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Sermon for November 15, 2009

Daniel 12:1-3 (24th Sunday after Pentecost—Series B)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 15, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text is the Old Testament lesson from Daniel 12:

At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Do you remember the late 1960s television variety show Hee Haw? Remember the four hillbillies sitting there with their jugs of moonshine singing: “Gloom, despair and agony on me; Deep, dark depression, excessive misery; If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all; Gloom, despair and agony on me!”

That’s almost the feeling one gets as the Church Year draws to a close and the Scripture readings focus our attention on the End Times. There’s certainly the feelings of gloom, despair, and agony present in the very real and very frightening scene that is shown to us. Just listen again to Jesus’ words about the days preceding the End, “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place but the end is not yet. . . . There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.”

The beginning? It gets worse? Yes. The disciples are told that they will be handed over to councils. They will be beaten, delivered over to death by family members, and be hated by all for Jesus’ name’s sake. Add to this the words of Daniel, which Jesus also alluded to, that there shall be a time of trouble as has never been since there was a nation till that time, and never will be! Gloom, despair and agony on me; Deep, dark depression, excessive misery!

Don’t believe it will be that bad? Take another look at the world around you. We are witnessing the signs of the coming trouble and distress. The world is plagued by war. Our nation is involved in conflicts. There is the ever present threat of terrorism. Haven’t we seen this year our share of earthquakes and tsunamis, fires and floods? What about the recent shooting at Ft. Hood? Consider the H1N1 virus, its spread, the lives it takes, and the fear it causes. Think about these things and Jesus’ prophesy in Luke 21, “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.”

As the Day of the Lord’s Coming and the End of this present age draws near, things are going to get bad. It will be a time of trouble such as never has been seen. Lawlessness will increase. (Matt. 24: 12) Jesus calls this time the “great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved.” (Matt. 24:21-22) This is something pretty serious. It’s something we need to be alertly aware of as believers in Jesus because this time of trouble will affect us too. Believers will not escape it; we will not be exempt when the intense trouble comes. We will have to endure to the end. “Gloom, despair, and agony on me!”

But that’s not the message from our Old Testament lesson. God’s people are not left with deep dark depression and excessive misery. Yes, God’s people will endure the time of terrible trouble, but we do not endure it alone. Yes, believers in Christ will face the great tribulation, but we do not face it by ourselves. That is the message of Daniel 12. Such suffering will be only for the time appointed by the Lord. For “at that time,” at God’s right time, God will again deliver His people, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book, the Book of Life.

Here is good news. God has a record of His people. We can be certain that we will not be eternally lost during this time of despair and trouble. Through Holy Baptism and faith in Christ as the Lamb who was slain for the forgiveness of sins, your name and mine are inscribed into God’s Book of Life. We are completely known to Him as His people in Christ Jesus. Jesus died for our sins on the cross winning our forgiveness. He rose again from the dead guaranteeing our own resurrections to eternal life. In Baptism, God claimed us as His own children as He put His holy name on us. He recorded our names in His Book of Life. Our faith in Jesus has been sealed with the precious blood of your Savior. Of that there can be no doubt.

Because we are His people in Christ, God dispatches His holy angels to have charge over us. “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people,” the Lord told Daniel. In the Scriptures Michael is the guardian archangel of God’s people. We learn from the Book of Revelation that he is in charge of the heavenly warfare in defense of God’s people. As God’s’ people, we have His angels watching over us. Hebrews 1:14 reminds us that all angels are “all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.” That’s great comfort to know now and in the time of the End. The Lord’s heavenly armies are defending us, guarding and protecting us and our precious faith in Christ. So we pray to our heavenly Father as Luther taught us, “Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.”

But there is an even greater comfort to come “at that time.” At God’s appointed time, we will be delivered. The tribulation will come to an end. The suffering of God’s people will stop. “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16)

Our Deliverer will come again in this way to lead home His Church. Those who have died with saving faith in Jesus Christ will be raised up from the sleep of death to everlasting life. When the dead in Christ have been raised then “we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thess. 4:17) This is the Lord’s promised victory for all His people who have saving faith in Jesus Christ. It is resurrection and new life. As St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raise imperishable, and we shall be changed.” At Christ’s return, at the Resurrection on the Last Day, Christ will clothe us with the imperishable and the immortal. We will shine like the brightness of the sky, like the stars forever and ever! We will be radiant, clothed in the glory of Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Savior.

Jesus promises this will be so for those who live by faith in Him. You and I will be those coming out of the great tribulation. The Lord will guard and protect our faith. We will emerge from the terrible trouble victorious with Christ. We will be those who have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb of God who has taken away our sins. We will be “before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter [us] with His presence. [We] shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; . . . and God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes.” (Rev. 7:15-17)

Because of Jesus Christ our Savior who died and rose for us winning our forgiveness and salvation, we are going to make it through to the End no matter what trials may come. Our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. God’s holy angels are sent to guard and to protect us and our faith in Jesus. There’s no gloom, despair, or agony for us. We are God’s people in Christ Jesus. We are forgiven. We have eternal life. And we will shine like the stars on that Day when Jesus comes again and raises us all to the glory of His heavenly Kingdom prepared for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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