Moving Along

A couple of interesting things are happening in our reading plan today. The first is that we are accelerating. Though we still have 35 books left in the Bible Reading track, those books are all relatively short. While the books of history and the first three books of prophecy took us weeks to read, the books we have left will only take days at the most.

This means we will be entering a new book in the Bible Reading track every other day or so from now to the end of the year. There are several occasions when we will be reading an entire book in one day, and a few when we will be reading multiple books in one day. So the books are starting to fly by at a much faster rate.

The Books of Daniel and John

The second is that we are entering two new books on the same day. We are entering Daniel in the Bible Reading track, and John in the Gospel Reading track. I’m not sure if we have or haven’t done this before. It is possible we did and I just didn’t notice it. But I am sure it is appropriate.

It is appropriate because Daniel and John are both unique books. They are unique in and of themselves, and they are even more unique when compared with the other books in their respective categories (for Daniel those are the books of prophecy, and for John they are the Gospels). They are so unique, in fact, that I consider them “the odd men out”.

A New Perspective

Most of us are probably familiar with the uniqueness of John. We probably know that John is different from the other Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) in a couple of ways. The first is that John largely records things the other Gospels don’t record and doesn’t record things the other Gospels do record. While it is true that there are variances between Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it is also true that they present the same basic thing: Jesus conducting a healing and teaching ministry in Galilee which ends with His march to Jerusalem, His sacrifice on the cross, and His resurrection from the dead.

But the variances in John are far greater than the variances in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. What John records are a series of incidents in Jerusalem, many of which are lengthy arguments with religious leaders. John also devotes a huge portion of the book (chapters 13-17) to Jesus’ final teachings and prayer on the night of His betrayal, and he gives a few resurrection appearances of Jesus the others don’t.

And a Different Style

The second way John is different from the other Gospels is that John writes in a different way. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have simple, straightforward stories or sermons, while John contains a lot of discourses that verge on poetic and seem to follow some sort of circular logic. (John’s epistles have that same circular logic, by the way).

This is not to say that John “contradicts” the other Gospels. He does not. Variances are not contradictions, and writing styles are nothing more than writing styles. But it is to say that John gives us a different experience from the other Gospels. He presents the same Jesus we find in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but he presents that Jesus doing and saying things we don’t find in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

A Different Kind of Prophet

Fewer of us will be familiar with the uniqueness of Daniel. We will be familiar with Daniel itself, having heard the story of his time in the lion’s den as well as the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in “the fiery furnace”, but we will be less familiar with the ways he differs from Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the rest of the prophets.

I’m not ever sure I can explain how he differs from these prophets. I don’t think there is anything in Daniel that I can’t more-or-less find in their books. But he does feel different. And that feeling is not just a feeling. It is a quantifiable feeling. We can quantify or measure that feeling by the fact that the ancient Hebrews did not consider Daniel to be a book of prophecy. They did not put the book of Daniel with the other prophets, as our English Bibles do, but in a section they called “the writings”, a section that included Esther, Chronicles, Ecclesiastes, and other hard-to-categorize books.

How is it Different?

So this feeling is quantifiable, and I think it comes from three of Daniel’s qualities. The first is its structure. The book can be divided in half, with the first six chapters being stories (such as the fiery furnace and the lion’s den stories) and the last six chapters being prophecies.

The second is Daniel’s writing style. Like Ezekiel, Daniel was a victim of the Babylonian Exile, having been carried away from Jerusalem by the Babylonians in their first attack (605 BC), and his writing style shows some of the marks of his exposure to the Babylonian culture.

He repeats things often, as other exile authors do. The best example of this is in the fiery furnace story where he repeatedly tells us about “the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music”. He also interacts repeatedly with Babylonian officials and the Medo-Persian officials who replaced them. This gives his book a foreign-ness that Isaiah and Jeremiah did not have.

But third, and probably the most significant, is the nature of Daniel’s prophecies. The prophecies we find in the second half of Daniel’s book are “apocalyptic”. That is, they use very powerful imageries and allegories. They also seem to be describing political realities that took place between Daniel’s time and the coming of Jesus.

I don’t want to say that they are only about those political realities because I don’t know for sure that is true.  But I know it is true that Daniel’s prophecies are at least in part describing the rise and fall of the Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman empires, things the other prophets hardly mention at all. So it may just be a feeling, but it is a quantifiable one. Daniel is measurably different from other prophets.

Odd Men Out

So “odd men out” is an accurate description of John and Daniel. But the fact that they are odd does not mean they are ineffective. Daniel not only contains some stories we love but he also testifies greatly to both Jesus and God, giving us the phrases “son of man” and “Ancient of Days”.

He was so notable in his own lifetime that Ezekiel was aware of him and mentioned him a couple times (Ezekiel 14:14 & 20 and 28:3). Jesus mentioned him and his book as well (Matthew 24:15). He gives us a glimpse into the spiritual world that exists beyond our world and he shows us that God is sovereign over both of them.

John gives us John 3:16, what is probably the best-known verse of the Bible and certainly one of the best summaries of the Gospel message and of reality itself. He also gives us Jesus’ “I am” statements and the truths of “the word” who was “in the beginning”, the stories of Nicodemus and the woman at the well, the washing of feet and the promise of the Holy Spirit and the reinstatement of Peter.

So those these books are odder and for that reason harder, they are nonetheless messages of God with unlimited potential to bless us. Let us bring these odd men out into our lives and receive their blessings.

Pastor Doug McCoy
doug@tcnd.org
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