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Text: Daniel 5

Supporting texts: Isaiah 40:12-26

Main study Focus: God will never tolerate any act of irreverence to His great Name

People Involved: King Belshazzar, his nobles, wives and concubines, enchanters, astrologers, fortune-tellers, queen-mother and Daniel

Date: 539BC.

Memory Verse: ‘The Most High God rules the kingdoms of the world and appoints anyone he desires to rule over them.’ – Daniel 5:21.

 INTRODUCTION: Some people have the impression that most of the events we read about in the Bible are nothing but myths and fables.  Many of these events appear to be too weird and extraordinary to be true.  Thanks to modern science that has investigated some of these events and has confirmed that they really took place.  There is still much to be done to prove that all the events reported in the bible really took place.  Archaeology (the science of digging different sites to discover the history of ancient people) has confirmed such events like Noah’s flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the fall of the Wall of Jericho etc to have really taken place.  Archaeologists have recently discovered Belshazzar’s name on several documents and confirmed that he co-reigned with his father – Nabonidus, from553 to 539 BC.  He was not a direct descendant of Nebuchadnezzar who reigned from 605 BC to 562 BC but was aware of all that happened during the reign of his famous predecessor.  Are you one of those who find it difficult to believe the events that are recorded in the bible?  Don’t forget that the word of God was written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21) who is the Director and Lord of history.  We need FAITH and Not PROOF to believe the word of God.  Ask Him to give you this faith.

Verses 1-4. The king’s banquet and his irreverence to God:  Belshazzar allowed wine to make him act unwisely and contrary to his best judgement and reasoning.  He foolishly desecrated the holy utensils used in the house of the Lord.  As Christians we must be aware of the danger of taking alcohol.  It is better to abstain from it than to wait until it ruins our life both physically and spiritually.  Like the Nazarites of God (Numbers 6:1-4), we should abstain from every intoxicant that can hinder our spiritual relationship with God.  We must be separated for Him and be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15,16).  What does the word of God tell us about wine in the following verses of the bible – Proverbs 20:1; 23:31,32?  If you believe the word of God, then heed it.

Verses 5-12.  The writing on the wall and Belshazzar’s confusion: The word of God is correct when it says that wine is a mocker.  On many occasions when one is under the influence of wine and a terrible thing happens, the intoxicating effect of the wine quickly disappears making the person concerned look bewildered and stupid.  This happened to the king when he saw the invisible hand writing his sentence.  He was not the only person who saw it; all his guests also did.  The judgement of God often comes to the sinner openly as a warning to others.  What secret sins are you committing against God in spite of His warning contained in His word?  See and remember the writing on the wall.  Belshazzar in his confusion had forgotten all the wonderful things God did through Daniel during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, how he explained mysteries that the king’s so-called wise men could not unravel. Instead of seeking help from the enchanters, astrologers and fortune-tellers he should have called in Daniel to offer him advice about the mysterious writing and the dilemma he was facing.  These charlatans cannot know the deep things of God.  As a preacher said, we should not be surprised if Satan tells us all the terrible things that have ever happened to us in the past.  This is because he is the author and operator of bad incidents and events that ever happen in our lives.  How would he not know or remember them?  He may guess but cannot know what God has planned for our future except the evil he himself is planning for us.  Those of us who want prophecies about their lives should take note.  What else do you want to know about your future that you don’t already know if you believe it is in the hands of your heavenly Father who loves you and has promised never to leave or forsake you but to be with you all the days of your life?  However, God can reveal His mind to His holy servants of whom you are one if only you are truly in Christ Jesus.  It is a sin to seek help from the servants of Satan.  Read Deuteronomy 18: 9-13 and Leviticus 19:31.

Verses 13-17.  Daniel interprets the writing:  When the wise men of Babylon had failed, Daniel was called before the king at the instance of the queen-mother.  He was prepared to offer his help without asking for any material reward.  This was not as important to him as doing what is good and offering his help when needed.  As children of God we must be prepared to do what is good without asking for material reward.

Verses 18-23.  Belshazzar was taken to the memory lane: Daniel reminded the king how God humbled Nebuchadnezzar, his predecessor because of his pride.  The purpose was to make Belshazzar to realise his pride, foolishness and irreverent behaviour to God so that he could repent of his sins and humble himself before God.  Unfortunately, time was against him.  We must correct our evil ways and make peace with God before it is too late.  Belshazzar did not have time to repent.  He died that same night being overthrown by the combined forces of the Medes and Persians.

Verses 23-30. Irreverent use of sacred objects: One of the sins for which the king was judged was his irreverent use of sacred things that belonged to God.  We must be careful as to what use we put things that belong to God such as His building, His money, our bodies and every other thing that has been set apart for God.  These must not be used for immoral or unholy purposes.  The last act of Belshazzar was to honour Daniel but he did not live to see him enjoy this honour.

Supporting Text: Ps.9:12; 12:12; Isa.49:14; Ro.5:3

Lesson Focus: Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh

Memory Verse: ‘Whether it is favourable or unfavourable, we will obey the Lord our God’ – Jeremiah 42:6.

After Moses and Aaron had spoken to their people and convinced them that Moses had met with the God of Israel and that He had expressed deep concern about their plight and had promised to deliver them from their bondage, they went to Pharaoh to deliver God’s message to him. They told him that they had met the God of the Hebrews and He asked them to tell him that he should allow His people to go on a three-day journey to the desert to hold a special festival for Him. Just as God told Moses that He would harden the heart of Pharaoh that he would not allow them to go, so it happened. He told Moses and Aaron that he did not know the God of the Hebrews and he would not let them go. We need to emulate the courage of Moses for taking God’s message to Pharaoh despite that he knew that he would not let them go according to God’s word. We should not be discouraged or deterred to bring the gospel of Christ to anywhere God sends us, no matter the difficulties we may encounter on the way, since we know that He will always stand by us. Our obedience will surely be rewarded (1 Cor.15:58).

The outcome of their visit to Pharaoh was that life was made harder for the Hebrew slaves. The supply of straw for making bricks for Pharaoh’s building project was stopped. Yet the Hebrew slaves were expected to meet their daily quota of bricks as when they were supplied with straw, failing which, they were beaten by the Egyptian foremen who supervised them. They had to go round the land of Egypt to find straw. Their appeal to Pharaoh did not change the situation. He called them names and ordered them back to continue with their hard labour. This development turned the people against Moses and Aaron who they blame for their predicament. The price of leadership is sometimes very costly. We should always remember this any time we are placed in a position of authority in our local church whether as a pastor, a youth leader, choir master, Sunday school coordinator or what have you. We may be faced with many difficulties but we should not allow our faith to waver. Moses and Aaron were caught in the middle between Pharaoh and the Hebrew slaves. Moses went to God to complain how his visit to Pharaoh brought more misery to his people.  He wondered why God had not rescued His people. There is a lesson we can learn from this. Whenever we are faced with any problem or internal conflict in the house of God, it is best to take the matter to God in prayer for His divine intervention. Moses was yet to learn that more complaints and murmuring awaited him from his people in the course of leading them to the Promised Land.

Discussion:

1        Why do you think Pharaoh told Moses that he did not know the God of the Hebrews?

2        How can you make the God of the Christians known to an unbeliever?

3        Do you think the Hebrew slaves believed that God would take them out of Egypt at this time? Give reasons for your answer.

4        Do you think Moses regretted going to Pharaoh in view of the latter development? Explain.

5        What do you think Moses learnt about the ways of God and from the behaviour of his people at this time?

Supporting Texts: Job 33:14-22; Hebrews 12:5-11.

Lesson Focus: The sovereignty of God.

Persons: King Nebuchadnezzar, magicians, enchanters, astrologers, diviners and Daniel.

Memory Verse: ‘For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’ – Luke 14:11.

INTRODUCTION: Nebuchadnezzar, on two occasions praised the God of Daniel when he saw the manifestation of His power in the lives of the four Hebrew youths but he did not completely believe or submit to Him as the only God. He saw Him as a god among other gods (see 4:8). A great number of Christians go to church, worship with other Christians and use Christian language but their lives do not glorify or give honour to God.  They only profess to be Christians while they have nothing to show for it. These are the people who bring shame to the body of Christ. Does your life reflect your Christianity?

Verses 1-3.  Nebuchadnezzar publicised what God had done for him.  He was not ashamed to testify to His goodness and his own foolishness.  Many of us Christians are ashamed to give public testimonies of what God is doing in our lives and bring glory to His name.  Can you give some reasons why this is so?  Testimonies strengthen believers, bring glory to God and bring unbelievers to the saving grace of Christ.
Verse 4.  God gives prosperity to whom He wants – whether Christians or non-Christians. It is the gift of God and not a proof of a person’s godliness.  However, spiritual prosperity is the reward of the righteous.
Verses 5-9.  It is surprising that Daniel was the last person to be invited by the king to interpret his dream despite that he was called the ‘chief’ of the magicians and one in whom ‘the spirit of the holy gods is,’ and despite that he once interpreted the king’s dream when other so-called ‘wise men’ could not. Nebuchadnezzar must have had a short memory. That apart, his dark mind might have been so tuned to and focused on the agents of darkness (his wise men) that he found himself permanently bound to them.  It was after they had failed him that he reluctantly turned to Daniel who was the agent of light.  When a Christian has problems whom should he or her first turn to?  Like Nebuchadnezzar some of us have made God our number 2 when He should be the number 1.  Have you cultivated the habit of first bringing your problems to the Father before bringing them to friends or any other problem-solving agencies?  You may not be able to do so until you have sacked every other god in your life and stuck to the only one True God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Secondly, you need to be born into His family by the miracle of the second-birth through which you can develop a new tie with God based on ‘Father-son’ or ‘Father-daughter’ relationship.  This will take place after your heart has been transformed and renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Verses 10-16.  The dream and its source were made very clear to Nebuchadnezzar because God wanted to radically transform him.  Unlike his previous encounters that were indirect, God made this third encounter to be personal so that he could learn a lasting lesson from it.  God will always give us a long period of warning for us to change our sinful ways before He allows His judgement to fall on us.  PTO
Verse 17.  God’s judgement often comes as a warning to other people.  It is better to learn from other people’s experiences than to learn from one’s own.
Verses 18-27.  Daniel did not know at first how to break the terrible news of the interpretation of the king’s dream to him because he was grieved in his mind. He was sorry for what was about to happen to the king. But why should Daniel pity him for all he had done to him and his people?  It was Nebuchadnezzar who destroyed Jerusalem, burnt down the Temple, killed many of them, carry the rest into exile in Babylon, put his companions into the burning furnace and locked him up in the den of lions.  But Daniel had forgiven him and this was the reason why God was able to use him mightily.  When we allow bitterness, hatred and unforgiving spirit to dominate us, God can never use us as instruments of His blessing.  Secondly, we cannot expect God to answer our prayers when we store up animosity, bitterness and vengeance in our hearts.  Can you love a person who has hurt you?  Can you help someone who had treated you shabbily?  But God wants us to love without any reservation.  Ask God to help you forgive, forget and show true love to those who have hurt you.  This is a cross we must carry as Christians however difficult or heavy.  With Christ on our side we can do the humanly impossible.  The dream was interpreted and Daniel advised the king to repent of his sins so that God could forgive him.  But his pride did not allow him to heed this advice.
Verses 28-33.  Nebuchadnezzar was given a year of grace to make his peace with God but he wasted this chance.  When God delays in punishing us for our sins we may think that He has forgotten about it and then we continue to sin.  But God never forgets His word, He will definitely descend on the sinner when he or she least expects.  We must hide this truth in our hearts so that we don’t take God for granted.  As Nebuchadnezzar was walking on the roof of the royal palace he took another look at the city of Babylon.  He attributed its beauty and glory to his own power, greatness and wisdom and not to God.  He said, ‘Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?’  Instead of giving God the glory he gave it to himself.  Paul asked, ‘What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? – 1 Corinthians 4:7.  Whatever we have or have achieved all come from God.  We should learn to give God the glory for whatever He does for us.  He says that He will not give His glory to another or His praise to idols – Isaiah 42:8.  Nebuchadnezzar was stricken by insanity and made to live with the beasts of the field because of his pride and for not acknowledging God.
Verses 34-35.  At the end of 7 years he prayed to the God of heaven and his sanity was restored.  He then recognised the sovereignty of God over all the earth.  He realised that God was in control and His will must be done.  Nobody can question Him for what He does or doesn’t do.  Until we also realise this fact we may overrate our importance and so undermine the sovereignty of God.
Verses 36-37.  We can see that after he had been humbled and transformed he had a new revelation of God and unexaggerated estimation of himself.   Rather than blame God for his plight he praised Him for His righteous judgement.  God restored him to his kingdom and he praised and exalted Him.

Conclusion:
God disciplines us to correct and restore us to His favour and not to destroy us.  We should not ignore His discipline or be discouraged when He corrects us. 

Aim: To understand that without spiritual regeneration or the renewal of our hearts and minds our Christian experiences with God would be shallow and transitory.

Memory Verse: “So I want you to discern what is truly from God.  No one speaking by the Spirit of God can curse Jesus and no one is able to say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.’ – 1 Corinthians 12:3.

Any encounter with God without the transforming power of the Holy Spirit can be nothing short of a momentary experience that comes and goes. When Saul had an encounter with Jesus on the way to Damascus, God sent another disciple called Ananias to lay his hands on him so that he might receive his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. This encounter transformed and changed the entire life of Saul. He became Spirit-filled and the foremost of the apostles of Jesus. The 120 disciples in the upper room before the Day of Pentecost were nominal Christians until they were transformed by the baptism in the Holy Spirit. They became bold witnesses of Jesus and were said to have turned Jerusalem upside-down with their preaching of the gospel of Christ.
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had an encounter with Jehovah God of Israel when Daniel did a supernatural feat in the name of God by telling him the dream he had in his bed and by interpreting it for him. This opened the eyes of the king, in a moment of ecstatic wonder to recognise the God who is higher than any other gods worshipped by man. He said to Daniel, ‘Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord over kings, a Revealer of mysteries.’ – Daniel 2:47. This is nothing short of a great confession that could have a great impact on his life, but unfortunately it did not.
Just a few years later we see this same king setting up a huge gold statue ninety feet tall and nine feet wide and asking everybody in his kingdom including Daniel and his companions to bow down and worship it. He did not only ask them to worship his statue but also his gods that were not the true God. What a great contradiction, or call it foolishness, for someone who had acknowledge the true God to, not only serve, but order his subjects to serve false gods! There is no evidence that he had experienced any change of heart when he confessed that the God of Daniel was the True God. The confession came at the spur of the moment from a heart that was full of evil and self-seeking. Thus his encounter with the God of Israel had no transforming effect on him.
Many Christians are just in the same state of spiritual emptiness like Nebuchadnezzar. Their Christianity is not skin-deep because their sinful nature has not been done away with. Because no change has taken place in their lives they are unstable in their Christian experience. They are being tossed about by waves of new doctrines; but God wants us to be mature Christians (Ephesians 4:12-15).
The three Hebrew youths we have read about were not moved by the decree of the king because they were convinced that they were serving the True and Living God. Neither death nor threat of death could shake their faith in Him or make them to bow down before any other god. For the second time God demonstrated His power before Nebuchadnezzar to convince him that He is the True God and the God who could save those who have faith in Him. Moreover, He showed him that He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords who should be obeyed and worshipped.

Questions for Discussion:

1. Why do you think king Nebuchadnezzar made the huge statue and asked his subjects to worship it? 
2. Do you think the three Hebrew youths were sure at the on-set of the outcome of their disobedience to the king? Give reasons for your answer.
3. If they had opted to worship the king’s statue to save their lives, what reasons do you think they would have given for taking such an action? Would the reasons have been acceptable for breaking any of God’s commandments?
4. What happened when the three youths were thrown into the furnace?
5. How did the king describe the three Hebrew youths when he discovered that they were not hurt by the roaring flames? Vs 26.
6. What did the king say to them when they came out of the fire?
7. What decree did he make concerning the God of the three youths?
8. Why do you think the king compensated them?

Conclusion:

Whenever we take a stand of faith for God, He will always glorify His name and vindicate us. Secondly, if you are a true child of God, no power of the enemy can hold you in bondage. Jesus has promised not to leave or forsake us. He will always be with you, protect and defend you. Thirdly, we should never allow any other considerations to hinder us from doing God’s will. From the comments of Nebuchadnezzar, there could be no doubt that he knew who the True God was but he was not ready to serve Him or put himself under His control for personal and selfish reasons. In the same way some people refuse to do what is right or obey God’s commands for similar reasons. Some of these reasons could be pride, worldliness, self-centredness, peer-pressure, greed, lust and a host of others. A true child of God will be prepared at all times, in spite of other considerations, to please God by obeying His commands. This is where the true joy lies. It pays to please God than to please man.

Aim of Study: To know that the sovereign God is in control of this world and His kingdom shall last forever.

Memory Verse: ‘Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he alone has all wisdom and power’ – Daniel 2:20.

In our reading today, we see how God revealed to a pagan king what He planned for the future.  God revealed to him, in the great image he saw in his dream, the four powerful kingdoms that would be established on earth and how they would be destroyed and replaced by God’s kingdom that would last forever.  These world’s powerful kingdoms would include:
1. Babylonian Empire 606 B.C. to 539 B.C. – the Head of Gold.  This was the golden age when wealth came to Babylon from different parts of the Babylonian Empire which covered the then known world. The Babylonians were living in luxury.
2. Medo-Persian Empire 539 B.C. to 331 B.C. – the Chest and Arms of Silver. This empire was made up of two powerful nations – the Medes and the Persians who overthrew the Babylonian empire. It was also a wealthy empire but not as wealthy as its predecessor.
3. Grecian Empire under Alexander the Great 331 B.C. to 146 B.C. – the Belly and Thighs of Bronze. This empire was inferior to the first two. The wars of Alexander the Great did not allow him to concentrate on the business of governing. There was rivalry among his army generals who wanted to gain control of the government. The early death of Alexander the Great caused the empire to be fragmented and divided among four of his generals.
4. Roman Empire 146 B.C. to A.D 476 – the Legs and Feet of Iron and Clay. This was a brutal empire that ruled the people under it with iron hand. After many years of repressive rule, the empire fell and the different nations under it went their different ways carrying along with them Roman imprint. The fragments of the old Roman Empire are still with us today in the EEC countries.
In this dream God also revealed to Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon that the kingdom of Christ would remain forever after He has destroyed the great kingdoms of the world.  One might wonder why God chose to reveal His plans to this pagan king.  He did it firstly to show him that there is a superior king, the King of heaven who is in control of human history and who rules in the kingdoms of men. Secondly, it shows that the sovereign God could reveal His mind to whoever He chooses to reveal it.  After all, the whole world is under His sovereign rule. He can use both good and bad people to achieve His divine purpose.

Questions for Discussion
1. What did Daniel do when the king issued the decree to execute all the wise men in Babylon (v.16-18)?
2. What did he do when God revealed the dream to him (v.19)?
3. Why do you think that Daniel did not claim the credit for revealing and interpreting the king’s dream (v.27, 28, 30)?  What lesson do you learn from this?
4. What does the rock represent?  What is the significance of its being cut without human hand from a mountain?
5. What did the rock do to the image (v.34)?
6. What happened to it after the image had been blown away (v.35)? What does it mean to you?
7. Why do you think that Daniel requested that his companions be made administrators to help him in the administration of the province of Babylon (v.49)?  What lessons do you learn from this?

Conclusion

God wants to manifest His power and glory in many of us Christians but we have failed to yield ourselves totally to Him.  He can only use us to the extent that we yield ourselves to Him.  Daniel would not allow even food or drink to stand between him and his God.  He was ready to do His will at all times even if it caused him some inconvenience.  God will be ready to make us channels of His blessing when we are fully committed and have surrendered fully to Him.
Secondly, it is heartening to know that God continues to demonstrate His sovereign power in the affairs of this world.  Kingdoms have risen and fallen, dictators have come and gone and He continues to steer the affairs of this world towards the final establishment of His Son’s reign on earth.  Daniel and his companions called on Him and He answered them.  He still answers us today when we call on His name (Psalm 50:15).
Thirdly, it is a thing of joy for Christians to know that this world system will pass away and Christ will reign forever and we will reign with Him.

Aim of study: To see the triumph of faith.

Memory Verse: “As the scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’” – Romans 10:11.

The book of Daniel was written about 535 B.C. and it records the events that happened between 605 and 535 B.C.  Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon conquered Judah around 605 B.C. and deported the cream of Israel’s nationals including Daniel to Babylon.  Daniel came from the royal family and was recruited with other Hebrew youths of noble descent into the service of the king of Babylon after a training that lasted 3 years.  Daniel, because of his God-given wisdom and supernatural intelligence became the king’s chief counsellor.  He served the government for a period of about 70 years during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius and Cyrus.

 Daniel wrote this book for other captives scattered all over the Babylonian empire and to all God’s people throughout the world.  The purpose was to let them know that no king, however powerful, is in control of history.  It is God Himself who controls and dictates the trend of history.  He is the sovereign God who rules in the kingdoms of men.  Secondly, that no matter what we are going through, if we are faithful to Him and stand on His word, He will stand by us and see us through all our problems.  If those Babylonian captives took their stand for Him and refused to compromise with the values of the pagan nation among whom they lived, God would not forget them.  He would rise up to their deliverance.  This also applies to us Christians.  Though we are supposed to be citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20) we are still living in this world where values opposed to God’s are prevalent.  God is calling on us to take a stand for Him so that we may shine like stars to illuminate this world of darkness (Philippians 2:14-16).  The book emphasizes the sovereignty of God and the need for us not to compromise with worldly values.

Daniel and his three friends Hananiah, Mischael and Hazariah (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) chose not to eat the food of the king or drink his wine.  This was because as Jews, they had been brought up to differentiate between the clean and the unclean, the holy and the unholy.   Food and wine in ancient Babylon were first offered to idols before they were served at the table.  This was the practice with royal food and wine.  But these Hebrew youths would not defile themselves with food or wine.  They chose to separate themselves for God rather than compromise with pagan values and He compensated them for this.  In a world where majority of people are doing what grieves the mind of God, we as Christians should take a stand for God to glorify His name.  It is by studying the word of God that we would be able to differentiate between the clean and the unclean, the holy and the unholy.

Questions for Discussion

1. What was the Babylonian name given to Daniel?  V.4.
2. Why do you think the 4 Hebrew children were not called by their Babylonian names throughout this chapter?
3. On what diet were the 4 Hebrew children placed during the course of their training?  V.12.  P.T.O.
4. How did God compensate these Hebrew children for taking a stand for Him?  V.15,17-20.
5. In what ways can a Christian be eating and drinking the king’s food and wine?

Conclusion

A person’s name is very important.  Apart from carrying a stamp of identity by which a person is recognised from another, it has a spiritual effect on a person’s overall behaviour.  In most cases a person behaves true to his or her name.  For example, ‘Peter’ comes from a word that means ‘rock’.  We can see the boldness of Peter the apostle who became the pillar of the early church.  Also the name ‘Nabal’ means ‘fool’ and we can see the foolish behaviour of Nabal, the husband of Abigail, to David (1 Samuel 25:25).  ‘Joshua’ comes from a Hebrew word that means ‘saviour’.  Joshua led the Israelites to possess the lands of their enemies.  There are other examples in the bible.  A Christian needs to be careful what names they give to their children so that they are not given names that would influence their behaviour adversely.  When God called Abram He changed his name to Abraham and his wife’s – Sarai to Sarah (Genesis 17:4-7,15).  When we come into a covenant relationship with God, He gives us new names in line with what He intends to do in our lives. God has promised to give those who overcome a new name (Revelation 2:17).

We must teach our children Christian morality so that they would be able to differentiate between the clean and the unclean, the holy and the unholy.  This can only happen if and when they are exposed to the word of God.

Aim: To know that we are justified through faith in Christ and not by any righteousness that comes through work.

Memory Verse:  ‘He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification – Romans 4:25.

One unique feature of Christianity is that of all religions of the world, it is the only one that does not believe that salvation could be achieved through works or human effort.  Its emphasis is on grace (an unmerited favour given to us by God) through faith in Jesus Christ.  The Jewish religion of Judaism teaches that the basis for salvation is keeping to the Law of Moses.  They are proud to be called the descendants of Abraham who through his faith was called the friend of God.  Through him they inherited the promises God made to Abraham and the ritual of circumcision that was the seal of the covenant.  This circumcision became the outward sign by which they identified themselves as the people of God.  As long as they were able to keep the Law and the ritual of circumcision they believed that they were justified before God.

In his argument, Paul makes it clear that we are saved only by faith in Jesus.  He points out that Abraham was pronounced righteous because of the faith he had in God and not by keeping the law of circumcision.  He argues that it was as a result of the righteousness he achieved by his faith that God gave him the law of circumcision as a sign of his righteousness.  God’s promise that he would be the father of many nations and that through him the whole world would be blessed came after he had been pronounced righteous through faith and not after he was given the sign of circumcision.

In the same way, there is no work that we can do to earn us salvation. We are saved by faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross.  When we trust God for salvation this way His Spirit in us will lead us unto good work.  Our good work does not save us; it is just the evidence of our salvation.  Complete faith in Christ is when we believe Him for what He says He is and what the word of God says about Him; when we believe in His teaching, works and promises; and when we believe in His death and resurrection; and when we trust Him totally for our salvation.

The plan of God for our salvation is to believe in Jesus and be saved (John 3:16&36; 6:40; 1 John 4:9- 10).  If truly we believe in Him we are saved and if we are saved, then, we must behave as saved people.  To do this is to forsake sin and live a life that will please our Master Jesus.  After you have trusted Jesus for your salvation and you allow the devil to make you doubt it, you have made God to be a liar.  It is a serious matter to call God a liar.  It is not in the nature of God to lie.  The devil is the liar and the father of lies.

Questions for Discussion

1 ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’  What was the evidence that he believed in God?
2 ‘Believe in Jesus Christ and be saved.’ Explain how easy it is to believe in Jesus?
3 How can you convince somebody that the works of religion or the works of the Law are not enough to save them?
4 Explain the term ‘Justification by faith’

Conclusion

Jesus is our righteousness and we should keep our attention focused on Him.  Those who depend on only good works to merit salvation would face disappointment and frustration on the Day of the Lord.  This is because all our righteous deeds without divine intervention are like filthy rags in the presence of God (Isaiah 64:6).  No matter how careful and law-conscious we are, we cannot perfectly keep all the laws.  We stumble in many ways and miss the mark (James 3:2).  But God has provided for us a righteousness that is through faith in His Son.  Let us hold on to this and keep our hearts and minds focused on Him.

Aim: To know that we are justified by faith in Christ Jesus and not by the work of the Law.

Memory verse: ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ – Romans 3:23.

In the previous chapter, Paul argues that the Jew who fails to keep the law of God given by Moses is as guilty as a gentile who breaks the law of God written in his heart. He argues that the truly circumcised Jews are those whose hearts have been circumcised. True circumcision, according to him, is that of the heart. It is only when the heart is circumcised that a person can keep the laws of God.

In this chapter we are reading today, Paul compares two types of righteousness – the righteousness obtained by keeping the law and the righteousness obtained through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. He concludes that no one will be justified by the work of the law in the sight of God because by the law is the knowledge of sin (v.20). But we are justified freely by faith in Jesus Christ.

He asks, what is the advantage or the profit of circumcision that was given to the Jews by which they prided themselves as special people of God? He accepts the fact that the Jews were singled out to receive the oracles or the judgement of God. This was as a result of God’s faithfulness to their fore-fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The covenant of circumcision was good for them as long as they obey the commandments of God. But he says that many of those who are circumcised do not keep the Law, perhaps, because their hearts are not circumcised.  In his letter to the Philippians he writes: ‘For we who worship God in the Spirit are the only ones who are truly circumcised.  We put no confidence in human effort.  Instead, we boast about what Christ Jesus has done for us.’ – Philippians 3:3.  This means that we should not think that the work of the Law alone can take us to heaven, but we should rely on what Christ achieved for us on the cross. It is only by so doing that we   receive His grace through which we are saved.

Paul goes on to expound the doctrine of ‘Justification by Faith’.  This has become an important doctrine of the Church.  He argues that all people, whether Jews or gentiles have sinned and there is nothing we can do to earn forgiveness and salvation except through faith in Jesus.  He describes the nature of the fallen man and concludes that the fallen nature is in all of us.  It is only in Christ Jesus whom God made the propitiation for all our sins that we can find forgiveness.  Propitiation is the removal of God’s punishment from a sinner through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.  Jesus was the Lamb of God sent down to take the punishment for our sins so that we would be reconciled to God.  By His death on the cross He satisfied God’s anger for our sins.  Thus we are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed His blood and sacrificed His life for us.  We are justified in the sight of God as if we have never sinned.  This is justification by faith.

Questions for Discussion

1 All unrighteousness is sin. Can anyone claim that he has never sinned? If your answer is ‘no’ what do you think makes us to sin?
2 What do you think distinguishes a Christian from an unbeliever?
3 In the light of what you have read, in what ways do you think Christianity is different from other religions?

Conclusion

The Law is good because it points us to God and reveals our sins to us.  But it is difficult for us to obey it to the letter.  It was only Jesus that ever kept it perfectly.  If we want to be saved then, we must look beyond the Law for our salvation.  The good news is that God has provided a new way by which we can be made righteous with Him and be saved.  This new way is through faith in Christ Jesus.  Believe Jesus and you will be saved.

 Memory Verse: ‘To those by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality he will give eternal life.  But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.’ – Romans 2:7.

St Paul in chapter 1 tells the Romans that the pagans who worship idols have no excuse for not serving God because what they need to know about Him have been revealed to them in the works of creation that they see around them and the conscience God has given them to know what is right or wrong.  He warns that the judgement of God is being released on all evildoers whether they are Jews or Gentiles.  No sinner will be excluded.

In chapter 2 he makes them to realise that it is not only the gentiles who are sinners even the Jews who condemn them are equally guilty before God.  He argues that sometimes when we judge others we do not judge ourselves.  He says that if we judge others while we commit the same sins with them we would also face the same judgement as them.  Since all of us are sinners we all need to turn to God for forgiveness.

He tells them about the need for repentance.  He says that it is the kindness of God that leads a sinner to repentance.  His long-suffering does not mean that He approves any wrongdoing.  But when a person refuses to repent, that person is storing up God’s anger against him or herself.  On the day of the Lord, God will reward everybody – Jew or Gentile without partiality or favouritism.  Those who persisted in doing what is right will be declared righteous and those who sin will be judged.  Those Gentiles who do what is right, though they don’t have the law, will be declared righteous.  God has put His law in everybody’s conscience to know what is right from what is wrong.  What he is saying here is that if we don’t live up to what we know we are not better than the unbelievers.

Paul takes up issues with those who know the law of God but do not obey it.  He says that such people bring shame to the Lord and make the gentiles blaspheme the name of God.
He talks about the law of circumcision that God gave to the Israelites as a sign of their relationship with Him.  According to him, this circumcision is more than an external ritual.  It is a spiritual symbol of inward cleansing.  He says that it should be the circumcision of the heart by the Spirit of God and not just an outward sign.  It should be total removal of the root of sin from the heart.  He says that a true Jew is the one who is circumcised in the heart.   When applied to Christianity, a true Christian is one who is born-again and whose heart is renewed.  He says that circumcision can only have value when a person observes the law.  But it becomes non-circumcision if a person is a law-breaker.

Questions for Discussion

1 Do we have to keep silent when we see other Christians committing sin without correcting them?  On what condition do you think someone may correct another person for doing what is wrong?
2 What is repentance?  What are the stages to it?
3 On what basis do you think those who lived before Christ would be judged?
4 On what basis do you thing unbelievers of this Christian age would be judged?
5 What is the difference between a regular churchgoer who is not born-again and a born-again believer?
6 What do you think is the place of rituals (e.g. baptism, confirmation etc) in Christianity?

Conclusion

We need to teach ourselves before we teach others.  We also need to examine ourselves thoroughly and see that no sin exists in our lives before we accuse or condemn others.  It is not good to advise others to do what we ourselves are unable to do otherwise it would amount to hypocrisy on our part.  We must be sure that we are rooted and established in Christ and are bearing fruit of the Spirit before we can correct or condemn sin in other people.  It is when our obedience to God is complete that we are qualified to correct or punish every act of disobedience.  Note that membership of a church, regular attendance at church, baptism or confirmation are not enough.  God demands our obedience and sincere devotion to Him above any church ritual.  Read Deuteronomy 10:13.

Memory Verse: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. Roman 1 : 16

1 – 7. In opening his letter to the Romans, Paul introduces himself as a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ set apart for the gospel of God. He explains that the gospel was promised by God through the prophets a long time ago. He goes on to state what the gospel is all about. It is about faith in Jesus Christ for our salvation. He explains further that Jesus, although a descendant of David was the Son of God. The proofs were that He was declared to be His Son by the Spirit of Holiness and by His resurrection from death. He goes on to explain his duty as an apostle this was to call people among the Gentiles to believe in Jesus Christ.

8 – 17. He now tells them the reason for writing this letter. He says that he heard about their faith in Christ and had been willing to pay them a visit so that he could impart to them some spiritual gifts and that the two of them might encourage each other by their mutual faith. He also tells them that he had been praying for them since he heard about their faith. He makes them to understand that the gospel is for everybody – both Jew and Gentile. It is a righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus Christ and not by just obeying the Law of Moses.

18 – 32. He goes on to explain to them why the gospel is urgent and important. This according to him is because God is angry with wicked and sinful people who like to do evil, and who refuse to acknowledge the existence of God or do what is good. He says that they have no excuse at all because the existence and power of God are made clear and convincing by what He has created. God has even revealed Himself in people’s conscience so that they would know what is right or wrong. But because they don’t want to serve God or give Him the glory due to Him they make their own gods whom they would serve. Since God has given everybody the freewill to do what they like, He allows them to do all sorts of immoral things for which they incur for themselves terrible repercussions and the judgement of God. Despite that they know that they cannot escape the judgement of God for their actions, they continue in them and encourage others to join them.

Points of Discussion:

1. We can be right with God through faith in Christ alone. Does this eliminate work?
Explain as you read James 2 : 14 – 26

2. How does Paul describe the gospel in verse 16? How do you think that the gospel of Jesus differs from Judaism?

3. Do you think that God is justified to send anyone to hell who has never heard the gospel?
Read Verses 18 – 20

4. What kind of God does nature reveal in Verse 20?

5. What are Paul’s arguments against idolatry? Verse 21 – 23
 Can you add any of your own?

Nobody wants to be called a servant but Paul calls himself a servant of Christ Jesus. When you are a servant of Christ you are a servant of God. Being a servant of God gives you freedom from sin. But if you are a servant to sin, you become a slave to sin and an enemy of righteousness. We must choose whom to serve, sin or righteousness. Anything or habit that enslaves you is sin.
Paul prays for the Roman Christians though he does not know them. He even plans to visit them. This is true Christian love that we must develop for other Christians. They are our brothers and sisters.