Sermon on Daniel 7:13-14
End Time 4: Christ the King Sunday
By Pastor James Huebner, Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI
The Son of Man Reigns
Text: Daniel 7:13-14
Have you noticed that many writers and producers of action movies are relying more and more on the “Wow!” factor. In other words, the pyrotechnics and special effects have to knock people’s socks off with the goal of making each movie more spectacular than the last. Decades ago audiences were thrilled by action scenes which would seem today to be boring. Obviously, the “Wow!” factor keeps changing. Credit the computer age. For example, there’s a real difference between the special effects of the first “Stars Wars” movie in 1977 and those of “Revenge of the Sith” in 2005. There’s a real difference between the special effects of the 1962 James Bond movie “Dr. No” and “Casino Royale” of 2006. Even the movie trailers presented as television commercials make us go “Wow!”
What was the “Wow!” factor in the days of the prophet Daniel two thousand six hundred years ago? What would it take to make people go, “Wow!” When God communicated with the people who recorded his thoughts and words in the Bible, God did not use computerized special effects. But he did often create a “Wow!” factor with some spectacular visions. Daniel was one of those who received from God a vision with a high “Wow!” factor. In this vision he saw four big, scary beasts – a lion with wings of an eagle, a bear up on its feet with three ribs from its prey sticking out of its mouth, a leopard with wings and four heads, and then an unnamed beast with iron teeth and ten horns – and remember that a horn was not just a symbol of power but was used by a ferocious beast to gore and kill its pray. Daniel tells us that this unnamed beast was terrifying and frightening … it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left (Dn 7:7). Each beast represented a world power that either in Daniel’s day or in the following centuries would dominate the then-known world – Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome. Then from that last beast came a horn that had eyes and a mouth (human qualities), spouting the scariest thing you can imagine, scarier than a Halloween movie, scarier than a hurricane, scarier than swine flu, something that can take people straight to hell – false doctrine. That vision is worthy of a big-time, “Wow!”
But Daniel wrote, “That’s not all. Here’s the big one! Here’s the scene in my vision that really blew me away, and I’m sure it will knock your socks off, too! I saw a person, a human being.” The way we might say it today, “I saw a guy.” Now what’s so “Wow!” about that? Daniel said, “Let me tell you what’s so spectacular about this man. In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man – a guy – coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence” (13). This person, this man, this “guy” had and has direct access to God! That’s worthy of an even bigger “Wow!”
But Daniel still wasn’t done. He said, “There’s a reason God gave me this vision of a son of man, of a ‘guy.’ God wanted the Israelites in Babylon and all people who pay attention to what he has to say with this vision to find comfort, have hope, and discover the greatest joy imaginable, even if their life is boring or crumby or oppressive or downright hard, because this son of man, this ‘guy,’ reigns. He rules. He’s in charge. He’s a king beyond your wildest dreams and greatest hopes.” What Daniel received in his vision is for you and me:
“THE SON OF MAN REIGNS”
I. With all power (14a)
II. Over all people (14b)
III. For all time (14c)
A. Do you recall Daniel’s zipcode? It was not Jerusalem. He lived in Babylon. He was taken there against his will but treated very well. In fact, the Babylonian king recognized his smarts and elevated him in government service. Other Israelites were there, too, having also been captured and deported from Judah to Babylon. But don’t picture them in jail or working as slaves. The Babylonian kings were smart enough not to wipe out people they conquered. They moved people from their homeland, scattered them so they wouldn’t reorganize into a rebellious force, and settled them in places where they would merge, mingle, and mush into Babylonian society and culture. The Israelites in Babylon had a life – business, homes, families. So, what was the problem? Just this – God had said a Savior would come from the Israelite nation. But how could that happen when the nation looked like it was done and would likely disappear, absorbed into a foreign culture? God also said that the Savior would be born in Judah. But how could that happen when the Israelites were living eight hundred miles from home? On the surface, life looked normal. But any thinking, spiritually-minded Israelite had a heart heavy with sadness, lost-ness, and hopelessness. These were dark days for Daniel and his friends.
For people like that God gave Daniel this vision about powerful nations rising and being succeeded by another. The message? “You think it’s bad now living under the thumb of the Babylonians. That’s nothing! The next world power and the next and the next will be more oppressive than the one before. Worse yet, people who are supposed to be spiritual leaders are going to come along, turn on you, and try to kill your souls with false doctrine.”
B. But in this mess, in this pressure-cooker, amid those dark days “I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven” (13). He doesn’t look like much at first. He looks like just a “guy,” but that’s because his power is often hidden. It was hidden from the eyes of the Israelites in Babylon, and they may have wondered, “Does God still care about us?” But who do you think was moving nations onto the world scene and then sweeping them out of the way when they served his loving purpose of setting the stage for his visible entrance into the world. His power was hidden for a time when he took on human form and was lying in a feedbox, dependent on his mother. His power was hidden for a time when traveling around Palestine as a poor preacher. When people heard him claim to be a king, they sneered like Pontius Pilate, “You’re a king? Ha!” His power was hidden for a time so he could feel our hurt and take on our burden of living up to God’s demand for a pristine, pure life. His power was hidden for a time so he could get spikes through his hands and feet and be abandoned by his heavenly Father so we wouldn’t be abandoned.
In many ways his power still remains hidden. But who do you think is behind the rise and fall of nations? His power to forgive is hidden in human language so that when you come to worship each week with burdens and cares and fears and guilt because of your sins, you hear the pastor say, “Your sins are forgiven,” and they really are all forgiven. His power to forgive is hidden in the words of your spouse after you have said something dumb, and your spouse says, “I forgive you.” It’s as though Jesus himself said it. His power to forgive is hidden in dribbles of water from that font that can yank a new born baby out of the devil’s hands and put that child in the arms in the heavenly Father. His power to forgive is hidden in a little wafer and a sip of wine in his supper in which the Lord not only says, “I love you,” but says, “Here! Let me hug you with my love.” In the end his power will be bursting out for all to see, and that will mean the end of our worst enemy, false doctrine and those who proclaim it, so that we will be safe and secure in God’s love without sadness or lost-ness or hopelessness. “I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven … He was given authority, glory and sovereign power” (13,14a). The Son of Man reigns with all power. That is worthy of a big “Wow!”
A. The Babylonian kings extended the boundaries of their territory to include what today is Iraq, part of Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and part of Egypt. When the Persians took over, they controlled all that plus what is now Iran and all of Turkey. The Greek armies swept through all that territory and went east almost to India. The Roman Empire went west all around the Mediterranean Sea and through what is now western Europe. But none of those kingdoms included all people everywhere, and none of them would be considered Christian. They included plenty of people who defied the true God. In fact, that’s exactly why God brought them low after they had served his loving purpose.
B. From our vantage point it may look like nations are still defying God. In fact, there are places on this planet where it is not safe to be a Christian. Does that scare you? It scares me. But yet – Praise God! – there are Christians in nearly every land, and there are people like Terry Schultz who ventures into the Amazon with the gospel of Jesus Christ, like Pieter Reid who lived in the Islam-dominated land of Indonesia and has seen Christians boldly stand up for Jesus at the risk of losing their possessions, position, and property, like Dan Myers who with his wife is carving out his own existence and preaching Jesus in the Cameroon. And one day all believers will be united in one mighty chorus and every other person who has ever lived will be forced to acknowledge that there is only one Savior God. I know that’s hard to imagine now. I have a hard time picturing Osama bin Landen and the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran bowing before Jesus and saying, “We obviously don’t believe in you, but you are in charge, and we bow to your judgment.” But look how awesome our King of kings is! “I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven … all people, nations, and people of every language worshiped him” (13,14b). The Son of Man reigns over all people. That is worthy of a big “Wow!”
A. Every one of the kingdoms pictured in Daniel’s vision not only was limited in geographical scope but also limited in time. Think of it. There is no Babylonian, Greek, Persian, or Roman Empire any more.
B. There are members of your congregation who have seen modern world powers come and go. Germany threatened the balance of power in Europe twice. Sixty-eight years ago Japan launched an attack against Americans on American soil. Where were you eight years ago on September eleventh? I’m not a prophet. Daniel is. But based on the vision he received we can say that one day the Middle East will not be the hot spot of the world. Some other kingdom or country may be raised up for God’s purposes and then brought low. In fact, that may be true of our own beloved land.
But nothing will stop the reign of the Son of Man. Have you felt the discomfort of being called intolerant just because you stand up for what’s morally right and are looking for something to help support your spine so you can stand with courage, something that will last? Have you been on the roller coaster of the economy or stumbled by your own fault on the rocky road of life and long for something solid to stand on, something that will endure? Have you had a wave of guilt almost knock you off your feet because you recalled all too vividly something you once said or did that you know was wrong and hurt somebody else, and you’re looking for something or someone who won’t give up on you? Then listen to this. “I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven … His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (13,14c). The Son of Man reigns for all time. That is worthy of a big “Wow!”
Today we celebrate Christ our King! It’s a special day for this congregation because it marks the anniversary of your official beginning, and you even bear that name as a congregation – Christ the King. That message is presented in the Scripture lessons, highlighted by the cross procession, and embedded in the psalm, hymns, and songs we sing – all designed to convey to us a big “Wow!” But, in the end we do not have to rely on a “Wow-meter” to measure whether our senses have been touched or tingled in an unusual way. We don’t even need to keep track of the “Wow!” factor because we have a Savior King, Jesus Christ, who has connected sinners like us to God himself. And that’s “Wow!” enough.