Merry Christmas and let’s talk about three guys being thrown into a fiery furnace. What does this story told 500 years from the birth of Jesus have to do with Christmas? Who spiked the pastor’s eggnog? This advent we have been talking about theophanies, events in the OT where heaven and earth meet, where the divine encounters the human. Theophanies are unique, visible appearances of God, when something completely out of the ordinary happens and we get a glimpse of the nature and character of God. There is an irony in this theophany. The theophanies of God in the OT often involve fire, the pillar of fire, lightning, fire coming down to consume sacrifices, the burning bush, etc. God is the author of those fires. But in this story a pagan king sets a fire, and God comes into that fire and renders it harmless. Let’s get the background of the story in mind so we can understand its meaning and relevance.
Winston Churchill once said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.” Mark Twain said, “Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” Google has changed their motto from “Don’t be evil” to “Do the right thing” Last Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. day. He said a lot of good things in his day. “Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But, conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.” This morning I want to talk with you about doing the right thing when it is neither safe, nor politically correct, nor popular, even when it’s hard, even when it costs. Because the immediate context of my sermon is the issue of abortion, I want to make it very clear that though I want to speak against abortion in the clearest of terms, I want to speak to those who have had an abortion in the most compassionate of terms. If you have committed this sin or helped or forced someone else to commit this sin, and you have been convicted of it by the Holy Spirit, know that the blood of Jesus is sufficient to completely cover and cleanse your sin, if you will truly repent and turn in faith to Him. And if you have done that and still feel guilt and shame, if you have done that and Satan tries to condemn you as a murderer, know that’s not Jesus talking, it’s Satan. Tell him, “Yes, I am a murderer but I stand in good company, with Moses and King David and the Apostle Paul, and one day I will stand with them before the throne of my Lord and Savior who loves me and died for me. In the name of Jesus I am set free.” Remind Satan of that every time he tries to remind you of this or any other sin. We are all sinners here, and I hold out the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not saved by being good, but by the grace of God in Christ Jesus. So we can talk honestly about sin and shame and guilt and know that we are not under judgment and condemnation if we are in Christ. Don’t stay outside in the judgment of God. Come inside to the family of God, the family created by repentance and faith. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
It is my custom on the first Sunday of each new year to challenge and encourage us to devote ourselves to Scripture and prayer. In this text, we find ourselves privy to one of Daniel’s quiet times, one of his moments of personal devotion, when three times a day he would kneel and face Jerusalem. God gives us a glimpse of what it looks like when a Christian is reading Scripture and offering personal heartfelt prayer. We are privileged to have written down for us one of the truly extraordinary prayers of all time, inspired by the Holy Spirit and preserved for our blessing and benefit. This is a prayer worthy of reading and re-reading and meditating on and praying ourselves. We start by asking what prompted Daniel to pray this prayer in the first place?
Summary of the book of Daniel. The Bible is a story. Not a collection of stories, not an anthology of religious experiences, not a random assortment of things people did for God in the past. The Bible is one story, the story of God’s redemptive purposes for humanity from Genesis to Revelation. God is the central character. God created man in His image. Man sinned and fell and broke that image in his rebellion against God. The rest of the Bible is about how God set out to rescue and redeem fallen mankind and defeat sin and Satan and restore His image and His creation. The Bible is God’s tool to transform us and conform us to the image and likeness of Jesus. The part of God’s story told by Daniel began with a story of a great defeat, the defeat of the people of God and by implication, the defeat of their God. Nebuchadnezzar was able to carry off the holy items from the temple of God without interference, showing the gods of Babylon were superior to the God of Israel. Is this true? The rest of the book of Daniel is the answer. At every step and turn God demonstrates His superior power and wisdom. Nebuchadnezzar is impotent before the God of Israel and would soon be destroyed, and every kingdom after that until the kingdom of one like a Son of Man comes to establish His eternal kingdom. Revelation 11:15 The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. Daniel is an amazing and remarkable and unique book. It reveals in ways unlike any other God’s plans for the world and for His people. The first six chapters are written about Daniel in the third person. They are historical events the happen in the lives of Daniel and his friends. They give numerous accounts of how God’s sovereignty and providence are personal, they reach down to individuals. In these stories we see their fierce loyalty to God and God’s faithfulness to them. The last six chapters are written in the first persons as Daniel describes a series of visions he receives concerning Israel and the surrounding nations. The details of the prophecies are so accurate that liberal scholars cannot bring themselves to believe Daniel wrote the book in 500 BC, that it was written by someone else around 150 BC, after all the events prophesied. In this last half of the book we see God’s sovereignty and providence extends not just to individuals, but to rulers and nations and armies. Who is the hero in Daniel? Who answers prayers and delivers from evil? Who saves from fire and rescues from lions? Who interprets dreams and handwriting on the wall? God is the hero, the savior and deliverer.
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.
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.
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.
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).
A great cosmic conflict. We think of history as being long and linear, one thing happening after another, but history is also high and deep, much more than we can imagine. What you were taught in history class was not all there was to history, and may not even be what was most important about history. Human history is intertwined with spiritual history. I dare say the fiercest and most intense battles ever waged on earth are nothing compared to cosmic battles waged on the other side of the curtain that hides from view the unseen spiritual realm. In chapter 11 a great conflict on earth is going to be revealed and outlined in some detail. But before we get to that conflict it is revealed to Daniel that there is another conflict, a greater conflict, an unseen war of Satan’s resistance and rebellion. For the past 21 days an unseen battle has been wage against Satan’s war with Persia and God’s people. Daniel knew God’s people were under attack from human enemies, but he couldn’t see the spiritual enemies. Daniel was praying for three weeks with no knowledge that His prayers were even being heard, let alone answered. As Daniel was praying, God was fighting. I am reminded of another great man of prayer. During the time of the sixteenth-century Scottish Reformation, John Knox’s ministry of preaching and prayer were so well known that the Roman Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, is reputed to have said, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe.” What an encouragement to pray. Satan is a great enemy. He is called a roaring lion looking to devour (I Peter 5). He is called a thief who comes to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10). He is the prince of the power of the air. Yet he is vulnerable to the prayers of the saints. We hear the news every day and the world seems unsettled to us, things are stirring. Nations are rising up against nations. North Korea is rattling the sabre, China is posturing, Turkey is shifting policy, Russia is being unpredictable. But there are other forces, greater forces more menacing thatare also moving and stirring. But we are not to fear. The prayers of one 70 something old man in a foreign land make a difference. Notice how much is made of his weakness and frailty and powerlessness. He is completely dependent on God. Let everyone here who things they are too old or too weak or not gifted enough to be of any use in the church or in God’s great worldwide plans pay attention. If you can pray, you are of great strategic importance to the advancing of God’s kingdom against the opposition of Satan. I believe that God’s best work is done through a great army of 60, 70, 80 and 90 year olds. He takes away our physical strength so we will stop doing and start praying. We have direct access into the command center of the universe, and to the commander and chief Himself. Don’t underestimate your power and authority. Unknown to Daniel his prayers were having cosmic influence. Angels were on the move, armies of angels were being mobilized, assignments are given, orders are drawn up, God was moving and acting. Prayer sets in motion forces in heaven against the forces of hell. God has placed in earthen vessels power and strength so that none may boast, except to give the credit and glory to God.
Introduction and Summary of Daniel 10:1-3. After a month break we return to chapter 10, the last major section of the book of Daniel. Chapters 10-12 are the final vision of Daniel. Chapter 10 is one long introduction to the vision that comes in chapter 11 and concludes in chapter 12. The setting for Daniel’s last vision, vss. 1-3 Verse one gives the context for all that follows to the end of Daniel. This final vision takes place in the third year of Cyrus king of Persia who defeated and overthrew Babylon around 539 BC. In my last sermon I focused on the power of prayer and fasting and that our God is a prayer hearing and prayer answering God. As soon as Daniel started praying God started answering. “I have come because of your words” (Daniel 10:12). What motivated Daniel to pray and fast? First, he sought understanding. Scripture says if any lacks wisdom, let him ask of God. Daniel earnestly wants to know what is coming for him and his people. Second, in the third year of Cyrus’ rule, word has been coming back to Daniel by this time of the great trials and suffering his people are experiencing back in Jerusalem. So Daniel was praying and fasting for himself and for his people. That’s a good start on a prayer list. The church desperately needs Daniels, now more than ever. People doing the hidden, little noticed, work of strategic praying, praying for the laborers, for the church and her leaders and the proclaiming of God’s Word.