Monday, December 09, 2013

Sermon: Daniel 11-12 Knowing God

Since the news broke of Nelson Mandela’s death on Thursday, it seems that everywhere you turn, there’s something about him (even this sermon!). The papers have been full of images from his life; the TV programmes show a variety of moments from his 95 years. Nearly a century covered in a minute or so.

In these closing chapters of Daniel, we get something the same. Daniel, by this time, must be in his late 80s or early 90s. He had been brought from Jerusalem as a young man; he’s been in Babylon for the 70 years of exile; and it’s now the 3rd year of King Cyrus. But rather than seeing the past; Daniel is given a vision of the future. It’s not a rewind; rather it’s four hundred years of future history in these chapters, in fast forward.

But rather than the ‘best bits’ (if you’ve been watching I’m a Celebrity), what he is shown are the worst bits. The people of God will return from exile; they’ll be back in Jerusalem. But Jerusalem sits in no-mans-land. All around, the big kingdoms come and go with politics and powerplays and persuasion. And war, and violence, and destruction. We began to read from verse 29, where a particularly violent king comes on the scene. Antiochus Epiphanes IV is enraged because he tried to attack Egypt, only to be stopped by the Roman army (Kittim) coming by boat.

Just like a child in a tamper who then smashes another toy, Antiochus turns his anger on Jerusalem. He brings the pig to be sacrificed on the altar of the temple. He attacks the city and kills many people. He sets himself up as greater than God. It’s the exact opposite of the Orange mobile phone slogan: ‘The future’s bright.’ Rather, it’s a terrible future.

So why does this make it into the Bible? These are Daniel’s retirement years; why is God troubling him with all this stuff? And what’s the point of reading it now, if it all happened in the years after Daniel lived all that time ago? After the great stories of the fiery furnace and the writing on the wall and the lions’ den, why does it end like this?

God is revealing the future through his prophet. But this isn’t just an episode of the Antique’s Roadshow; looking at old things that are interesting or downright weird which can sometimes be very valuable. As we zoom in and look at the detail, we discover that the pattern of events back then is repeated and even magnified now for us. Opposition to God and his people isn’t just a thing that happened way back then. Rather Anitochus is like a model of the opposition we’re warned about in the New Testament.

Keep a finger in your Bible at Daniel 11, and flick over to page 203 in the New Testament - 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Paul is writing to the church at Thessalonica about the end of the world and the day of the Lord. It’s not going to come before the last great enemy appears - ‘the lawless one’. Look at verse 4. ‘He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.’

Daniel was given a vision of opposition in the old testament, and the very same words are used of the antichrist in the new. Sometimes football players watch videos of other teams’ games. You might wonder why they would bother. But if they’re going to be playing against Liverpool next Saturday, they’ll want to know what Liverpool were doing last week. They want to beat the team. They’ll see how they attack, and then learn how to stand against them. That is what God is giving us here, in these closing chapters of Daniel. The enemy is always the same. There are no surprises. So how can we stand firm? How can we be sure of holding fast against antichrist?

Look at the end of verse 32. Here we find the heart of the battle plan. Here’s the difference between standing and falling. ‘He (that is, the enemy) shall seduce with intrigue those who violate the covenant; but the people who are loyal to their God shall stand firm and take action.’ Every other English translation says it slightly differently - ‘but the people who know their God...’

Do you notice the order of what it says? Knowing your God comes first. Knowing your God is the secret to standing firm and taking action. The advice isn’t to do something and then see if maybe God is somehow in it. No, first, know your God, be confident in his character, goodness, power, will, and then you will be able to stand and take action.

It’s what we’ve seen the whole way through Daniel. Daniel and his 3 mates weren’t the only Judeans who came to Babylon, but they were the only ones who knew their God and decided not to defile themselves from the king’s table. Daniel knew his God, who reveals mysteries when all the wise men were facing the chop. The three friends were confident that their God could save from the fiery furnace. Daniel could read the writing and declare judgement to Belshazzar because he knew his God. He kept praying when it was illegal and went into the lions’ den because he knew his God.

From first to last, the whole Bible is an invitation to know God, to get to know him better. It’s what we saw in Bible study the other night at the end of 2 Peter: ‘Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ As we read his word, talk to him in prayer, spend time with him, so we get to know him better. Daniel’s book was written down so that we would know God better. You see, God is the hero of the story.

He is the one who rescues his people. The one who rules over history. The one who sets up kings and removes kings. The one who can’t be surprised or caught napping. And because we have the New Testament, we know that this God stepped into time in order to demonstrate his love as he was born in Bethlehem and died on the cross and rose again to give us new life.

There’s a hint of that in the last chapter: ‘Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.’ (12:2-3)

Even the attacks of the enemy are not the end. God rules, and will raise his people to everlasting life. This is the God we are invited to know; this is the God we are invited to trust. Do you know this God today? I don’t mean do you know something about him - it isn’t an exam we’re studying for. Rather, do you know him?

What a difference that would make to the struggles you face this week. Knowing God will help us stand firm and take action. The Christmas season is a great time to invite someone to come along to a carol service - why not think this week of someone to ask? Maybe there’s a situation in work - knowing God will make a difference; knowing he is with you; giving you power. You might be dreading spending time with far-out relatives over Christmas - knowing God and his priorities will help with your attitude towards them, and who knows, the whole situation could be changed. It may be that you know about God, but you don’t know him. Today, take some time and say to God: I want to know you. He will answer the prayer. I’d be delighted to introduce you.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 8th December 2013.

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