Daniel 12:1-3 (25th Sunday after Pentecost—Series B)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
November 18, 2012
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament lesson for today, 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. 2 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. 3 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.
Have you ever noticed how realistic the Bible is? God really isn’t one to gloss over things or present a skewed view of reality. For example, take the troubles that we encounter in our everyday lives. There isn’t a single one of us who has not been, nor will be, affected by various challenging circumstances. And so the Bible teaches. James says right off the bat in his letter, “Count it all joy . . . when you meet trials of various kinds.” He doesn’t say “if” but “when.” He doesn’t say that because you are a Christian tough times and events won’t impact you. It is assumed that these trials and troubles will come. Paul assumes the same in Romans 5, “We rejoice in our sufferings.” Even Jesus our Lord Himself assures us of troubles and hardships in our Gospel lesson today, “And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. . . . For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.” (Mark 13:7-8)
That’s certainly not glossing over reality, is it? Our Lord in His Word paints a very accurate picture of our life in this sin-messed-up-world. We face the ravages of disease in our own bodies. We endure the calamities of the fallen creation in the form of storms, famines, and earthquakes. We live in a world of violence, war, and terrorism. Children are bullied in school and online. We face the hardships of a poor economy—paying more and getting less; unemployment; uncertainty. Every 13.7 minutes someone in America dies by suicide. And as bad as it is today, it’s just going to get worse!
“And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation until that time.” Jesus repeats Daniel’s message later in Mark 13, “For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved.” (Mar 13:19-20a) This is great news to hear on a Sunday morning, isn’t it? It’s sort of like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. If you think it’s bad today, just wait. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet! What is to come will be so horribly bad that if God did not directly intervene, the Church would be totally annihilated. No one would be saved.
The trouble that is yet to come will in no small part be created by Satan. (Rev. 20:7) He will confront the Church, the people of God in Christ, directly, and through devilish deceptions and force he will try to keep the nations of the world from hearing the witness of Christ as it is proclaimed by us, God’s people. The devil will cause the world to become increasingly hostile and violent toward the Church and the message of Christ. Certainly the Christian today should scratch his or her head and wonder if these days might not be coming upon us sooner than we think—a time of trouble of such a great magnitude that you cannot even compare it to any time of trouble since there was a nation on this planet. It will be a time of such tribulation and persecution that it might even kill us—“brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” (Mark 13:12-13)
But despite this distress, Daniel assures those who believe in God and are heirs of His kingdom through faith in the promised Savior will be delivered. “At that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.” What is “the book”? It is God’s book of life. Through Holy Baptism and faith in Christ as the Lamb who was slain for the forgiveness of our sins, a person’s name is written in this book. And Jesus promises that the name of everyone who is written in the book of life is victorious, given the victory of resurrection in Jesus Christ.
This is great comfort and consolation to us who face tribulation now, as well as those of us who might face the time of trouble that is yet to come. Hopelessness and despair is not our end. Defeat is not our end. Death is not our end. Our end is found in the victory of Jesus Christ. Our end is found in resurrection and everlasting life. “The one who endures to the end will be saved.”
No matter what it is that we face in this life—sickness, persecution, depression, anxiety, violence or death—we are promised victory in our Lord Jesus Christ. We are promised eternal deliverance from the power of sin, Satan, and death itself. Let the times of trouble come and do their worst. We are victorious! What is the worst that can happen? The worst is that we fall asleep in death. The enemies of Christ and His Church can only kill the body, not the soul. Disease and illness can only kill the body, but not the soul. War and violence only kill the body and not the soul. Yes, death is frightening because it represents a passage into the unknowable. Death is terrifying because it is often painful not only for those who experience it, but also for those left behind to grieve. Yet, as horrible as death is and as terrible as dying may be, for the believer in Christ, it is as harmless as falling asleep because Jesus has rendered death powerless.
Powerless! Death has no power over us. Death has no victory over us. Jesus has conquered death by rising from the dead! 2 Timothy 1:10, “Our Savior Christ Jesus, . . . abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (2 Timothy 1:10) The Gospel is the Good News that Jesus died on the cross to win our salvation from sin by shedding His blood for us. The Gospel is the Good News that Jesus rose from the dead and won our deliverance from death. Therefore it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection, that brings us eternal life through the forgiveness of our sins. As we read in 1 Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”(1Peter 1:3) We have a living hope because we will live again just as Christ lives. We, too, will be raised again from the dead! And that’s resurrection. “Those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake!” Death doesn’t have any power to keep our bodies in the grave. “Jesus is risen and we shall arise: Give God the glory! Alleluia!” (LSB 474:refrain)
That’s the promise for us whose names have been inscribed in blood, Jesus’ blood, into the book of life! That’s the Good News for us who are united in our baptisms with Christ’s death and resurrection. Even should we die as a result of the troubles and tribulations that we endure, nevertheless, we are delivered from death. When we take our last breath in this life our soul is immediately with Christ in paradise. But that’s not the end, but only the beginning of the victory. Because the ultimate victory over death comes at the Last Day when Christ returns in glory and the dead are raised to life. Our body which lay in the grave will be restored to our souls and we will live again imperishable, glorified, and victorious, “shining like the brightness of the sky above.” Listen to the fulfillment of God’s promise in Daniel 12. Listen to the guarantee of your victory over the troubles and tribulations of life, your victory over death and the grave, as recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:
Behold! I tell you a mystery. 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 raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. (1Cor. 15:51-52)
God’s Word in the Bible is indeed very realistic. It shows us our very real troubles. It presents to us the very real tribulations and sufferings that we can go through in this life. And God’s Word is just as realistic about our victory in Jesus Christ. The troubles will come, and so will the deliverance. Death will come, and so will the resurrection of the dead. Christ has the final Word of life and victory for us. As He promises, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26) Amen.