Sunday 18th November 2018
Daniel 12.1-3 and Mark 13.1-8
May I speak in the Name of the Father and The Son and The Holy Spirit, Amen.
I love the book of Daniel, almost 2 books in one. The first 6 chapters are the well known accounts of exile, fiery furnaces and lions and God’s deliverance. But the second part contains Daniel’s visions and encounters with Angels and has put his writings alongside The Book of Revelation, calling Daniel an apocalyptic prophet; that is showing us what God has revealed about what we call the “End Times”.
Jesus too tells His closest friends what to expect in the future and not to be awestruck by the temporary grandeur of earthly kingdoms as they are subject to destruction. Jesus is more concerned that we are aware of the power of false teaching and others claiming to be from God, and how this lust for divine power and control will put nation against nation and even creation into turmoil.
I don’t usually tell jokes, because I’m hopeless and forget the punch lines but this one really tickled me and seems to fit these readings so well.
A German Shepherd, Doberman and Cat have died. All 3 are faced with God who wants to know what they believe in. The German Shepherd says, “I believe in discipline, training and loyalty to my master.” “Good” says God, “then sit down on my right side.”
“Doberman, what do you believe in,” asks God. The Doberman answers, “I believe in the love, care and protection of my master”. “Aaah,” says God, “you may sit at my left.”
Then He looks at the cat and asks, ”and what do you believe in?”
The Cat yawns, washes his leg and answers calmly, “I believe you are sitting in MY seat!”
Knowing and loving God’s perfect creation of a cat, I can really see this happening and it makes us laugh because of the audacity of this little animal. But reading Daniel and walking with Jesus, it is not only cats who think they can usurp the Power and Sovereignty of God and sit in His place.
Trying to understand the revelations given to the prophets about the end times can sometimes become all consuming for some Christians, who will spend years dating and timing things which the prophets and Jesus have talked about and “reading” world events to determine the date of Jesus’ return. Can you remember the people with the placards declaring the “end of the world is nigh,” especially when the world seems to be threatened by one nation’s ruler or another. I remember the Kennedy/Khrushchev missile crisis of 1962 and thinking the world might end then. And we have had so many named as the Anti Christ, including the poor Pope! But Jesus tells us to be watchful, alert, understand the times and be wise. And Daniel says it is the wise ones who will shine before God. Those who bring many into God’s Kingdom.
So what can we learn from these difficult visions and uncomfortable words of Jesus. Well it shows us that our God is in full control of His world. Even evil men unwittingly work out God’s providential desires. Events predicted in Daniel were exactly fulfilled in history from when Daniel wrote in 5-600 years BC to 200 years BC. He described the rise of Alexander the Great and division of his kingdom into 4 weaker kingdoms and he accurately told of the rise and fall of Antiochus Epiphanes, “God Manifest” one of the most evil, murderous and cruel persecutors of Israel. His story is truly chilling and yet he had his time and then no more. He was the original Anti Christ. Prophesy must always be seen first, as it was given to the people to whom God was speaking.
Daniel wrote during times of exile in Babylon, difficult times for his people, times when they must have felt abandoned and that evil was winning the day, many turned away from God because it was easier. Like Jesus predicts for His church, and warned his disciples, many will be led astray by false and possibly more comfortable messages, they will follow people puffed up with pride and the love of power who think they should have God’s place in the world. A little like the cat! And looking back through ancient and modern history, we can see this in every generation and nation. The pharaohs, Inca Lords, Roman Emperors, Persian and Greek kings and even today, where world rulers feel they are above International and moral Law and can kill and torture their own people without being called to account. How they need our prayers!
Many may well wonder, where is God in all this? Is He all powerful or can His throne be usurped, even by a plucky cat, worshiped once as a god in ancient Egypt.
Daniel’s vision is given by an angel who was sent by God as soon as Daniel began to fast and repent in prayer on behalf of his people, but the angel was delayed by the Princely Powers over Persia and Michael, the great Archangel was sent to help and defeat the enemy. He is a great spiritual warrior and guardian over Israel. But even saying this sounds like, whoa! Great Archangel Warriors, angelic battles, spiritual Princes and rulers, goodness, it all sounds like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter! But this is where we must stand back and realise, our God is Lord, King and Ruler over so much more than we see or understand. His kingdom isn’t restricted to this world which we share. In his writings, “one like a son of man” is what Daniel calls those righteous and wise people who do not turn from God but have fellowship with Him on earth and in heaven. The Gospels take this thought further with the arrival of Jesus, Only Jesus has moved comfortably in both heavenly and earthly Kingdoms, the Son of Man, as Mark calls Him; Only Jesus can reconcile these two kingdoms, allowing movement from one to the other, and a close relationship to God as Father, as Daniel describes in his beautiful reference to resurrection. To the wise shining like the brightness of the heavens and to others rising to shame and eternal contempt. Resurrection is an eternal gift but can be seen as different for the righteous and the evil.
The battles in heaven are acted out here on earth with Satan battling to destroy God’s people, firstly the Jews and now the Church and with Michael standing for Israel, we have the Holy Spirit standing with us. He provides our Spiritual armour. Satan wishes to destroy those chosen by God to bring His message to His world. We have seen it all through history, war after war, persecution and hatred and power thirsty rulers seeking to own the whole world, even in children’s cartoons! Satan offers to men what he offered to Jesus in the wilderness, all the kingdoms of the world and their wealth and glory and some greedily accept at any cost. It has been an almost never ending story. In Daniel’s vision, men take responsibility to rule but whether they conform to God’s expectations or not, He remains in control.
Jesus wants us to know what lies ahead of us, not to be frightened or dismayed or lose hope, but like Daniel’s generation, and many since, to see a faithful God, who is in total control. Faithful to the end and never forgetting His people. All things are in His hands and because of the writings of Daniel and other great men of faith, we can live with dignity and strength because we have such wonderful writings which show us something of our God. Prophets often wrote in times of persecution, exile and war, Jesus lived during the Roman occupation of His Land, a time of cruelty and oppression, and we live in a world that seems to be spiralling out of control with the constant threat of nations with crazy leaders putting money and trade before justice and truth and creation itself seeming out of balance and unstable. But, we have examples of God’s faithfulness today. Think again of Asia Bibi, one of thousands of faithful people in adversity. 9 years on death row, the persecution of Christians in Pakistan shameful and blatant before the world and yet, God heard the prayers of His people and vindicated His faithful servant. She sat alone in a hopeless prison and waits still, even in freedom, her life under threat. Daniel entered the Lion’s Den, not knowing the outcome, his three friends were thrown into the fiery furnace, not knowing God would save them. But they remained true and would not deny their God, even facing what they believed was certain death. And these readings today teach us that God is King and His Kingdom is eternal and indestructible, even given all the boasts of seemingly powerful men. Like the little cat they stand foolishly proud before a mighty God. We don’t need to search for every sign to know when Jesus will return. Most of these events come to almost every generation, earthquakes, wars, famine, there has never been a time when the world has been free of these things. Avid prophecy interpreters can cross events off and see the End Times drawing closer and I love the amazing books like Left Behind about the end times following the Rapture of the Church. But these things can sometimes occupy our thoughts and take us away from what Jesus has asked of us. We don’t need to know when He is coming back, only that we are ready when He does! God promises deliverance and He is faithful to His promise.
Our Lord wants us to be ready and to live each day for Him, not as if it were our last, but because it is gift of a new day to share with Him and His people and His hungry world. Bringing His kingdom into the here and now, with God on the throne, no usurpers, furry or otherwise.