Sunday, November 25, 2012

Daniel 7:13,14 Christ the King

It is good to know that God is in control, but it often is not easy to see.  When we turn on the TV or read the newspaper, we see world governments in control.  We see anti-Christian ideas gaining popularity.  We see the church losing ground.  The only thing I can really point to that shows God’s power in the world is that they have never been able to destroy the Christian church.  At times they have thrown Christians to the lions, and at other times they tried to drown the voice of the Gospel with the voices of science and human reason.  But God still has his Church.  His Word has remained unchanged, and he still uses it to rescue people from the darkness of their sin and bring them into his kingdom.  The kingdom that we pray for still comes to us and others.
At the time when the book of Daniel was written, God’s people were about to see one kingdom after another rise to great power, and they would wonder when they would see God’s kingdom come. Isaiah and Jeremiah had given them God’s promises about a glorious, peaceful kingdom in Israel. But before they would see God’s kingdom, they would bow to the power of the Babylonian kingdom, then the Persian, then the Greek, and then the Roman kingdom.  They may have wondered if God’s kingdom would still come, or if things had spun out of his control.
Most of the time, it isn’t easy to see God in control of the world.  The only way is to see the world the way he describes it in the Bible.  God gave Daniel a vision of four beasts to help him and his Jewish people see his power amid all the political upheavals of their world. It helps us too, though, when we use this vision as a filter, or a set of glasses, to help us make some sense out of what God is doing in our world.
In Daniel’s dream, God showed him a lion with eagle’s wings—a powerful combination of the king of beasts and the king of birds.  It stood for the kingdom of Babylon.  Then there was a bear with three ribs in its mouth.  It was told, “Get up and eat your fill of flesh!”  It stood for another powerful kingdom that would destroy many lives, the kingdom of Persia.  A third beast that symbolized the Greek kingdom appeared, and it was a leopard with four wings—a swift beast and a killer.  Then there was a fourth kingdom, symbolized by the most terrifying beast yet. It was the Roman kingdom. It had large iron teeth.  It crushed and devoured its victims and trampled whatever was left.  It was also the most hostile to God—it would speak boastfully against God and persecuted God’s people.
But then the one we have all been hoping for appeared in the dream—God himself.  Daniel called him the Ancient of Days.  He sat on his throne.  The last beast was slain and thrown into the blazing fire.  The first three beasts were stripped of their power.  
Now, in the dream, God sets up his own kingdom.  Jesus rules it, and it will last forever.  Here are the words of our text:
13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
Daniel 7:13,14
This is what we have been hoping to see in our world, and what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer,

 “Thy Kingdom Come”
1.   A kingdom of power and glory
2.   A kingdom of grace
1.  A kingdom of power and glory
But where do you see power and glory today?  An atheist in Santa Monica has all but succeeded in abolishing a 60-year-old tradition of setting up Nativity scenes in the city’s Palisades park.  In San Francisco, it’s shameful that there even has to be a court decision to make people keep their clothes on.  These days since the election, it seems that everyone is more concerned about what Obama is going to do next than what God is going to do next.  On Friday people packed the stores in a frenzied rush of materialism, and with almost the same vigor they leave the churches empty today.  When we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we might be thinking, “I wish Jesus would take control of the world again.”
Remember Daniel’s vision.  The worldly kingdoms would seem to have power for a while, but it would not last.  In the end, only Jesus has power, and his power will last forever.  Sure, they may take down the nativity scenes, but they will not take the Word of God away from us, and they will not take away what Christmas means.  The Son of God was born to give life to those who would believe in him, and that will never be taken away.  Long after the atheists, the cities, the governments, and everything else that has opposed Christ is destroyed, we will continue to live and reign with Christ in his kingdom.  When we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we pray that Jesus will continue to rule in us and others by the power of his Word, no matter how much the world may rage against us.
In order to see Jesus answering that prayer, we need to come to grips with his power and glory being something that we don’t see yet.  That was one of the points of the vision.  If you lived back then you would have seen the power of the four beasts, but you weren’t going to see the Ancient of Days, and you wouldn’t easily see the power of the Son of Man as he rules the kingdom of God.  It had to be shown to us in a dream.
Pontius Pilate was a man who had a keen eye for the powers of his day.  He knew the power of the Roman government.  He knew the power of the Jewish leaders.  But he saw no power in Jesus, the Son of Man.  He had been told that Jesus was a king, but when he had Jesus on trial, he saw only a man who was no real king, had no serious influence, and was no real threat to the Roman government.  He wanted to release Jesus, but since the Jews insisted he punished Jesus for what he considered to be a joke of a charge.  If he was to be punished for being the king of the Jews, then he ought to look like it; so Pilate dressed him in fake kingly robes and a thorny crown, and then crucified him with a sign over his head that said, “The King of the Jews.”
Jesus’ kingly power is not any more obvious today than it was back then.  But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be seen.  Look at our world through the glasses of Daniel’s vision.  In our world there are powerful governments and powerful popular ideas that are against Christ and all true Christians.  But Christ is the only one with any kind of lasting power.  We see it in the fact that there still are true Christians.  There are still places like this church where the Word of God is preached without twisting it or changing it to make it more popular.  Those who listen and believe still see the power of what Jesus has done by his suffering and death.  When we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we pray that he will rule in our hearts, even if no one else notices that power.
In the book of Acts we hear about Stephen, a man who saw the power and glory of God’s kingdom.  What we see in Daniel’s vision was reality for him.  He stood on trial before the Jews for preaching about Jesus, but all of their power and anger did not stop him.  He saw a greater power in Jesus, and he preached a bold sermon in that court, condemning them to their very face.  When they took him out to stone him, God opened heaven so that he could see the glory and power of Christ’s kingdom that he was a part of and would continue to be a part of forever, even though he was about to die.
You will want to be a part of that kingdom too.  Yes, it might mean that you have to buck the popular opinions of the world today.  It might mean trouble with your family.  But on the last day Jesus will appear in obvious power and glory, just like we saw in Daniel’s vision, he will destroy all the kingdoms of the world. That isn’t just a vague idea; those kingdoms that were destroyed in Daniel’s vision were kingdoms of people.  You will want to be on the right side of this power and glory.  You will want to be one of those who are in his kingdom. 
But if you’re no Stephen, if you struggle to see his power today and can’t find the courage to stand up for him, you don’t deserve to share in his power and glory.  In fact, if our heart is with the worldly kingdoms and not with God’s kingdom, we deserve to be destroyed too.  Which kingdom have you been living in?  If your thoughts are all on national politics and our economy, but you have no idea what God is doing in the world today, then you live in the worldly kingdom that will be destroyed.  If the things that the government might do to you or the things that people might say about you are more real to you than the punishment God has threatened against people who sin against him, then you live in the worldly kingdom that will be destroyed.  Do you pray “Thy Kingdom come” more than once a week, when you are forced to pray it in church?  How often do you mean it?  Maybe there are times when you have felt like God has forgotten you or turned against you, and you have been tempted to turn against him. We don’t deserve to share in the glory and power of his kingdom when he appears on the Last Day.

2. A kingdom of grace
Now is the time to take a look at our own situation through the glasses of Daniel’s vision.  The kingdom God set up is not only a kingdom of glory and power; it is also a kingdom of grace.  Daniel saw that the ruler of God’s kingdom is the Son of Man.  He is Jesus, the Son of God who was born as a real human being.  He understands how we see the world, because he has seen it from our perspective.  He knows what it feels like when it looks like God has the plan all wrong.  He saw how the whole world was gathering against him and against the truth.  He knew what God’s plan was for him, but on the night before his death he prayed that there might be a different way.  He would also know what it feels like when God actually does turn against you—God the Father turned against him and punished him for the sins of the world.
This king, the Son of Man, did all of this because he bore our sins.  It was his blood that was shed to bring us into his kingdom, and so he will show us the utmost patience, forgiveness, and care.  He will understand our doubts.  He will be patient with us when we are more concerned with our nation or our state than we are with his kingdom.  He will respond in mercy when we react in anger to his rule and tell him that he doesn’t know what he is doing.  This is why the kingdom was given to him.
The world’s kingdoms promise popularity, money, and as much stuff as you can set your heart on, but Christ continues to rule in mercy through his Word and Sacraments.  In his Word, in Baptism, and in the Lord’s Supper—here Jesus mercifully reaches out to you to forgive your sins, to bring you into his kingdom, and rule in your heart.

Martin Luther wrote in his Catechism, “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives his Holy Spirit, so that by his grace we believe his holy Word and lead a godly life now on earth and forever in heaven.”  When you pray, “Thy kingdom come,” pray that Jesus would mercifully rule in your heart now through the Word and Sacraments, so that you will join him as part of his kingdom on Judgment Day. When you see the world raging against Christ and the Bible, and your heart feels like it is being pulled away from God; pray, and know that Christ will not let his kingdom in your heart be destroyed.  “Thy Kingdom Come.”  Amen.