Text: Daniel 12:1-3
Date: Pentecost XXV (Proper 28) + 11/18/12
As the Church calendar comes to a close each year the scripture readings point to the last things, the doctrine of the Last Day, the day of judgment, what you confess every Sunday that you “look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” We need to hear about the doctrine of the Day of Resurrection because we increasingly need the encouragement to persevere in faith. We need that encouragement to persevere because every year we are closer to that Day than ever. And, while popular TV preachers try to paint a promising, hopeful picture of “your best life now,” the Bible warns that the last days will be characterized not by progress and happiness but by increasing trouble, tribulation and distress. While many churches seek to emphasize a positive, dare I say “happy” worship experience, the only truly helpful (and “joyful”!) thing is when the Church acts as a moral and cultured force in society, calling sin “sin,” and being about the dispensing of the forgiveness of sins and the true hope of eternal life through the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God. When Jesus spoke of the signs of the Last Day He drew His followers’ attention to what has been written in the scriptures including our reading today from the prophet Daniel. This text will help us take a realistic attitude to life and faith in this sinful world with the increasing hope of final victory in The Day of Resurrection.
The prophecy begins saying, “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people.” We know the names of only two (or three) archangels revealed in the scriptures. The archangel Michael was introduced earlier in the book of Daniel as the protector of God’s people. That’s why he is not pictured as some lovely, delicate, ethereal winged cherub but as you see represented on your service folder, as a strong warrior, ready for battle wielding the two-edged sword of God’s Word. He shows up to assist the Angel of the Lord (that is, the Son of God, the “Man clothed in linen,” Dan 10:5) and, according to our text, will accompany the Lord’s return “at that time.” “That time” is the Last Day when the kingdom of Christ will dissolve all the world’s kingdoms.
We heard our Lord Jesus Christ’s description of the signs of the Last Day in today’s Gospel—false prophets and preachers, wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines. “These are but the beginning of the birth pains,” He says (Mark 13:6-8). So Daniel prophesies, “At that time…there shall be a time of trouble,” distress, tribulation, “such as never has been since there was a nation till that time.”
Ever since the beginning of the Church on earth, the Church of Adam and Eve, of Moses and Daniel, of the glorious company of the apostles and the noble army of martyrs to this day there have been times of trouble, distress and tribulation. You have experienced various times of trouble and distress whether that be difficulties in school, family or marriage relationships, financial or employment troubles, physical illness or emotional distress. At the root of all trouble is sin; your own sin, someone else’s or the attacks of the devil. In such times of trouble God is, as the psalm says, “a very present help” for those who belong to Him (Ps 46). Much of that help comes by means of the holy angels sent to do His will to guard and protect you from disaster and especially the attacks of the devil (Ps 91:11).
The trouble and tribulation spoken about in our text, however, is said to be “such as never has been since there was a nation till that time,” that is, the “great tribulation” Jesus talks about in Matthew 24, “such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” Furthermore, these tribulations will be so severe that, our Lord continues, saying, “if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Matt 24:21-22).
Well, are we entering this “great” tribulation? It may be hard to decide when it happens. There certainly is much tribulation for the Church today. To begin with, think of St. Paul’s list in Romans chapter one telling of how God’s wrath is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. His list sounds as if it could be in the editorial section of today’s newspapers. For he lists the suppression of the truth, otherwise called silencing the Church and any religious discussion. The refusal to honor God or give thanks to Him; the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves; dishonorable passions, the exchange of natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; all manner of unrighteousness, evil, and the list goes on and on (Rom 1:18-32).
Reverend Bill Hecht in his recent book, “Two Wars We Must Not Lose,” gives a list of contemporary troubles including, “the nasty fights over the war in Afghanistan,” “economic issues involving taxes and spending, the abortion fight, the homosexual agenda, stem cell research, gun control, illegal immigration, measures that are necessary to fight the war on terrorism, and even religious liberty issues guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution” (Hecht, p. 92). On that last issue we have even seen our own President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod appear before a congressional committee in our nation’s capital and the production of studies and awareness materials. Bill Hecht’s book was even published by our own Ft. Wayne Seminary Press “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).
“But at that time your people shall be delivered,” will escape, “everyone whose name shall be found written in the book,” the book of life. In your Holy Baptism you have the assurance that your name has been written in that book from eternity. As we have experienced, however, that deliverance does not necessarily mean avoiding physical death. In Christ this last gasp of the last enemy has already been overcome and is, according to the Bible, but a sleep. The Lord says, “and many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth,” that is, in the grave, “shall awake.” Here the resurrection of the body is clearly proclaimed. And not only of Israel, that is, Christians. In the Old Testament our verse is the only passage in which, along with the resurrection to everlasting life, there is mention also of the resurrection to everlasting shame, or the resurrection of the righteous and of the wicked. And for our comfort we think of our Lord’s description that tells how the judgment has already been made now depending on whether you have received Christ by faith or rejected Him now. That judgment is only confirmed as the sheep and goats are gathered before the Lord, the King (Matt 25).
Finally, then, is the wonderful gospel promise which I have always used as a blessing at a pastor’s ordination or installation in a congregation. “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.” “The wise” are all the saints “Who Thee by faith before the world confessed” (LSB 677). And “those who turn many to righteousness” include Christian parents and other witnesses to those around us. But it especially includes Christian pastors and preachers.
You know the words of the Father at our Lord’s Transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matt 17:5). I only recently discovered a wonderful comment in our Formula of Concord, Thorough Declaration, Article Two. It says, “Therefore the eternal Father calls down from heaven concerning His dear Son and concerning all who preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name: Hear ye Him” (Trig. 901:51, emphasis mine). We are to listen to the Voice of our Good Shepherd, even as He borrows the vocal folds of our pastor, turning us to righteousness by God’s Word. They will shine in a special way in heaven “like the stars forever and ever.”
In whatever troubles you must endure take great comfort in the service of God’s holy angels and in the promise of the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.