If you want that list – email me.
How Daniel manages this – and don’t miss this – this is the key point: How Daniel does this is uncovered for us in the prayer recorded for us as he was seeking God in the chaos. The key insights of which we get in here in ch. 2.
It all has to do with the all governing vision of God he had. That he saw and understood God and His ways. That his own thinking was so mastered by this vision of God – that he could be steadied and confident in the face of absolute, chaotic uncertainty.
Not a vision of God in the supernatural sense. The unshakable knowledge of the God of the Bible he has been exposed to in the Scriptures.
So we read: Daniel 2:17-18
Daniel 2:17–18 ESV
Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.
And when this prayer is answered, Daniel prays today’s text. This fabulous lesson of seeking Christ in the Chaos. IN a true emergency of life and death.
It is, if you will, a sort of 7 step circle, for it ends where it begins. And its insights could not be more useful for us today in the present chaos of our time and place.
One thought before we unpack the prayer.
You will note how Daniel asked his friends to seek mercy from God in this mystery – in the unknown – in the midst of their chaos.
As Daniel will pray again in Ch. 9 after he understands from Jeremiah’s prophecies that the 70 years is nearly up – although he was probably between 15-17 when captured – note how he owns the sin of his nation as his own: Daniel 9:5-15
Daniel 9:5–15 ESV
we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem. As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth. Therefore the Lord has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice. And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly.
He recognizes that the chaos they find themselves in the middle of – is because of sin.
And that they need mercy for their sin.
And that it is ALL their sin. There is no finger-pointing or saying “but that was all before I was born!” It was their national sinfulness that brought them to such a place.
A massive consideration for our own situation today. One we need to unpack another time.
But oh what a God of mercy He is!
So how does Daniel pray in the chaos?
How can we pray best in the chaos? By praying to the same God revealed in Daniel’s prayer.
1. Worship – He begins with worship.
“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might.
God is ALWAYS worthy of praise. No matter what the circumstances.
Christians in the midst of chaos must never abandon worship. Must never stop reminding themselves that they are God’s and we are His and that He remains on His throne.
When this escapes our minds, we can’t help but be thrown by what is going on around us.
We desperately need to remind ourselves that He remains worthy of our praise over and over and over.
When we stop seeing and worshiping a God greater than our situation – we are at a loss to address the world with anything substantive.
We’ll panic like those around us, and fall back upon desperate, human measures to deal with what is at its base – a spiritual problem.
Daniel’s God is unchanged and worthy to be blessed in the midst of the chaos.
2. Ascription – He recalls key attributes of His God.
“to whom belong wisdom and might.”
This 2-fold ascription is absolutely necessary to a right mind in a world gone mad.
Our God is wise in ALL He allows and brings His people through. Even when our own sin is directly tied to our trials.
And God still has all the power to meet the circumstances. He is mighty.
To the naked eye, Daniel’s circumstance was absolutely beyond the reach of any conceivable answer.
But when they prayed and sought God for mercy, an answer came from the God who remains powerful in the face of the impossible.
Beloved this as true today for you and me in the midst of today’s madness.
Our God remains wise in having brought us to this hour, and He is mighty to work in it the fullness of His plan.
Remind yourself often passages like Proverbs 21:30
Proverbs 21:30 ESV
No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel
can avail against the Lord.
OUR plans, OUR desires, OUR thoughts of how things ought to go might go to ashes – but His cannot and will not.
Daniel entered into worship and ascribed to God the wisdom and power that belongs to Him even in Daniel’s present chaos.
3. Seasons – God appoints and controls the seasons of life in which we live.
“He changes times and seasons”
Kingdoms rise, and kingdoms fall.
Cultures rise and cultures fall.
Ideologies come and gain prominence for a time and then morph or disappear.
Experts divide human history into a number of epochs:
Pre-history – before writing systems.
The Stone Age with about 8 divisions like Paleolithic, Mesolithic etc..
The Middle Ages.
Modern History and so on.
And God is God in all of them. Over all of them. Moving in all of them.
So much so that Paul on Mars Hill can say to his hearers then and to us now: Acts 17:26-27
Acts 17:26–27 ESV
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,
You and I live in this place at this time – in this Nation, State, City and especially at this moment in history with all of its strangeness and complexity specifically to facilitate our seeking out God to know and find Him.
He knows you and knows what is most ideal to drive you to seek Him.
This chaos isn’t random, it is in His hand to make you despair of this world so that you will find your hope and security in Christ and Christ alone.
Daniel had come to realize that his new experience of God was directly tied to his own exile, captivity, probable mutilation, forced service to a pagan King and the 70 year season of Israel’s judgment.
Who knows but that we too – as the Church might be living in the midst of God’s dealing with America for her sins? But that He is the one who changes the times and the seasons, that He is behind the shifts in epochs of human history – is without question.
And so we can trust Him as those who have gone before us did in their seasons.
As Ecclesiastes 7:10 says:
Ecclesiastes 7:10 ESV
Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”
For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
We lack the wisdom of knowing how God is the God of history – even our present history – when we imagine the mythical “good old days.”
You and I never lived at a better time than right now to seek the face of God.
Worship, Ascription, Seasons and…
4. Leaders – God appoints all those who come into political and governmental leadership.
“He removes kings and sets up kings”
Now we need to make no mistake here – so let me jump to the most direct application I can: No matter who wins this coming Nov. 3 – It is God who installs or removes leaders.
We campaign and dialog and vote and all of that – which is all right and good and well – but the ultimate outcome has to do more with God carrying out His ultimate plans and purposes than with our short-sighted, immediate understanding and agendas.
Whether that be for more general blessing, or in judgment. And I am in no position say which that is given either of the candidates. I just know God is at work. He never abdicates His position as ruling in the affairs of men in this regard.
As Paul reminds his readers regarding the governing authorities of his day: “there is NO authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted BY God.” (Rom. 13:1 – Emphases mine).
And while we cannot unpack all of the complexities of how we today might interact with our own government, the basic principle here is both powerful and necessary for us to grasp.
On its face, Daniel’s statement needs no qualification.
He knew it well from Israel’s history. The people set up their kings – good and bad, but for Daniel, God was at work. He’s the one who removes and sets them up.
As you read your Bible, especially the Old Testament prophets, take note at how often God addresses the leadership not only of Israel but of many pagan nations.
Cyrus of Persia is called “God’s anointed.”
In Isaiah 10 – Assyria and its king Sennacherib are “the rod” of God’s own anger, though they haven’t a clue that’s so.
In 1 Kings 11, God anoints wicked Jeroboam King over Israel in its civil war against Judah.
In 2 Kings 9 Jehu – another wicked man is set apart by God to rule.
Jeremiah says that Nebuchadnezzer is the means whereby God Himself will fight against Judah in judgment.
And after his humbling Nebuchadnezzar declares: “the most high rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.”
Jesus will tell Pilot that even Pilot’s authority came from God.
This is vital for us to grasp as we are in the midst of this confusing, rancorous, wildly chaotic Presidential election.
Whatever the outcome, God is at work. And we can trust Him in it.
Worship, Ascription, Seasons, Leaders…
5. Knowledge – We are never left without full counsel for what we are to be about.
“He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding”
Wisdom, God’s wisdom Proverbs 1:3 tells us is for the purpose of instruction in righteousness first of all.
God gives us wisdom and knowledge in accordance with how to be about seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, irrespective of what is going on around us.
His chief concern is not wisdom for the voting booth, investments and the like – but in living righteously before Him in the weirdness of the days in which we find ourselves.
Our problem is, we are more interested in straightening out the culture, the political system and societal ills, than we are in growing in the likeness of Christ.
We have the Word of God so as to be taught in the truth as it is in Christ: reproved of our sin, corrected from our sinful errors, trained in walking righteously – defined as being equipped for every good work.
So as Daniel is working through navigating the totally foreign world of pagan captivity – his concern is how to serve God well there – not how to fix “there.”
And may it be so for us.
He gives wisdom. He gives knowledge. For what we need. For what we were designed for. For His ends and purposes.
I don’t assume He will give me the wisdom to understand Covid-19 and all of its ramifications – but I DO expect wisdom on how to be sure I am honoring Him in the strain the current situation brings into my life.
How to keep trusting Him. Resting in Him. Committing the outcome to Him. Worshiping Him. Serving Him. Rejoicing in Him. Growing in Him.
And avoiding contentiousness, resentment, foolishness, carelessness, fretfulness, comfort sins, enmity, strife, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions and “whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.” (1 Tim. 1:10)
The wisdom to place our priority on the spiritual, when the chaos of the day tries to drag us kicking and screaming into the arena of the temporal every second of the day.
Maybe you’re not as tempted to get all wrapped up in the current political madness as I am – to want to rise up and shout back at every idiotic post and news broadcast.
But He has made us for better things. Higher things.
Daniel got wisdom to: Avoid defiling himself with the King’s meat. How to approach his handler when the decree to execute the wise men came down. And above all – to seek God in the face of the impossible.
Worship, Ascription, Seasons, Leaders, Knowledge…
6. Illumination – Light for a reality that transcends the World.
“He reveals deep and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him”
John says that Jesus is the true light, which gives light to everyone.
As we understand Him, His mission, His teaching, His plans and His purposes – He gives us light into deep and hidden things.
He knows what is in the darkness – and if you would really see clearly what is going in in the frenzy of this current moment – you must see it in the light of Him.
Light dwells with Him alone.
How do we explain the current state of affairs? Only as we understand a world in rebellion against God.
Psalm 2:1–3 ESV
Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
The word “rage” here includes being in tumult and commotion.
Rest of heart and soul and mind can’t be present while people continue to refuse the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Beloved, don’t look for sanity from this world given this state of men’s hearts. We know what is at the root of the chaos. We know it is the darkness of soul that is the result of rejecting God in Jesus Christ. And we know our response to it all is to plead for the Gospel to have greater and greater effect until the Day Jesus returns.
And we know 2 Timothy 3:12-13
2 Timothy 3:12–13 ESV
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
So what are we to do? Here is light: 2 Timothy 3:14-15
2 Timothy 3:14–15 ESV
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Now I want to be clear here – as Daniel closes his prayer he says: Daniel 2:23
Daniel 2:23 ESV
To you, O God of my fathers,
I give thanks and praise,
for you have given me wisdom and might,
and have now made known to me what we asked of you,
for you have made known to us the king’s matter.”
Don’t misread his point.
His rejoicing isn’t in just understanding the King’s dream. It is in understanding what the King’s dream meant.
For in the unfolding of the dream, Daniel comes to understand that God had already set out how there would be these four world empires which would come on the scene – the first of which they were in right then.
And then, regarding that last empire: Daniel 2:44
Daniel 2:44 ESV
And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,
Daniel understood that God was the God of all history – of all governments – of all world empires – and how it would all end in the conquering Kingdom of Christ.
The very same light you and I carry into this absolutely insane hour in which we live.
That Kingdom which was set up when Christ came shall never be destroyed. It shall never pass to some other people – i.e. it will never fall or be conquered. In fact, it will see the destruction of all the kingdoms of the earth.
The Kingdom which Jesus said even the gates of Hell cannot overcome.
The Kingdom to which everyone born again by the Spirit of Christ belongs.
And so, as Daniel will spend the rest of his life in captivity, and in the chaos of Babylon itself being conquered; of stranger and more wicked kings to serve under; and dangers like the lion’s den or his 3 friends going into the fiery furnace – he worships.
He comes full circle. His God is all wise and all powerful.
His God rules the times and the seasons of human history.
His God is the one who determines who will be in governmental authority at any given time.
His God gives him wisdom and knowledge to live uprightly even in captivity, serving a most pagan King.
His God gives him the light of truth in a dark and deceived world. In the very heart of darkness itself with no Temple, and no access to God appointed worship.
He knows where it is all going and how it will end.
And all these are ours too as we find ourselves in the whirlwind of the chaos of our day.
And so, for all those who are Christ’s, we come to the table that demonstrates so graphically these very truths in power.
We do what Jesus called us to in the face of the chaos that took Him to the Cross.
With these simple words as He bid us to take the bread and the cup in remembrance of Him.
He died in the vortex of human chaos – but in the perfect plan of the Father as the substitute sacrifice for our sins.
And He bids us remember that reality – until He comes. We do this as Scripture says to “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”
Since He is the Lord of history – He will consummate it all when He returns. And we trust Him as the Lord of all times and places – to bring it to pass.
By faith in Him coming again at the right time, even as Romans 5:6 says: “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”