Alex Trebek hosted Jeopardy! for 37 years. His successor did it for one week. After Trebek passed away nearly a year ago, the Jeopardy! world waited eagerly for the show to reveal their choice for a new host. That announcement finally came on August 11, 2021. To many people’s surprise, a relative unknown (at least compared to some of the other names in the running), Mike Richards, got the gig. However, he filmed only five days’ worth of shows before stepping down amid a “scandal” surrounding comments he had made on a podcast. So, the wait continues. (In case you’re wondering, I’m pulling for Mayim Bialik to officially get the job.)
It’s tempting to say that stories like this one happen in the internet age because so much information about a person is available—and it never ever goes away. Of course, that’s at least partially true. It seems that anything a person says or does is on the record forever. However, the internet cannot be entirely to blame. If it were, the Bible would have much more pristine heroes. As it is, though, we know of hardly any who escape scandal of some sort. Yet, somehow, Daniel did it. It’s hard to imagine a person today who could work in politics for over 70 years and have absolutely nothing negative known about him. And it’s not just that the Bible glosses over his mistakes. Even enemies looking for dirt on 80-year-old Daniel came up empty (6:4). As a result, it’s easy to read the book bearing his name and walk away with a lot of “be like Daniel” lessons:
- Purpose in your heart not to do evil…just like Daniel.
- Live for God in a secular culture…just like Daniel.
- Obey God rather than men…just like Daniel.
- Don’t be afraid to stand up to great people in the name of God…just like Daniel.
These lessons can seem to be reinforced by God Himself as angels refer to Daniel as a man “greatly loved” by God three times (9:23; 10:11, 19). We read that Daniel was greatly loved and think, “Of course he was. He never made any mistakes! He must have been God’s favorite!”
However, verses about depravity were as true of Daniel as they are you and me. Daniel’s heart, just like mine, was desperately wicked and hopelessly sick (Jer. 17:9). Daniel’s righteous deeds were like filthy rags in the eyes of God, just as mine are (Isa. 64:6). And what Paul said in Romans 3 applies to Daniel as well: “There is none righteous. No, not one” (v. 10 emphasis added).
Yes, Daniel loved and obeyed God. He was a faithful servant through a lifetime of exile. He never assimilated to Babylonian culture or syncretized his religion with theirs. But we cannot say that that is why God greatly loved him. To do so would be to preach a Gospel of works.
In fact, the true Gospel—the Gospel of grace—explains why Daniel was greatly loved. And why you are too.
God’s Great Love for Hopeless Sinners
Ephesians 2 spells out one of Scripture’s great explanations of the Gospel. Paul begins with the bad news:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (vv. 1-3)
It’s not a pretty picture. We were dead people walking, completely hopeless to please God, and continually indulging the lusts of our flesh. As “children of wrath,” we were destined for hell and eternity separated from the presence of God. We followed the course of the world and served its ruler, the devil himself. And, worst of all, we were completely happy doing it.
Verse 4 flips the script.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:4-6)
Did you see it? Great love. You—though you were dead and hopeless—are greatly loved…just like Daniel.
God’s Great Love Made Us Alive
Without God’s intervention, you and I were dead. And, unlike Westley in The Princess Bride, we were not “mostly dead,” but “all dead,” at least in the spiritual realm. This means that not one iota, not one fraction of one percent of our souls had any spiritual life in them. This is the definition of total depravity.
That is not to say that we were as absolutely sinful as we could possibly be. After all, even before you were saved, you likely did not act on every single bad thought you ever had. At times you kept your mouth closed, didn’t steal the item in the store, and obeyed an authority that you really wanted to disobey. Total depravity means that we are depraved through and through, that without Christ every part of our spiritual selves is utterly destitute and without any hope of pleasing God. To quote the great minds of Munchkinland, we were “positively, absolutely, undeniably, and reliably dead!”
But God made us alive.
Because of His great love, God made us alive. He infused spiritual life where there was none. He gave hope where all hope was lost.
He Raised Us Up with Christ
Three blessed, yet often overlooked, words answer this question. Union with Christ. When we choose to identify with Christ and accept His death on our behalf, a wonderful and mysterious union takes place. His death and His glorious resurrection become ours. Paul explains it this way in Galatians 2:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)
And this way in Romans 6:
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Rom 6:5)
That means that the glorious words of 1 Corinthians 15 are ours as well:
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1Co 15:55-57)
Because of the great love of God, we are raised up with Christ. Never to die again. Ever. As Jesus tells the overcomers, we cannot “be hurt by the second death” (Rev. 2:11).
He Seated Us with Christ in the Heavenlies
The news just keeps getting better. We have gone from subservient to the “prince of the power of the air” to alive in Christ; now we get to be seated with Christ in the heavenly places.
To fully understand the glory of this truth, we must look back at Ephesians 1. Toward the end of that chapter, Paul tells his readers that he is praying they would know about God’s power in the resurrection:
[The power] that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Eph. 1:20-21)
We see here that Jesus is seated in the heavenly places and that His seat is one of great power. He rules over every authority and power in the spiritual realm.
As Paul closes his letter to the church in Ephesus, he reminds the believers there that they don’t fight against flesh and blood, but against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12) He didn’t tell them this to scare them, but to encourage them. They’re seated far above these forces because they are in Christ!
Because God has greatly loved us, He has given us the same seat. Our old master, the devil, doesn’t stand a chance.
God’s great love is not reserved for supposed spiritual superheroes like Daniel. According to the Gospel, it’s freely given to all who are in Christ Jesus.