Our small group is currently studying the book of Daniel. As we started last week, I was struck by a simple statement in the first few verses.
“And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his [Nebuchadnezzar’s] hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god.” (Daniel 1:2)
The Kingdom of Judah is crumbling and on its last legs, finally coming under its rightful punishment of exile after decades of unfaithfulness. Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, invades, carrying away the political, social, and cultural elite—and “some of the vessels of the house of God.” He, a pagan invader, marches into the Temple and plunders the precious tools and containers used for the worship and sacrifices in the Temple, and then he takes those symbols of the religious life that was at the center of Jewish identity and puts them in the temple of his own god. In the cultural understanding of the day, this was a clear statement that Nebuchadnezzar’s god was more powerful than Israel’s God Yahweh: Yahweh was weak; Nebuchadnezzar’s god had won. God’s reputation was tarnished—God’s sovereignty and might were called into question…all because of the Israelite people.
And this was what struck me—God chose to identify himself so fully with His people that their behavior and fate colored His reputation. To outside rulers and leaders, He was who they were—their strength and character reflected on His.
We know the exile came as a result of Israel and Judah’s blatant disobedience and rebellion against God. It was because He was righteous and just, not because He was weak. These verses make it explicit—it was the Lord who gave the King and Kingdom up to the foreign invaders. We know that God’s character and sovereignty do not change. He is Lord over all. The words recorded in Scripture make this clear.
But out of His deep love, God chooses to identify Himself with His people. It was true in the Old Testament with Israel, and it’s true now with the Church. He has, for reasons beyond my comprehension, chosen (for the time being) to entrust His reputation before the world in the hands of us who claim to be His children, who bear the name Christian. He has given us His name. We are the body of Christ—His image enlivened and moving in the world. We are to reflect Him to the world, representing well His nature, His desires, His plan, just as any ambassador does for his or her home country. When the rest of the world looks in at us, they make judgments on what God the Father and our Savior Jesus Christ are like—on their character, their strength, their worthiness of worship. What a heavy weight of responsibility this is!
What is seen of our God when we cast the first stones of judgment instead of protecting a fellow human being’s dignity? When we allow unity to give way to bickering and in-fighting? When we are characterized by fear, anger, and despair instead of peace, love, and joy? When we care more about religious ritual than justice and mercy?
What is seen of our God when we welcome the outcasts and marginalized and make them family? When we are bridge-builders and mediators working for peace and reconciliation? When we pursue excellence and delight in our work and our art? When we are a people marked by generosity, humility, hospitality, long-suffering, and forgiveness?
When I consider all this, I am honored and in awe that God would choose to use me to play such an integral role in revealing Himself and the Gospel’s power to the world. I also get a little clammy and my stomach starts to churn—because I know how I fail to live up to this high calling. Can you relate?
But (breath of fresh air), we do not need to heap guilt and anxiety on ourselves. My purpose is not to make any of my fellow brothers and sisters to walk in the constant fear of messing up. The Gospel we cling to tells us that God’s grace was extended to us precisely because of these ways we fall short. The grace we receive in Christ covers over this inevitability of failure and removes our need to keep trying harder to measure up. So when we see the ways we fail to reflect well the character of our Lord, we can, in that failure, be thankful, for this is why Christ came. We can walk in freedom from endless striving—but this freedom in no way diminishes the weight of our calling in Christ.
So, now that I’ve clarified that this is not a guilt trip—for me or for you—I’ll leave you with what I think is the conclusion of the matter.
- We have a high calling to live out who Christ is to the world. We can work to increase God's reputation and bring Him honor. We can look for opportunities for Kingdom-building, as we live out the reality of His Kingdom before a watching world, inviting glimmers of it to earth as it is in heaven. We will not get this right all of the time (or even most of the time), but this is not news to Him. He knows our nature. Instead of generating fear, I hope this brings humility and care in the way we live. May we be aware of how our actions and words reflect on our Lord and be careful in the way we live, and may this awareness help us to better love God and our neighbor. May we be quick to be humble in seeking forgiveness and confessing our wrongdoing, as we freely admit the ways we fall short of reflecting the glory of God and the ways we poorly reflect Him.
- What inexpressible love the Lord has showered on us, to show such extreme solidarity with us that He would put His own reputation at risk of being sullied and His own character in jeopardy of being misunderstood. May we stand in awe of this love, this decision to embrace us so fully as His children.
- We rest in the hope that one day what is now hidden will be fully revealed, and the God we worship will be shown clearly for who He is. One day “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.” One day, all that He is and all He has done will be made plain for all of creation to see. One day He will vindicate Himself and reclaim the full honor that is due to Him.
But for now, please Lord, grant us grace to be worthy ambassadors and witnesses to who You are.