Friday, November 08, 2013

Sermon: Daniel 7: 1-28 Scary Beasts and the Son of Man

If I asked you to shout out what you knew about Daniel, you’d probably mention the lions’ den; the fiery furnace; and maybe the writing on the wall. The Sunday School stories of Daniel are always popular - we had great fun thinking about the lion’s den last week. Sometimes people only stay in the first half, but even though the second half of the book is less familiar, it’s still scripture - God is still speaking to us through it.

Now as you might have noticed, we’re coming up to a scary time of the year, with Halloween this week. Stories of ghosts and ghouls; costume parties; trick or treating; and all the rest. There are always some imaginative costumes, but none could match the scary sights Daniel saw in his nightmare: ‘I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.’ (2-3)

These aren’t things you’ll see at the zoo. They’ll not be in a David Attenborough wildlife series. A lion with eagles’ wings, standing up like a man; a bear with tusks and teeth; a leopard with four wings and four heads; and then the fourth beast - not even described - ‘terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong’ with iron teeth and lots of horns. It’s a frightening vision. Each ready to destroy; one following the other.

At that very moment, Daniel sees thrones being set in place. The Ancient of Days takes his throne - this one who has white clothing and white hair - like snow and wool. His throne is fire, and around him stand ten thousand times ten thousand serving him. The court is in session. The judge is in his seat. The books are open.

It’s as if Daniel’s attention is brought back to the beasts. The little horn on the last beast is speaking arrogant words. Despite being a little part of a beast, it makes boastful claims. It’s as if it doesn’t care that the court is in session. Every week the local papers carry reports of court cases. Anyone who disrespects the judge is found in contempt of court. The sentence here is worse. The beast is killed.

From the beasts back to the throne. Coming with the clouds comes one like a Son of Man - a human being, a man, in the midst of all these strange visions. From the Ancient of Days he receives ‘dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him.’ These are words that we’ve heard time and time again now in Daniel. In almost every chapter, we’ve heard the same chorus: ‘His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.’ (see 2:47, 3:29, 4:34, 6:26). They were spoken of the Most High God - but here, it’s the Son of Man who they’re spoken of.

It’s all too much for Daniel. He just can’t understand what he’s seeing. You might be feeling like that yourself. What does it all mean? All these weird beasts and thrones and characters? So Daniel asks one of the attendants, one of these ten thousand times ten thousand for some help.

The interpretation is found in verse 17 on. The four beasts are four kings (or kingdoms). You know the way sometimes in cartoons the United States will be portrayed as an eagle? Or an even better example - think of the way the rugby nations are known by their animal - the Kiwis (NZ); the Wallabies (Australia); the British and Irish Lions...

These beasts are kingdoms, starting from Daniel’s time forward - the Babylonians; the Medes and Persians; the Greeks; the Roman Empire. They may reign for a time, but ‘the hoy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever - for ever and ever.’ (18) They have come and gone, but for those who belong to the Most High, their kingdom will go on for ever. As if that isn’t enough it’s ‘for ever - for ever and ever.’ (You know the way sometimes children can make promises talking about infinity squared or forever and a day...)

This is all history for us - these kingdoms have come and gone. I remember stopping at Hadrian’s Wall on a school trip years ago - it had been built by the Romans. But for Daniel it was all future. He’s struggling to understand what will come. He’s particularly perplexed about the fourth beast - why it’s so frightening.

It’s as if he gives us another camera angle. The movie zooms in, on slow motion, as he sees the reason why the beasts are so scary. You see there in verse 21? These aren’t petting zoo crazy creatures. They aren’t even like the Flanimals invented by Ricky Gervais. They are dangerous, making war against the holy ones. Even worse, the horn was prevailing over them. The people of God were almost defeated, until the Ancient of Days came and judgement was given in their favour, and they were given the kingdom.

This is why the two halves of Daniel sit together. The very reason why Daniel and his friends found themselves in fiery furnaces and lions’ dens was because they were God’s people. These rival kingdoms wanted loyalty, but their loyalty was to God alone.

As we come to baptise Lexie today, we’re praying that she will grow up to love and serve the Lord. It isn’t always easy to follow the Lord Jesus - the world will be against her, just as the world is against each of us who take a stand for Jesus. The beastly kingdoms can seem scary; their power is real; their might is strong. They may even prevail against us for a time.

But the court is in session. The Ancient of Days is in control. Every word and deed and thought is recorded in the books. The Son of Man has come to earth - a human like us, yet also the Son of God - who has conquered by his cross. He has taken his seat at God’s right hand. Jesus has received this everlasting kingdom. He used this very chapter when he was on trial before the Sanhedrin. They asked was he the Christ, the Son of God. He replies: ‘From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ (Matt 26:64)

Daniel is given a glimpse of the future. These kingdoms come and go. The Babylonians, Medes and Persians, Greeks, Romans, all just ancient history. The Holy Roman Empire; the British Empire; the American dominance - all have come and will go the same way.

There is one king who will endure. One kingdom which will never end. In it, the subjects reign with the king. To name Jesus as king is to be on the right side of history. To recognise his right to rule, and gladly submit - this is perfect freedom.

The world can be a scary place. These beasts made Daniel fear. But to appear before the court without being reconciled to the judge - well, that’s much worse. Come, today, and submit. Bow before the king of kings. Surrender to him.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 27th October 2013

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