As we come to the last chapter of Daniel, let me remind you as I have before, Daniel is a kind of survival manual for the suffering church, for God’s people living in an alien land, in a godless culture. It is a survival guide for when there are no immediate solutions, no approaching rescues. In the NT Revelation is that book, a survival manual for Christians and churches in times of suffering and persecution. Over and over we have seen the emphasis on how hard life will become in the future, but it will be limited, God is in control and in the end, God will triumph over evil. God’s people are encouraged to life with an eye to the future, on the promised joy set before us.
Do you feel full now that I have read that passage? You should, you just ate a Mark sandwich. It has two pieces of bread and a piece of meat. There’re nine of these sandwiches in Mark’s gospel. It’s one of his unique writing characteristics. Mark likes to use these sandwiches to highlight major themes and important doctrines. The theme of Serve this year is Authentic Community and the theme text is Mark 3:20-35. This morning we will focus on the bread, and on who Jesus’ authentic family is. Notice the setting of Mark 3:20-21 and Mark 3:31-35. Jesus is in a house surrounded by a crowd and Jesus’ family is on the outside looking in.
Our text is one of those that have divided the scholarly community for centuries. Who is it talking about? Is this an extension of the previous section about Antiochus IV or is this someone new? The previous text ended with: Daniel 11:35 and some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time. This appears to mark the end of a period of persecution, and end of this phase of history. Clearly by the time we get to Daniel 12:1 we know we are talking about the end of time and a resurrection. So the question becomes when in this text did the leap take place from Antiochus IV to the anti-Christ? The answer to this question in the minds of many Bible scholars lies in verse 11:36.
Some of you may have noticed I have skipped over faithfulness as we take up the fruit of the Spirit of gentleness this morning. When I read I Timothy 6 and how it combining man of God and gentleness it seemed like a good fruit to talk about on Father’s Day. Of course doing this has caused me a bigger challenge because gentleness is not often thought of as a masculine trait. Gentleness in men is often equated with being wimpy or weak. Gentleness and tenderness are associated more with women. These are false distinctions, hurdles we have to get over if we are going to understand how gentleness is a fruit of the spirit all of us are to cultivate. So let’s start with the character of gentleness.
Graduations are good time of life, a time when we celebrate our student’s good accomplishments and achievements and recognize their success. We can talk about what’s good in so many ways. Some students are good at sports or math. Some took certain classes because it was good for them. Some of them are going to good colleges hoping get a good job or find a good spouse and some are hoping just to have a good time. And then there is the good person with a good heart. So many ways we use good and goodness, what does it mean? The Fruit of the Holy Spirit is about cultivating Christian character out of which flows God glorifying conduct. We don’t want to just send out our students with good grades and accomplishments, we want them to be good people. So we are talking about being and doing. Goodness as a fruit of the spirit refers to an internal quality of Christian character, an excellent virtue of integrity and righteousness; and an external quality of conduct that expresses the internal quality. Externally goodness is good works of mercy, service, giving, helping, meeting a need. Good works can be expressed in actions (works), words, attitudes, and even thoughts (thinking well of someone). Anything that is pleasing to God. Goodness is doing the right thing. It may not always be the popular thing or politically correct thing. It may earn you no praise. It may take boldness and courage. But doing good is fundamentally doing the right thing. Good people do what is right no matter what the cost.
The first twenty verses of Chapter eleven cover 355 years of history from the end of Daniel’s life in Persia up to 175 BC. Last week we looked at verses 5-20 which included the reigns of five Ptolemy kings and seven Seleucid kings over 150 years. Remember the south is Egypt ruled by the Ptolemy’s and the north is Syria ruled by the Seleucid’s. So now we come to the central part of this great vision of history given to Daniel by the angel Gabriel. Verses 21-35 focus on the reign of only one Seleucid king, Antiochus IV. We were first introduced to him back in Chapter 8, in Daniel’s vision of the goat with the big horn that was broken and out came four horns and then out of one of them a little horn that grew exceedingly great, a king of great cunning and deceit. So we have fifteen more verses that cover only twelve years of history, 175 to 163 BC. Why does Antiochus IV get as much space in Scripture as the previous dozen or more rulers over 355 years? How does he rate, what is so important about him? Let’s walk through the details and see if we find the answer at the end.
Character of kindness. I generally make it a practice not to use Greek or Hebrew words in my sermons but there is a word in Hebrew that is so rich in meaning it’s hard to translate into English and so a variety of words are used to try to capture the depth of this one word. The Hebrew word is hesed. It’s the word in Micah 6:8, to do justice and love hesed and walk humbly with your God. It’s the word in Psalm 23, surely goodness and hesed shall follow me all the days of my life. In Psalm 136 it says 26 times the steadfast hesed of the Lord endures forever. Kindness, mercy, love, compassion. But it’s deeper. It’s covenant kindness, covenant love, the steadfast, unchangeable, unconditional loving kindness of God. God’s love and kindness and mercy and goodness blend together in the hesed of God. We are recipients of it even when life is hard, especially when life is hard.
School kids are notorious for asking their teachers why do we have to know this stuff? How is this going to help my life? What difference will it make? Sure, we need to know how to read and do basic math, and I suppose a little grammar might be handy, but history? Really? Who cares what happened hundreds or thousands of years ago? Daniel 11 certainly falls into that danger, just news of wars and more wars, people fighting and dying, nations rising and falling. How can this possibly be relevant and meaningful to our lives here and now? You might be amused but not surprised to hear one commentator on chapter 11 urges pastors to leave this for Sunday school or Bible class, but don’t try to preach on it. To quote him, “We do not see how it could be used for a sermon or for sermons” (Leupold).