The Arrival of the King: Palm Sunday, April 5, 2009

By

David Reynolds

 

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Introduction

Today is Palm Sunday, 2009 Anno Domini (in the year of our Lord).  On this day, 1975 years ago, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords entered the holy city, Jerusalem, publicly proclaiming himself for the first and only time of his earthly ministry to be the promised deliverer, or Messiah.  We call this day Palm Sunday, because the people who jubilantly welcomed Jesus into the city that day cut down palm branches and strewed them over the road before the donkey’s colt upon which he rode.  This was the fulfillment of a series of prophecies, some of which we shall touch upon today, but our focus will be on one extraordinary prophecy that is found in the book of Daniel.

 

Those of us who spent some time in the liturgical church know well the pattern of the church year, and we have a sense of the momentousness of this occasion.  Beginning with Ash Wednesday, the season of Lent is intended to prepare the human heart for the great drama ahead.  The point of Lent is to take the focus off ourselves and our day-to-day concerns, and to remember in detail what is called “the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Why?  Because it reminds us of our fallen-state, and the fearful price that had to be paid to redeem us from a life of futility and an eternity of condemnation and separation from God.  Palm Sunday is the early high point of the drama, contrasting strongly with the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, but foreshadowing the joy of the Resurrection.  Now there is a good bit of nonsense that occurs in the liturgical church, but sometimes we Evangelicals throw the baby out with the liturgical bathwater, so I think it’s good that we take some time today and remember what Palm Sunday is all about.

 

We will discuss the specifics of Daniel’s prophecy and see whether or not and to what degree it reached fulfillment in reality.  We are going to discuss and contrast the fickleness of man, which was on vivid display both then and now, with the faithfulness of God.  Finally, we will see that the amazing fulfillment of this prophecy is not just an interesting historical fact, but that it serves as an admonition and warning to us for the future.

 

In the process of researching for this message I came across a number of really good sources, but if you’re really interested in pursuing this line of study further, I highly recommend that you visit endtimepilgrim.org.  The author of the site is a man named Gavin Finley, an Australian doctor living in the USA.  After having decided that, of all the sites I visited, his was the most useful; I discovered to my delight that Mr. Finley is a fellow Calvary Chapel guy.  He attends the church in Gulf Breeze, Florida.

 

The first “modern” guy who understood all this stuff was an amazing fellow named Sir Robert Anderson, who published the book, “The Coming Prince” in 1894 in England.  Sir Robert was a renowned police inspector at Scotland Yard, and his seminal work formed most of the basis for the information I’m sharing with you today.  This book has been digitized and can be read online, which I plan to do.  If you’re interested, email me and I’ll send you the link to the online version of “The Coming Prince.”

 

Today’s message will be brief, so please bear with me these next few minutes as we explore the wonder that is Palm Sunday.

The Prediction – Daniel 9

Please turn with me in your Bibles to Daniel, chapter 9.  Although the main focus of the passage for the message today is the last few verses, I want to read the entire chapter, because it helps us clearly establish the context.

Daniel 9

 1In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of Median descent, who was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans--  2in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.  3So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes.  4I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed and said, "Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments,  5we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances.  6"Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land.  7"Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day--to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those who are nearby and those who are far away in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against You.  8"Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes and our fathers, because we have sinned against You.  9"To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him;  10nor have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in His teachings which He set before us through His servants the prophets.  11"Indeed all Israel has transgressed Your law and turned aside, not obeying Your voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him.  12"Thus He has confirmed His words which He had spoken against us and against our rulers who ruled us, to bring on us great calamity; for under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what was done to Jerusalem.  13"As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Your truth.  14"Therefore the LORD has kept the calamity in store and brought it on us; for the LORD our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done, but we have not obeyed His voice.  15"And now, O Lord our God, who have brought Your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and have made a name for Yourself, as it is this day--we have sinned, we have been wicked.  16"O Lord, in accordance with all Your righteous acts, let now Your anger and Your wrath turn away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people have become a reproach to all those around us.  17"So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications, and for Your sake, O Lord, let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary.  18"O my God, incline Your ear and hear! Open Your eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Your name; for we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion.  19"O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name."  20Now while I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God in behalf of the holy mountain of my God,  21while I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously, came to me in my extreme weariness about the time of the evening offering.  22He gave me instruction and talked with me and said, "O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding.  23"At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed; so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision.  24"Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.  25"So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.  26"Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.  27"And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate."

 

Daniel had rendered many years of faithful service to the Babylonian kings, without once ever compromising his faith or his witness.  Such was the power of Daniel’s witness that Nebuchadnezzer, certainly one of the most vain, cruel, and merciless men ever to rule over a kingdom, ended up making one of the most amazing confessions of faith ever made.  See Daniel chapter four for the full account.  So extraordinary was Daniel and his reputation, that when the Medes and Persians conquered Babylon, instead of being executed and replaced, as would have been the custom of that time, Daniel was retained as a senior advisor to the new king.

 

Notice here that Daniel, after studying God’s word, is led to humble himself and seek God’s face in a way that can only be described as exhausting.  As Daniel himself was a righteous man, he could rightly have prayed “they” when confessing the sins of his countrymen, but instead he chooses to say “we.”  He includes himself when confessing the many sins of his nation and acknowledges the grace of the Lord.  He says, “for we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion.”  After Daniel was extremely weary from his earnest seeking of God’s face, the angel Gabriel appears to him and gives him an incredible message, because he is highly esteemed.  This is one of the greatest compliments ever paid to a man by God.  Then Daniel is instructed to “give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision.”

 

Now there is an awful lot to this prophecy, and I will not go into depth but in a very small part.  Let’s look again at verse 25:  25"So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.”  So here is a very specific prediction that says, in effect, that once event A occurs, there will be a fixed time B until an event C occurs.  So we need to look and understand what A, B, and C are, and determine if C really happens at the time implied by A and B.

So what is the event described as “A?”  The exact words of the prophecy are important, because different people have identified A as three distinct events.  A is “the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.”  Some have conjectured that the decree issued by Cyrus in 538 BC is the one being spoken of here.  Turn with me to II Chronicles chapter 36, “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing:  23 "This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:        " 'The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you—may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up.' "

Notice that Cyrus’ decree is to build a temple for the LORD in Jerusalem, and it also allows any of the Israelites to return, but it is NOT “a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.”

 

Another candidate for the A event is the letter issued by Artexerxes to Ezra found in chapter 7 of the book of Ezra: 

 

11 This is a copy of the letter King Artaxerxes had given to Ezra the priest and teacher, a man learned in matters concerning the commands and decrees of the LORD for Israel:  12 [a] Artaxerxes, king of kings,
       To Ezra the priest, a teacher of the Law of the God of heaven:
       Greetings.

 13 Now I decree that any of the Israelites in my kingdom, including priests and Levites, who wish to go to Jerusalem with you, may go. 14 You are sent by the king and his seven advisers to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem with regard to the Law of your God, which is in your hand. 15 Moreover, you are to take with you the silver and gold that the king and his advisers have freely given to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem, 16 together with all the silver and gold you may obtain from the province of Babylon, as well as the freewill offerings of the people and priests for the temple of their God in Jerusalem. 17 With this money be sure to buy bulls, rams and male lambs, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings, and sacrifice them on the altar of the temple of your God in Jerusalem.   18 You and your brother Jews may then do whatever seems best with the rest of the silver and gold, in accordance with the will of your God. 19 Deliver to the God of Jerusalem all the articles entrusted to you for worship in the temple of your God. 20 And anything else needed for the temple of your God that you may have occasion to supply, you may provide from the royal treasury.  21 Now I, King Artaxerxes, order all the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates to provide with diligence whatever Ezra the priest, a teacher of the Law of the God of heaven, may ask of you- 22 up to a hundred talents [b] of silver, a hundred cors [c] of wheat, a hundred baths [d] of wine, a hundred baths [e] of olive oil, and salt without limit. 23 Whatever the God of heaven has prescribed, let it be done with diligence for the temple of the God of heaven. Why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and of his sons? 24 You are also to know that you have no authority to impose taxes, tribute or duty on any of the priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, temple servants or other workers at this house of God.  25 And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates—all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them. 26 Whoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished by death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment.  27 Praise be to the LORD, the God of our fathers, who has put it into the king's heart to bring honor to the house of the LORD in Jerusalem in this way 28 and who has extended his good favor to me before the king and his advisers and all the king's powerful officials. Because the hand of the LORD my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.”

Notice that as magnamimous and joyful a decree as this was, like the earlier decree it was focused totally on the Temple of the Lord, and not on the city of Jerusalem itself.  This was clearly NOT a decree to “to restore and rebuild Jerusalem  This decree was issued in the 7th year of Artaxerxes’ reign, which would put it in the year 457 BC.

 

What a great thing that we just spent such a great time studying the book of Nehemiah, for it is in that book that we find the event that Daniel is speaking of.  Turn with me please to Nehemiah chapter 2.   

 

1 In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before; 2 so the king asked me, "Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart."       I was very much afraid, 3 but I said to the king, "May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?"  4 The king said to me, "What is it you want?"       Then I prayed to the God of heaven, 5 and I answered the king, "If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it."  6 Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, "How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?" It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.  7 I also said to him, "If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? 8 And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king's forest, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?" And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests. 9 So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king's letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.

 

Unlike the other decrees, this one clearly and specifically calls for the rebuilding of the city walls and gates.  Because of the specific nature of the time specified by Nehemiah, we know that this event takes place in the twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes, which has been well established by secular historians as between the years of 465 BC to 425 BC.  Thus, the event occurred in the year 445 BC.  Now we know it was in the Hebrew calendar month Nisan, which begins at the first new moon after the vernal equinox.  By standard astronomical calculations, we know that the the month of Nisan on that year falls on our current calendar date of March 14.  So although we don’t know exactly what day A occurred, it was probably within a few days of March 14, 445 B.C.

 

Now we must turn our attention to B.  Exactly what time period is B talking about?  Daniel 9:  25"So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks.”  So there is a period of 69 weeks from the decree to the appearance of Messiah.  In Biblical parlance, a week is a group of seven periods of time.  Typically, a week refers to either seven days or seven years.  In prophecy, weeks are almost always years, and I’m not going to spend any time justifying this, just take it by faith:  Daniel is talking about periods of seven years.  So if you take 69 weeks of years, you get 483 years.

 

Now the next issue is, what is meant by a year?  Is it a solar year, i.e., 365.249 days, is it a year on the Hebrew calendar, which is usually 12 lunar months with a 13th month thrown in every few years in order to synch up with the solar year, or is it the so-called prophetic year, which consists of 360 days?  If we tie together Daniel’s prophecy about the second half of the Great Tribulation found in Daniel chapter 12 to the same time period spoken of in Revelation chapter 11, we find that Daniel’s 3 and a half years (time, times, and half a time) corresponds to John’s 42 months or 1, 260 days.  This equates to a month being 30 days and a year being 360 days.  This confirms that the years of which Daniel speaks are 483 years of 360 days each, or 173,880 days.

 

So if we start from A and advance a time B, what do we get?  If A is March 14, 445 B.C. (plus perhaps a few days) and B is 173,880 days, we get April 7, 32 A.D. (plus perhaps a few days).  Now, let’s see, did anything historically significant happen on or about that date?  If we use the times set in the gospels tied to the historical rulers of those days, along with the knowledge of the standard astronomical calculations and the regulations for determining the Passover, we discover that Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem occurred in April 9, 32 A.D.  So if we qualify the few days uncertainty from Nehemiah as being two, we see that the prophecy in Daniel nailed Palm Sunday on the schnozz.

 

Now, just as further confirmation of all this, and to disabuse you of the notion that this was all invented by a crazy English cop a little over a century ago, consider the following.  In addition to being a man of outstanding character, humility, and wisdom, Daniel was an expert in all of the knowledge of the Chaldeans, which meant that he was thoroughly familiar with all that was known about astronomy at the time, as well as what we would characterize today as astrology.  Now people might snigger at the thought, but Daniel was convinced that God could use signs in the heavens to make known his plans to the people of the earth.

 

Such was Daniel’s reputation among the Chaldeans, that more than five centuries after his death, the Chaldeans were looking for the fulfillment of the prophecy.  Backtracking from Daniel’s end event, they reasoned that Messiah the prince would have to be born and grow up before he could appear to fulfill the prophecy.  So at the appropriate time, they began to scan the heavens for a confirming sign, and when they saw it, they sent emissaries to bring gifts to the infant who would eventually fulfill the prophecy!  See

Matthew 2:   1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."  3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5"In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:
 6" 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
      are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
   for out of you will come a ruler
      who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"  7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."  9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

 

The Fulfillment

Let’s read what happened on April 9, 32 A.D.  Please turn with me to Luke chapter 19: 

 

 28After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30"Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' tell him, 'The Lord needs it.' "  32Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?"  34They replied, "The Lord needs it."  35They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.  37When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
 38"Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!"[b]
      "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"

 39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!"  40"I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."  41As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you."

The Fickleness of Man

So why didn’t the religious leaders of Jesus’ day accept him as the King?  There are a few possible explanations:

 

  1. They were unaware of Daniel’s prophecy.
  2. They were unaware of the literal nature of Daniel’s prophecy.
  3. They knew that Jesus was the Messiah, but couldn’t bear to humble themselves before Him.

 

Alternative one seems highly unlikely to me.  If the Chaldeans knew it, why wouldn’t the foremost biblical scholars of that day?  I also think that, as much maligned as the religious leaders of that day are in our minds, I do not think that they would be capable of the level of treachery involved in alternative number 3.  I could be wrong, but personally I give them that much credit.  That leaves alternative 2, which means they were interpreting the prophecy only in a figurative sense.  Now pay attention, because we often do the same with end time prophecies that are yet to be fulfilled.  As an illustration of this, look again at Matthew 2.  The religious leaders correctly answered that Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem.

 

SO WHY DIDN’T THEY GO THERE?!?!?!?

 

Because they thought they were tricking the Magi!  These guys were wise enough to know that the prophecy about Bethlehem was figurative, not literal.  It only symbolized that Messiah was a descendant of David, who was from Bethlehem.  It was obvious to them that Messiah would actually come from Jerusalem, not the hick town of Bethlehem.  Once again, pay attention.  Do we not often give more credence to the traditions of men than to God’s word?  If we don’t understand how God’s word could possibly be literally true in light of our own experience, don’t we often view it as only being symbolically true?

 

Now comes the really hard question.  Why did the adoring crowd that laid down their garments in front of the hoofs of a donkey in reverence to Jesus call for his execution only four days later?  There could be many reasons, including the fact that they were totally manipulated by the religious leaders, but I think the primary cause is something else.  They were expecting Jesus to overthrow the Romans and ascend to the throne as a conquering political Messiah.  When it was clear that was not His agenda, they turned viciously against Him.  Probably the final straw was when He said, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

The Faithfulness of God

Contrasted with the fickleness of man, we see a picture of a God who is so faithful that he predicts the future with perfect accuracy over 600 years before the event.  Paul sent a little poem to Timothy that’s worth remembering:

“For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him,

If we endure, we shall also reign with Him,

If we deny Him, He also will deny us,

If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”

Application

Besides being a fascinating and faith-bolstering study in exact fulfillment of prophecy, what can we learn from this story that will be relevant to our lives today?  There are several things that we observed in passing that lead to relevant applications.

 

First, notice that God gives insight to those who are devoted to him.  Remember how Gabriel came to Daniel when he was in his state of extreme weariness?  Why was Daniel weary?  He was weary from seeking God’s face.  How often do we seek God’s face with an urgency that drives us to extreme weariness?

 

Secondly, even though it was plain from scripture that Messiah was coming, those who should have been the most prepared for that coming were taken by such surprise that they presumed it could not have been true.  To their own undoing, they failed to acknowledge the coming of the King, and ultimately met their doom forty years later, because they trusted in the traditions of men over the word of God.  You may recall from last November that even after they crucified the Lord, he gave them forty years of extraordinary signs pointing to their coming disaster if they failed to repent.

 

Thirdly, even those who joyously welcomed the King on Palm Sunday turned against him by Thursday of the same week.  Four days after proclaiming Him as Messiah, they demanded his crucifixion.  Why?  Because he did not fulfill their expectations.  Some Christians have an idea of what events will occur leading up to the return of our King that are formed primarily based on best selling works of fiction rather than on the word of God.  Will they abandon their faith in the time of trial because things don’t play out in the way they expect them to?  We need to be serious students of God’s word in all things relating to his return.  Jesus warned us that a great deception is coming at the end that will deceive, if possible, even the elect.  If he thought it important enough to warn us, we ought to take heed.

Conclusion

As we go forth this week, let’s be thankful that the King came to earth nearly two thousand years ago and showed himself to be the King on that fateful Sunday.

 

Let’s devote ourselves to seeking his face as Daniel did.

 

Let’s become students of God’s word relating to his future coming, so that even though we can’t know the exact day or hour, we’re not surprised by the events that occur, as we face trouble with courage and faith.

 

Finally, let’s rid ourselves of all of our man-made expectations of Jesus’ return to the earth, and make a decision here and now that we will depend only on God’s word to prepare us for that momentous event.

 

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