November 15, 2020
Like most every family, my family growing up would listen to music on a regular basis, whether at home or in the car. And growing up, when I was a little kid, I had this obnoxious habit of finding a song I liked and playing it on repeat, over and over and over again, like 10, 20, 30 times over. And that of course, for everyone else listening, quickly gets old, especially if it’s song they don’t love. And so my mom came up with a solution to this problem, where rather than telling me stop playing the same song over and over again, she convinced me that if I played any one song too many times in a row, the whole CD would eventually break and then we wouldn’t be able to listen to my favorite song anymore. And I believed her – after all, I didn’t want to risk not being able to listen my favorite song. And it wasn’t until I was much, much older that I realized that she was lying – that that was simply her sneaky little way of getting me to mix in a different song or two. And looking back, now as a parent myself, I’ve got to hand it to her – that’s a pretty great parent jedi mind trick if you ask me. And I’m happy to forgive her at this point since these days I’m able to listen to whatever song I want as much as I want, though maybe to Callie’s great frustration.
This fall, since mid-September or so, we’ve been studying the Old Testament Book of Daniel and today will be our final sermon in this series, which on one hand might feel a little abrupt since there are 12 chapters in Daniel and as of this morning, we are only on chapter 7. And yet, the reason for doing so, is that, even though there are more chapters to go, they in many ways repeatedly circle back to the same theme, and given that, you all, like my mom, are probably ready to hear a new song, if you will. And in addition, Advent is right around the corner, and in a challenging and unpredictable year, I think we’ll be best served by giving the traditions and biblical themes of Advent their rightful due.
Now, as for Daniel chapter 7 and the rest of the book, we continue to see one dominant theme that continues to rise above, one song that continues to play almost on repeat, and in many ways, it’s a theme that we’ve seen in Daniel before.
It’s this theme of the eternal, unbreakable nature of God’s Kingdom. This repeated theme that no matter how dark things get, no matter how bad things look, that God is ultimately in charge, that God fulfills all his promises and that in the end, God wins. That no matter how hopeless or bleak things may look, God ultimately triumphs and saves and protects His people.
Once again in this chapter we hear a refrain that we’ve heard before:
His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.
That’s the enduring theme of Daniel chapters 7 through 12. And here in this second half of the book, the book makes a pretty dramatic shift and takes on a much different tone when compared to chapters 1 through 6. Where up until this point, the book has for the most part functioned as a history book, as it retold stories of Daniel and his three friends living in exile in Babylon. But here in the second half of the book, we move away from learning about the past and to instead learning about the future as here we switch literary genres, away from history, to what is known as apocalypse, a genre that is for the most part, found only here and in the book of Revelation. And apocalyptic literature is filled with visions and dreams that paint a picture of the future, where through dramatic and vivid imagery and strange symbols, they give us a glimpse of future events, particularly the end times – addressing questions like “When is Jesus coming back and what can we say exactly about what that’s going to look like?” That’s apocalyptic literature. And if by chance you thought first six chapters of Daniel were bizarre, 7 through 12 are even more so, and my guess is you probably felt some of that bizarre-ness as Alan was reading the scripture just moments ago.
Now as for our scripture passage today, we yet again hear about another dream, although this time the tables have turned, whereas in all the previous dreams, someone else received the dream and Daniel interpreted it for them, yet this time Daniel is the one who receives the dream and this time he needs help making sense of it.
So with that said, let’s get to the dream itself. As has been the case in previous weeks, these chapters are so long that we’re only reading half of it out loud, so let me briefly set the stage by recapping the first section of chapter 7 until we get to v.9, where our passage begins.
Daniel’s dream begins with four great beasts, who appear one right after another, and each of them is more terrifying than the one before it. First there’s a lion with eagle’s wings, followed by a ravenous bear, followed by a four headed flying leopard, followed by a beast so terrifying that there’s not even an animal that we can remotely compare it to. Friends, I warned you that it was going to get bizarre. And these four beasts, it’s believed that they represent four evil and oppressive kingdoms during Israel’s history, that is, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome respectively.
And it’s with that backdrop that we pick things up in verse 9, where we find ourselves, in of all things, in what is effectively a courtroom.
For it says,
9 As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
Here we see the Ancient of Days, which is a reference to God himself, the one who truly is ancient, who has existed for all time, taking his seat on his throne. It’s as if he’s walked into a courtroom, taking his seat in the judge’s chair.
With his clothing white as snow, he is the image and embodiment of absolute purity.
With his hair like pure wool, turning white with age, he is the image and embodiment of perfect wisdom.
With his throne of fiery flames, he is the image of embodiment of unbelievable power.
And here we see God, the Ancient of Days, pure, wise and powerful, sitting on his throne on high, ready to judge.
Verse 10 says, “The court was seated, and the books were opened.”
Together, it all points to a day in the future, where God will one day judge the living and the dead. Where he will one day he will come to judge, where he’ll fully defeat and overthrow all that is evil once and for all.
And believe it or not, there’s good news in judgment. There really is. Now, yes, there’s bad news too, and we’ll get to that, but yet there’s good news too. And so here’s where we’re headed for the rest of this sermon.
I want us to see the good news about judgment, secondly the bad news about judgment and third and finally, the good news yet again about judgment. Good news, bad news and good news again.
First, how in the world could you and I possibly find good news through God’s judgment? It is admittedly a part of God’s character and work that we likely don’t like to think about, but yet, there really is good news in judgment.
Immediately after this courtroom scene is set, we’re told that “ (one of) the beasts was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire …
Consider what Daniel is experiencing as he receives this dream. He and his fellow Israelites are captured prisoners of war living under the evil and oppressive regime of Babylon. His friends have been thrown in a fiery furnace, he himself has been thrown in a den of lions. And here’s he’s getting a glimpse of how God will one day judge them and how their evil won’t be rewarded, but rather punished.
Consider the good news in that. I think in our heart of hearts we want to live in a world where evil is rightly dealt with. Where justice is served. After all, think about how disheartening and deflating it would be if God looked on the evil in this world and the suffering of his people and thought nothing of it. If he simply turned a blind eye to evil and suffering, I think to some extent we would question if God was truly good. Because for God to truly be loving, he must hate what is evil and deal with it rightly.
Even more, here’s a second way in which God’s judgment is good news. While this may sound incredibly counterintuitive, it’s actually through a confident belief in God’s judgment that leads to peace in our world today. That’s right, God’s judgment actually brings peace.
Author and theologian Miroslav Volf explores this idea in a book of his. He himself lived through the wars in Yugoslavia, a period of unspeakable evil, where 250,000 people died, more than 2 million displaced. And reflecting on this incredibly tragedy he writes this. He says, ‘The practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance.’
And at first hearing, that probably sounds so incredibly backwards. I think our initial intuition would be to say that God’s judgment or divine vengeance (as Volf puts it) would only lead to more violence.
But yet, here’s what he’s getting at. And that is, if we believe we live in a world where there is no ultimate justice, where there is no ultimate right or wrong, where evil will not be dealt with, where there is no God who will judge, then our human tendency is to take things into our hands, seek our own revenge. We think to ourselves, “They need to pay for what they’ve done, and I must be the one to make they pay.” Which only leads to more violence, more revenge, more damage, and more evil.
But yet, when people believe and trust in God’s judgment it reminds us that God is judge and that we are not. And that we can rest, trusting that God will judge justly and that we can trust him to make all things right in the end.
Now, that’s not to say that if we see evil or suffering that we ourselves should turn a blind eye or that we in some cruel way revel and find joy in knowing that God will judge all the wrongdoing and evil this world has ever seen. No, no. After all, as I warned earlier, there’s bad news in this too that ought to keep us humble and we’ll get to that in a minute. And as far as possible we should point people to radical and forgiving love of Jesus. Rather, the point is that when rightly understood, God’s judgment brings peace. That’s the good news.
Now, here’s the bad news. We too, on our own, left to our own devices are deserving of God’s judgment.
While the four beasts are rightly understood as four earthly kingdoms from long ago, it would be too naïve and too simplistic for us to look at Daniel’s dream and to quickly and neatly label all of those people as the bad guys and all of us as the good guys. Because truth is, as we addressed earlier, this is a vision and foreshadowing of what’s to come - that all of us will some day stand before God on the day of judgment and will give an account for the lives we’ve lived.
Even more, I think it’s important to remember that these kingdoms that these beasts signify are made out of people – these aren’t simply abstract kingdoms, they’re made up of real people who live in rebellion and in opposition to God.
About a hundred years ago, a newspaper in London asked a number of the prominent authors and sharpest minds at the time to answer the prompt, “What’s wrong with the world today?” They wanted to help their readers make sense of why things were they way they were – why was there so much evil and brokenness and suffering in the world? Truth is, it’s a timely question for our world in 2020 as well – “what’s wrong with the world today?” Well, a bunch of people wrote back, with long winded, nuanced, academic responses, but one response, from pastor G.K. Chesterton was short and to the point.
In response to the question “What’s wrong with the world today?” Chesterton wrote,
Dear Sir, I am. Yours, G.K. Chesterton
Do you see what Chesterton is saying there? He’s saying, if you want to understand what’s wrong with the world, the problem isn’t simply out there, it’s also in here. It’s not simply the product of culture and society, it’s even more so rooted in the sinfulness and selfishness of the human heart.
In the end, Chesterton’s response must be our response too. What’s wrong with the world today? I am.
And so when it really comes down to it, the question becomes, “How is it that God can get rid of the sin in this world without getting rid of you and me? How is it that God can deal with the evil of this world without getting rid of you and me?
Well, I’ve got good news. Friends, are you ready for some good news? I know I am. I know this has been a hard sermon and you’re probably thinking thank goodness this is our last sermon on Daniel. Good news is though, we’re about to end on a very high note.
Well, here’s the next scene in we see in Daniel’s dream:
There before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.
Out of nowhere we are introduced to this mysterious figure – one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. So, who is this strange person and what does he have to do with any of this anyway?
Well, you might be seeing where this is headed and who this might be referring to. Fast forward a little bit and turn a few pages in your bible and we’re introduced to Jesus of Nazareth.
And throughout his earthly life he’s given all sorts of names and titles. To the disciples and his closest friends and followers, he was the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises and prophesies. He was known as Master, Teacher, Physician, Redeemer. He is the Light of the World, the Good Shepherd, Son of David, Lamb of God. And that’s only about half of them. And yet, there was one name that he referred to himself more than any other title, and that is, the Son of Man. That’s right, the Son of Man.
Did you ever notice that? Jesus so often referred to himself as the Son of Man. Which at first glance seems like such a vague, unremarkable title. After all, half of the human race is technically the son of a man. What’s so special about that and why did Jesus call himself that?
And where did that title come from?
Well, you’re looking right at it. It’s a call back to Daniel chapter 7.
There before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.
Friends, you and I can face God’s judgment because long ago, the Son of Man came in on the clouds of heaven. You see, the shock and awe of the gospel, going to back to the courtroom language here, is that, God takes on two roles, where he’s not only the judge sitting on the throne, he’s also one the accused and declared guilty, taking the punishment for our sins and standing in our place, so that we could stand pure and innocent before God.
That alone is good news, but yet there’s more.
We’re told that this Son of Man who came in on the clouds of heaven then, approached the Ancient of Daysand was led into his presence.
What is this a glimpse of? Well, it’s a glimpse of Jesus ascending into heaven, where after rising from the grave, he was lifted up on a cloud into heaven, where he now, like right now, at this very moment, is seated next to our Father in Heaven, where Jesus this Son of Man is ruling and reigning from on high. To him, as it says in Daniel, was given authority, glory and power and it says,
His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.
And even more, he will one day come again, where every wrong will be made right, all evil will be eradicated, where everything that is broken will be fixed. A day when every sickness will be cured, every sorrow comforted, every pain healed, every injustice made right.
You all, it would be a great understatement to say this year has been tough. You may feel tempted to shrug that off, but it’s okay to say it, 2020 has been hard, and you’re probably tired of me naming all the reasons. All that said, the reason I picked this book isn’t because I share a name with the book’s main character (after all, isn’t it always super weird to say your name out loud as if you’re talking in third person? It’s just weird). Anyway, the reason that I picked this book is I wanted us to reflect back on our past, to find a story of our brothers and sisters in Christ from long ago who we’re faithful in tumultuous times, who were courageous despite hardship, who were filled with hope even when the world brought its worst.
That no matter how dark things got, no matter how bad things look, that God is ultimately in charge, that God fulfills all his promises and that in the end, God wins, where ultimately God triumphs and saves and protects His people. Through Daniel we are reminded of a hope, that though the world seems oft so strong, God is ruler yet. And this hope ought to move us and compel us towards greater and greater faithfulness.
And so, if you’re ever in need of hope over these next few weeks, maybe just maybe go back to this old, yet timely book.