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How to Survive in a Fallen World

We are attentive, humble, and obedient to God because his power is complete and his good purposes are to preserve us through trials, to give us everlasting righteousness, and to purify us through Jesus Christ.


Americans are threatened in a way today that I think is unusual in our history. Just this week I read parts of three publications freely available on the Web. One instructs Muslims about the correctness of killing Christians in Saudi Arabia. He argues that is a good and a right and a pleasing thing to God that this be done. The second author encourages Muslims to fight their own personal Jihad with physical violence toward Christians, including committing murder. And a third publication worked to expose what they see as an evil cabal controlling the American government. These books are all freely available on the Web for anyone in the world who wants to read them.

We can't be surprised if Western Christians feel a little less secure and untroubled than we did 40 years ago. One investigative project from two years ago found terrorist networks even here in the Washington DC area. Among others they found cells of Hamas in Alexandria and Springfield. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Al Qaeda in Herndon, Al Qaeda in Laurel, Maryland, Hezbollah in Potomac, and Hamas and Hezbollah right here in Washington DC.

At the same time, there seems to be more typically indigenous threats growing up to our liberty, to practice the Christian faith here at home. There is the entrenched secularism of our elites that dismisses the validity of Christianity and eats away at the residual cultural empathy that there was for our faith. There is too the innervating and exhausting reality of our unchallenged addiction to comfort amidst perilously growing material affluence. So with our ideas marginalized and our eyelids growing heavy through the warm embrace of worldly ease, we find ourselves particularly ill-prepared to combat the fairly new phenomenon of legal intolerance toward an exclusive faith like Christianity. Hate crimes are increasingly described as the inevitable result of hate. Speech, which others deem as incitements to violence, even nonphysical violence, is increasingly regarded as socially disruptive and wrong. Condemnations of homosexuality are thought to be incitements to personal violence against people.

We forget one of the founding principles of our country: I can think you're wrong and defend your right to be wrong. Christians who have for so long dominated the scene here in America and at least have been widely tolerated in the West are now beginning to face the prospect of living in a world that does not so easily accept our freedom to make our own claims and denials. So what do we do at times when we are under pressure as Christians, and we're told that it's illegal to say that another religion is false, or that homosexuality is wrong? If I know modern Americans we will address the diminishment of our religious liberties in inventive ways. We will encourage a nationally typical self-confidence. We will speak in more and more exalted terms of freedom and liberty.

Leaving aside questions of national security and legal liberties, speaking simply as a Christian to Christians, we must remember that many of our brothers and sisters around the world face oppression. It's fair to say that even while we are freely gathered here today, many Christians around the world do not enjoy this freedom. The glories and the freedom that we know in this land we may take for granted.

If that were to become our lot here in America, what should we Christians do? Realizing our limited ability as individuals to affect geopolitical issues, what do we do? As individual Christians in such a time where we may face such challenges coming to occupy position of being at least a minority or powerless, even be persecuted or penalized for our profession of faith, what should we do?

Few parts of the Bible are as instructive for us in this matter as the Old Testament book of Daniel. This morning we want to come to that much more holy obscure second half of Daniel.

In these final chapters you will find that Daniel recounts three visions that he had. Chapter 7 is a vision about four empires. It's really similar to the dream Nebuchadnezzar had years earlier, a dream that Daniel interprets in Daniel 2. Chapter 8 is about two empires, the goat and ram are the representative beasts there. Chapter 9 is a largely beautiful prayer of confession that we will read. Chapters 10 to 12 contain Daniel's last and longest vision. This is the one that people get most confused by because there is a lot of information about the king of the north, the king of the south, and many details that go on in their interrelations.

We won't be reading chapter 11, and I won't be telling you who the king of the north and the king of the south are. I will tell you all three of these visions have basically the same message: God wins. That's the point of these visions. In that sense it's very much like the New Testament book of Revelation: God wins. All the worldly powers that seem so omnipotent only seem omnipotent. Time will expose the emptiness and vanity of their pretensions to God's power. God alone is sovereign, and he will show that over time, over against all governments, including the American government. That's the great message of these chapters of Daniel. What do these chapters all together tell us? Among other things, we learn that most fundamental in answering this question of how to survive in a fallen world is not our attitude to others, it's not our attitude to the government or even to ourselves. The most fundamental is our attitude to God. That's how we will survive in a fallen world.

Daniel is attentive to God

We find by looking at Daniel's example that he is commended for being: attentive to God, humble before God, and obedient to God. If you look at Daniel 10:12, the man in Daniel's vision says, "Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard and I have come in response to them."

From everything we can see about Daniel in this book, he had a profound desire to pay attention to whatever God would say. In Daniel 11:32, people there were referred to as the people who know their God. In the next verse they are called wise. The man in Daniel's vision tells him, "Those who are wise will understand" (Dan. 12:10). God revealed himself to Daniel in these visions, and Daniel had been an eager student, desirous of gaining knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. Daniel was attentive; that should always be the Christian's stance toward God's revelation of himself, the truth about himself for our situation.

How are we to know the truth about God if God doesn't reveal it to us? If God does not reveal it, then all of our words are just speculations. God must speak. Even if the person sitting next to you today is unknown to you, they will continue to be unknown to you unless they reveal themselves to you by their speech. Even your best friend, your own spouse, or your own child will be unknown to you if they don't honestly share with you what they're thinking, feeling, hoping, and deciding. How much more then is that the case with God who is not just like us, God who we can't see or feel as we can the friends around us today? We ought to adopt the same stance with God and his word that Jesus did. Just as Jesus was attentive to whatever the Father said, so we must be attentive to whatever God tells us in his Word.

That's why the Bible is worth studying. We should, like Daniel, set our minds to gain understanding. We set our minds to a lot of things in any given week. Think about this last week and the things you set your mind on. You decided you would accomplish that thing. We set our minds to many things. Why can we not set our mind to gain understanding of God's Word? Why would that not be a worthy thing for us to give ourselves to do? How would your life be different if you were eager to find God's Word, understand it, to take it in? What tasks would become joys for you if that were the case? That's why in our congregation we encourage careful attention be given to the sermon, both in preparation of it and in the preaching of it.

When you're a kid and mom tells you where dessert is, you listen carefully. When someone is talking to you and they give you a compliment, you hear that—your ears eagerly pick that up, bring it in, keep it, chew on it for a while. When you're lost in a city and you stop and you roll down the window to get directions from someone and you really need to find out where you're going and they speak to you, you listen very carefully. That's what it should be like when you read the Bible, when you hear the Bible taught and preached. I promise what I'm saying to you is more important than any dessert or any directions you may want.

Confront your own laziness, your own indolence, your own desire to close your eyes and drift away mentally. Realize that it's okay to expend effort to listen to, to hear, and to heed God's Word. It doesn't mean it's bad because you have to spend effort to do it. It's not true that effortlessness is a mark of what is good. Look at the most important things in your life. They all require effort. It's true of studying God's Word.

We want to preach in such a way that not only is it clear what a particular passage says, but it is clear how it says that so that you better learn to read and understand God's Word yourself. The more we help hook you up with God's Word, the better we've accomplished what we're setting out to do, the better we've served you. This is why we want to pay attention to God as he has spoken to us in his Word.

Daniel is humble before God

We also learn from Daniel's example and how to survive in a fallen world by being humble toward God. Look back at Daniel 10:12. That man came to Daniel in the vision and he said, "Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before God, the words were heard and I have come in response to them." What does it mean for you to humble yourself before God? It means to understand more of who God is, to understand more of who you are. It makes sense that someone who is attentive to God's Word, who listens to what God says, would be humbled. Even by that activity you are humbling yourself. As you close your own mouth and open your ears, you open your eyes to read and study, we are humbling ourselves. Are you willing to be corrected even in your ideas about God himself? Because that's part of humility. Education without humility is nearly impossible. Humility makes learning easy.

It was evident to Daniel that God was a wonderfully greater being than Daniel. Daniel saw God deliver him and his friends, even from the mouths of lions. Daniel knew how powerful God was, what a good and powerful God he was dealing with. I remember seeing a photograph when I first came here, of a man in the 1940s and his wife meeting the pastor, Dr. Ball, who had been here for decades. I remember this look on the man's face of being sort of open, na&#iuml;ve, humble, joy, even awe, at being in the presence of the pastor. I thought that kind of look of simple joy in the presence of one whom you're proud even to notice you is a look that seems long gone in our cynical age. There is no one who looks like that meeting anybody these days, but Daniel would have known that sense of being humbled supremely.

If you're here and you're not a Christian, I wonder before whom you're appropriately humble. Is there anyone else you can so respect, so esteem that you would literally be humbled to meet them, for them to know you? How else can we who are imperfect and wrong and even evil in our loves and hates respond to the truly good, perfect, all-powerful, all-good Creator and Judge of us all, other than with the most profound humility? I wonder how you cultivate right humility before God, the kind of humility Daniel clearly evidenced. Think of something that you've done this last week specifically to cultivate that kind of humility.

Perhaps you've read C.J. Mahaney's little book on humility. In the back of the book he has a list of suggestions for cultivating humility, and in case you haven't read it let me just share with you these suggestions. I know I've found them helpful in my own efforts to grow in humility. He says, "Always reflect on the wonder of the cross of Christ. As each day begins, begin your day by acknowledging your dependence upon God and your need for God. Begin your day expressing gratefulness to God. Practice the spiritual disciplines: Prayer, study of God's Word, worship. Do this consistently each day and at the day's outset if possible. Commit time to memorize and meditate on Scripture. Cast your cares upon him, for he cares for you. As each day ends transfer the glory to God. Before going to sleep, receive this gift of sleep from God and acknowledge his purpose for sleep. For special focus, study the attributes of God. Study the doctrines of God. Study the doctrine of sin. Play as much golf as possible." That's one I don't do. "Laugh often and laugh often at yourself. Throughout your days and weeks, identify evidences of grace in others. Encourage and serve others each and every day. Invite and pursue correction, respond humbly to trials." Those are C.J.'s suggestions. Perhaps you've found some that are useful that you practice in your own life.

We pray for humility not just in our own lives individually but rather to have a church culture which encourages and reinforces not a Uriah Heep-like false modesty for affection, or a misconceived forced appearance of weakness or passivity but a true, deeply felt, joyful, and Christ-honoring experience of humility that speaks so truly of the One we know and love and serve. This is the kind of humility that seemed to typify Daniel. That's why he could have such power for decades and apparently be uncorrupted by it. He didn't let it go to his head. He knew in the most profound sense it wasn't his, it wasn't even belonging to the king that he served. It was all God's. That's the kind of humility we are called to.

Daniel is obedient to God

There's one other aspect of Daniel's stance toward God that we should notice, and it fits so perfectly with his attentiveness and his humility: That is Daniel's obedience to God. To understand that we should remember that Daniel was an Israelite. He had been captured in 605 BC when the Babylonian forces under Nebuchadnezzar defeated Jerusalem and took away many of the young, promising people and other leading citizens to Babylon. For decades, Daniel had served in the court of the Babylonian emperors. In fact, he outlasted the Babylonian Empire. It fell when he was in his 70s, and he then continued to serve the Persian kings that followed. The entire time, Daniel was in the religious minority. His practices of eating, praying, and religious worship were always the strange practices. The exile of the Israelites from their land was a punishment by God. It was a fulfillment of promises God made to them a millennium earlier through Moses when he told them that if they didn't obey him that he would remove them from the land as a symbol, as a picture of them being removed from his presence because of their sin. The whole exile, then, had been caused by the Israelites sinful lack of obedience. Daniel acknowledges that in his beautiful prayer.

(Read Daniel 9:4-19)

It would be a wonderful thing to preach a sermon simply on that prayer. Notice that in these verses we see something of the importance of obedience to God. There is a refrain and confession of a lack of obedience to God, exactly because obedience to God is so important. We see that again and again in this prayer. It's an attitude that's important; it strikes us by its absence in the Israelites' history and by its presence in Daniel's life. The stories in the first half of the book show us Daniel obeying. He keeps an attitude to God of obedience, regardless of the earthly consequences.

I wonder who it is that you think you should obey. Jesus said, "I love the Father and I do exactly what my Father has commanded me." Is there anyone that you intend to obey exactly? Christians want to pay attention to God's Word specifically so that we can obey him, so that we can come to know him and relate to him as his loving children. Jesus said to his disciples, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." We should never understand something clearly in God's Word and then choose not to obey it. God hasn't revealed himself to us merely to satisfy our own intellectual curiosity. He's revealed himself to us so that we could come to know him relationally. His Word is therefore life to us. As we read in the Bible, "Man does not live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord."

Having an attitude of attentiveness and of humility and of obedience: That's how we survive in every way God would call us to survive. Why should we be attentive and humble and obedient? Well, we find in these chapters that those are our appropriate attitudes because of a couple of factors, a couple of aspects of God's nature.

God alone is all-powerful

First of all, of the completeness of God's power. There is hardly a theme more prominent in Daniel's own life. He served several kings spanning two empires with supernatural communication to each of them of this great truth, that it is the Lord who is sovereign over all. God is never threatened by worldly events. We must understand that. In the vision in chapter 7 that Daniel had, the whole vision begins with heaven churning up the winds. The beasts in it were given authority to rule. But, if we look down in verse 22, we see that the Ancient of Days will pronounce the final judgment. His is the kingdom that will never end. Perhaps there is no theme more clear in these visions than that: the eternal nature of God's kingdom. We see in Daniel 8:25 that the most powerful human kings that are in the visions there, the most powerful will be destroyed "but not by human power." This apparently all-powerful king finds the end of his power when he faces God. He found the end of his power in the furnace. Daniel, in his prayer of confession, earlier acknowledged that it was God who had sovereignly scattered God's own people. It was God, he says in chapter 9 in his prayer, who brought this disaster upon us. You see, the empires represented in these visions all came to an end despite their power. They came to an end when God decided they would. Everything, we find, still happens, as we read in Daniel 11:35, at the appointed time.

(Read Daniel 11:36)

Throughout this section, all the language of purpose reminds us that God sovereignly works above and through it all. I love the way Calvin, in his commentary on Job 1, describes the devil as God's scalpel. Satan has only malice, but God is so sovereign he can even turn Satan as the most skillful surgeon turns his scalpel. Jesus said that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him. We read in John 13, Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power. If you want to have these kind of attitudes—attentive, humble, obedient—meditate on what Scripture says about God. See what a great God he is. Decide that you've not conceived all the truth about God that you're able to in this life, that there is yet more in this life you can know and understand about God than you have already conceived. There is yet more of him for you to know and relate to.

I hope you've noticed here that in the readings from the Bible and the hymns that we sing, even in the prayers that are led, various aspects of God's character and power are presented because we worship God the all-powerful. He is the one we listen to, he is the one we humble ourselves before, he is the one we obey, and we do that in part because he is all-powerful.

The goodness of God's purposes

The other aspect of his character that draws us to these attitudes of attentiveness and humility and obedience is the goodness of his purposes. Not only is God all-powerful, he is all good. The theme that we will face opposition that we saw so clearly in the first half of Daniel is unmistakable in the second half as well. God has good purposes through our trials. A consistent part of these visions is that in this world the saints are under attack. If you turn back to Daniel 7:21, we read, "This horn," stands for a king, "was waging war against the saints and defeating them." Verse 25 says, "He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints, and try to change the set times and laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times, and half a time." In the next vision, recounted in chapter 8, an inescapable part of it is the suffering of God's people.

(Read Daniel 8:10-14, 24)

You may have some reading of history where you think this is only applying to someone in the past: Alexander the Great, Antiochus Epiphanes, or some final future character on earth. But what you see is this is a recurrent theme in all these visions about what happens to God's people. They face opposition in this world; we face trials. It is clear that being the people of God would not be a walk in the park. Mighty rulers will favor those who forsake God. Temptations and troubles will multiply. Pressure will be brought to bear on those who would be faithful to God. Many will obviously lose their lives. We can even read of the power of the holy people being finally broken.

Christianity has no vision of an earthly utopia brought about by Christian armies. That is a heresy. It is no Christian teaching. We understand that in this fallen world God allows the revolt to continue against him, and he allows his revolt sometimes even to have earthly power. We will have trials. Trials are things that by our very nature we don't like—we want to avoid trials. Some of you are literally spending your whole life trying to avoid them, as if by your own effort you could reverse the effects of the fall of the human race. Real Christianity doesn't promise to deliver us from suffering now but to God ultimately.

If you're here and you're not a Christian, I am sorry that we Christians have not made this very clear. We've too often tried to present the good news of Christianity as simply a way to get you to think that whatever it is you want we can give it to you in Jesus. Well, that's not really quite true. We honestly think your wants are off, just as ours are. We think God has a better plan than even you have for your own life, and we think we can only come to know this through humbling ourselves before God himself. In truth, Christianity is much, much better than anything that would just give us everything we want right now. It is much better than that.

(Read Hebrews 12:2)

My Christian brother or sister, are you tempted to be angry or even a little disappointed at God because of what he has in his complete power allowed to occur in your life? If so, my pastoral task now may be a bit like a doctor's in breaking a bone in order to reset it. I must plead with you to adjust your expectations. Read these chapters. Notice the verses that I have pointed out to you. You will have trials as a Christian. We see that regularly happening in the early church in the Book of Acts. Jesus said, "Remember the words I spoke to you: No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me they will persecute you also" (John 15:20). The situation that so many of us in this room have known, the situation of slight to no visible persecution is actually unusual in the history of Christianity and even among Christians around the world this very day. All the false nostalgia for a Christian America only serves to make cavities in our souls and to weaken us, to misguide, and to misdirect our efforts.

Politics is a noble calling and surely many ills have been alleviated by noble public work. Please, members, keep doing it, but in a fallen world Christian politicians will no more be able to eliminate persecution than Christian doctors will be able to eliminate death. We labor in our jobs for other goods. The day you don't suffer for following Christ is the odd day. This is yet another reason why you want to join a Bible-preaching, Christ-exalting, love-living church. Because together we give each other encouragement and care and counsel that we need in order to continue to follow God in this world, and we pray together for each other, beseeching God as Daniel did. You realize that our part as Christians is not to run away from pain and suffering but to walk to God through the thorns and let Christ from his own life, his own experience, teach us how to turn each bit of suffering into positive learning about the depths of God's love.

Our congregation is a treasury of suffering, from arthritis to loneliness, from confusion to bereavement. God in his kindness allows us to be living testimonies to the fact that having him is better than painless joints or perfect marriages, or constant, immediate wisdom, or never-ending earthly friendships. We are attentive and humble and obedient to this God because not only is his power complete but his purposes good. Just as God preserved the Israelites through the fall of Jerusalem and through the captivity in Babylon, so God will preserve his people.

I wonder what hopes you've brought here today. How are they faring? Have you seen the end of some of your hopes? As Christians, our hopes will only end when God does. Our hopes, our greatest hopes, our highest and deepest hopes we are assured of. Will we get all those smaller things we may desire? No, not necessarily, certainly not in this life. You see, that's the difference between a Christian and somebody who just thinks they're a Christian. Someone who just thinks they're a Christian really cares about those hopes most and consequently end up not following Jesus because he doesn't finally call them to live a flowery bed of ease. However, the Christian follows the way of Christ who went not conquering with a sword but went to the Cross.

The Lord preserves his own people even through trials

Jesus said that he will preserve his own. He said, "I am the Good Shepherd; the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep." When your hopes are threatened, what do you do? Just knock on wood? That's not the Christian response. We don't just hope for the best. We are offered in Christ a safety that we can be certain of— not of avoiding all trials but of God preserving us through them. Surely that is better than anything else you're considering. Surely that is the best, honest news anyone could ever get to you: that you can know God, that you can be certain of your relationship with him, to be accepted by him as his child, your sins notwithstanding because of Christ having suffered in your stead on the cross. The Lord was teaching Daniel through the trials that Lord would preserve his own people.

(Read Daniel 7:21)

You see, a theme for God's people throughout these visions is picked up again in the teaching and life of Christ. It's written about in Peter's first letter in the New Testament: Suffering, then glory. That's the biblical order: suffering, then glory. You'll note it's not simply a defeatist, nihilist, pessimistic, hopeless suffering that's the message of Christianity—just wisen up, wake up, realize the truth, and suffer. If that's what you're hearing me saying, you're hearing me saying everything I'm saying except the truth about Christ. Yes, suffering is part of it, but then glory; then with him forever, then all of those challenges and trials and temptations gone—just like Christ's own rejection and crucifixion was followed by his resurrection and ascension. That's the biblical pattern.

(Read Daniel 12:1)

As God's people we are attentive, humble, and obedient to God because God's complete power is bent toward his good purposes of preserving his people even through trials. Indeed, it's even those trials that God uses to turn our attention and our affections to him, and to pry it off those smaller earthly goods we worshipped. It seems clear through reading and meditating on this section of Daniel that one of God's purposes even through trials is to purify his own people. It makes sense because Old Testament Israel is a prefiguring of God's church as God prepared a people for the coming of the Messiah. He was showing them what it meant to be his people living in a fallen world. In his inscrutable ways, he has decided to use the trials that Satan means to unhook us from God to really drive us to God and to make us love God even more. We read in Hebrews 12, "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." Now, I know some spend their lives trying to drop out of God's school of discipline, but it simply means there will be little learning and lots of repetition. Friends, learn the lessons of dependence upon God that there are for you.

What's the purpose of your suffering? As Christians, we know that Christ's suffering had a unique purpose. Christ, we understand, actually suffered in our stead. We understand that God made everybody in the world in his image and that we are made to know him and to relate to him as a loving Father, but we have rebelled against him. That's what we Christians understand sin is, doing what we want rather than what God wants. God would be entirely good to let us forever fall under his punishment, but in his amazing grace, he came himself and took on flesh. He lived a perfect life in Jesus of Nazareth. He owed, as it were, no death penalty or punishment of his own sins, but he died the death that we deserved. He died the death of God's penalty for sins for all of us that would ever repent of our sins and trust in him. God raised him from the dead to show that, "Yes, my wrath against this people is exhausted, that I have really been in this Jesus of Nazareth." That's why when people want to deny that Jesus is God they have to deny the crucifixion and the resurrection. They cannot take hold of that because that gives the clue, the needed clue, to understand who Jesus is. He calls us to turn from our sins and to turn to him and to have faith in him and what he's done on the Cross for us, so we have new life. In our experience of life as Christians, we experience trials, and we know these trials purify us. What are your sufferings doing in your own life? What effects are they having in your soul?

God purifies us through Jesus Christ

Brothers and sisters, pray that God will give you a growing desire for him and his holiness, a desire that exceeds your desire for other smaller things like clear future plans, immediate and obvious success, death-free families, and temptation free lives. Pray that your desire for God exceeds all these other desires. We as Christians are attentive and humble and obedient to God because God's power is complete and his purposes are good to deliver his people through trials and even to use these very trials to purify us. We also see in these chapters that he does this by the Son of Man. Did you notice in these final chapters that image? This is that image that Jesus used so powerfully. He employed so much. It is this image that absolutely confounded the strong monotheist that Daniel himself was and that we are.

(Read Daniel 7:13-14)

One of the ways I think we can see this is a vision from God is because Daniel would not have known how to think up something like this; it's just not Jewish. "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man ..." now, so far that's okay. Ezekiel called himself son of man, it can just mean human, but then look at this, "coming with the clouds of heaven." Now, that's getting confusing. "He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence." Verse 14 is what really is utterly indecipherable to someone who does not come to believe in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. "He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him." This is centuries before Jesus. This is centuries before the Christian Bible. "His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed."

Look at Daniel 9:24: "Seventy 'sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in," and then what an odd phrase: "everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place." Look at Daniel 9:26: "After the sixty-two 'sevens,' the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing." When Jesus was arrested, we read in the Gospels that the high priest asked him, "'Are you the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?' 'I am,' Jesus said, 'and you will see the Son of Man,'" referring to himself, "'sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One coming on the clouds of heaven.'"

Being attentive to God's Word and to these God-given visions helps us to understand Jesus better. As a church, we are all about preaching and learning and celebrating Jesus Christ, so we are attentive and humble and obedient to God because his power is complete and his good purposes are to preserve us through the trials and to give us everlasting righteousness and to purify us through Jesus Christ.

God's good purpose is to raise and reign with his people

We also find out in these chapters that part of God's good purpose is to raise his people. Sometimes you may hear it said that resurrection is never taught in the Old Testament. That isn't true. Did you realize that the Bible teaches that our hopes are not limited to this life? Look with me again at chapter 12. We read the promise there at the beginning of chapter 12 that "everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever." Look down at the very last verse, the last sentences in the book. Look at what God communicates to Daniel at the end of all these visions. Daniel is in his mid-80s, the last information we have about Daniel's life, it's him hearing these words: "As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then …" It's amazing, after the "you will rest" there is a "and then": "And then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance."

If you're here and you're not a Christian, I wonder if you've realized that God has an eternal plan for his people. We are those made specifically in his image and we've been made with a life that's more than merely physical, one that outlasts death itself. Jesus told us that he is the resurrection and the life. He taught that "My father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." Jesus confirmed this teaching in his own teaching and in his own life and death and resurrection, all of what the Old Testament taught before him. Christians, are your hopes in this life being exhausted? Are you finding this one and that one going dry in disappointment? Never fear. A greater hope is dawning, one that is even more precious: living forever with the King, your Father. God graciously and generously promises us eternal life with him, and we are unapologetic about holding out that eternal hope that we have in Christ.

God has come to be with us in Christ, that we may finally go to be with him forever. We don't fear death wondering if God will put our works on the scale of good or bad and hope that it will be enough good that we will be able to get in. We live in no such fear as Christians. That's why we don't have to fear death the way others do because we know that we are found acceptable in Christ, that we have been accepted by the Father, and we will be with him forever. This is our great hope. Our guilt is gone because of Christ. I can say, after losing my voice for the last three weeks, we will also be able to sing in heaven. We will have voices that never end and that are far better than our worldly voices, and we will be able, with them, to reflect even more of the majesty of God, even more appropriate praise for who he is, forever and ever and ever. Take any other pleasure that you are aware of in your life that is good and right and holy and multiply it to an unthinkable degree and you begin to get an understanding of the joy there is in the presence of our heavenly Father forever. So we are attentive and humble and obedient because God's power is complete and God's good purposes are to preserve his people through trials to purify his people by the Son of Man and to one day raise us up from our silent graves to the noisy joy of heaven. Praise God.

We find here even in these chapters that one of God's good purposes is for God to reign with his people. Here in these visions is a clear presentation of our co-reigning with God forever. We know from Daniel 7:14 that the Son of Man will reign forever. That's confusing enough, but we see down in verse 18 then that "The saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever." He talks again then in Daniel 7:22 about when the saints will finally possess the kingdom forever. We read a summary in Daniel 7:25.

(Read Daniel 7:25)

God's plan is to glorify himself by glorifying us made in his image. So Paul mentioned to the Corinthians that the saints would judge the earth, and to Timothy that we would reign with Christ. This too is part of God's good purposes that he uses his omnipotence to guarantee.


There is much more that we could learn from these visions, but we must conclude. What is the point of these visions for us today? These are meant as an encouragement to the believer to gain understanding and humility before God and to stand fast in serving the true God because God is sovereign over all and his purpose is both good and certain. He will preserve and purify his people through exile and limited trials from ungodly powers, deliver them through the Son of Man, and raise them to new life at the end to reign with him forever. That's what these visions are all about. I think Peter may have had these visions in part in mind when he wrote the words in 1 Peter 1:3-7.

(Read 1 Peter 1:3-7)

You know, the people who have had this hope most greatly, this hope which is not grounded in this world, have made the most impact on this world. Ironic, isn't it? But it's true.

This coming Friday is the 200th anniversary of the British House of Commons voting for the abolition of slavery. It was the climax of more than 20 years of work by William Wilberforce and others. Because of his work, the slave trade was outlawed in Britain and later that year here in the United States. In celebration of that fact, in just a moment we will join Christians around the world today who will be singing that great hymn of Wilberforce's friend, John Newton, "Amazing Grace." Many people don't realize this but the 18th Century awakening in England saw among other things a together for the gospel style cross-denominational cooperation among Anglicans, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists together. One of Anglican minister John Newton's great friends was the Baptist minister, John Ryland. As Ryland's wife lay on the verge of death, John Newton wrote him these words on January 23, 1787:

How often have we told our hearers that our all-sufficient and faithful Lord can and will make good every want and loss? How often have we spoken of the light of his countenance as a full compensation for every suffering, and that the trials of the present life is not worthy to be compared with the exceeding abundant and eternal weight of glory to which they're leading. We must not therefore wonder if we are sometimes called to exemplify the power of what we have said and to show our people that we have not set before them an unfelt truth which we have learned from books and men only. You are now in a post of honor and many eyes are upon you. May the Lord enable you to glorify him and to encourage them by your exemplary submission to his will.

May we so be enabled every day God gives us the grace to live, whatever may come, until he calls us home to be with him forever.

Mark Dever is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and president of 9Marks.

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Sermon Outline:

I. Daniel is attentive to God

II. Daniel is humble before God

III. Daniel is obedient to God

IV. God alone is all-powerful

V. The goodness of God's purposes

VI. The Lord preserves his own people even through trials

VII. God purifies us through Jesus Christ

VIII. God's good purpose is to raise and reign with his people