I know this is the opening weekend of the gun season for deer hunting, but I’m going to ask a question about tennis. I don’t know how many of you are tennis players out there, but if you are a tennis player — or if you are a tennis fan who knows at least a little bit about tennis — wouldn’t you love to be Leonoid Stanislavskyi? In fact, I don’t think you would have to know one thing about tennis, and you could still love to be Leonoid Stanislavskyi. Earlier this month there was a news report about Leonoid, who lives in the country of Ukraine, that he recently went to a tennis camp in Spain, and that he was allowed to volley with one of the greatest tennis players in the world right now, Rafael Nadal. That in and of itself may not seem like such a big deal, until you realize that Leonoid Stanisalvaskyi is… 97 years old – the oldest competitive tennis player in the world, we’re told, who still competes in world and European championships for seniors. I guess you could say that for someone like Leonoid, “Age is just a number.”
“Age is just a number” is an expression that people like to use sometimes to say that the number of years you have lived should not mean you have to set limitations for yourself – that you are never too old to learn more or to do things you would like to do. And while many of us might agree that that is a great attitude to have if you can really see life in that way, the fact of the matter is that all of us have to also agree that even if in your attitude age is just a number, in reality, age is a very limited number. For each and every one of us there will be a number that we will not go beyond – whatever that number might be in God’s plan for us.
That’s why we can be so thankful to hear in our Lesson for today from the book of Daniel that there is someone who is not just old, but “Ancient,” we are told – the one referred to in these words as “The Ancient of Days” – someone who is without number, because he is without beginning or end – someone in whom therefore we can put our trust during the few years of life that God gives us, because there truly is no limit to what he can do, nor any reason whatsoever to doubt his promise of what he will continue to do, as we make our way toward the end of whatever number of days God gives us. Today on Christ the King Sunday I pray these words from Daniel the Prophet can help us be so thankful that when it comes to our heavenly Father, who sent his Son, Jesus Christ to be the King of Kings, “Ancient Is Not Just a Number!”
The opening words of our Lesson refer to a vision that Daniel received from God a number of years before he was thrown into the lion’s den for refusing to bow down and worship a statue of the King of the land. The words of our Lesson are the last verses of this vision, in which he saw four ferocious beasts who were trying to devour God’s people. This vision was very similar to some of the visions in the book of Revelation, in which the Lord reminds us that there will be many spiritual enemies and governmental powers that, one after another throughout history, will try to harm our faith and stop the wonderful message of Jesus Christ from being proclaimed to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people. But they will not win the victory – at least, not the final victory. And that is what these last two verses of the vision of animals are meant to assure us. We sang about it earlier: “Though the nations rage, Kingdoms rise and fall, There is still one king reigning over all. So I will not fear, For this truth remains: That my God is the Ancient of Days.”
Obviously, it’s easy to be confused about that right now, isn’t it? Worried right now. Wondering right now what possible good can result from all the friction and fracturing going on right now. That is all the more reason to thank God right now that for the Ancient of Days, Ancient is not just a number, but so much more than that. For one thing, it’s a comfort. After all, who is this that Daniel saw in his vision that was led into the presence of the Ancient of Days? The one who approached the Ancient of Days is here described as “one like a son of man.” Who is the Son of Man who has always been in the presence of the heavenly Father, watching and ruling over everything that happened way back then and even right now? It is Jesus Christ himself. It is the one who in the midst of eternity spent thirty-some years worth of days on the earth to prove that the Ancient of Days has everything under control because Jesus Christ came as the King of heaven and earth to put an end to the sin that has caused such chaos on the earth every single day of every single century that anyone has ever lived on the earth.
By putting an end to sin, we know that Jesus’ arrival on the earth did not end people’s sins. Sadly, you and I are living proof of that – living proof that you and I would be consumed to a crisp if we ourselves were led into the presence of the Ancient of Days. After all, it is what you and I continue to do against God in our lives that is the reason why our lives are so often filled with fear and heartache – either because of what we ourselves have done in our sin or what others in their sin have done against us. We are all in that same sinful boat together… What Jesus did do by putting an end to sin, thank God, was put an end to the guilt of the sin which you and I commit. He put an end to our fear of having to think that at the end of our lives in this world of chaos, we would be led into an eternity that would be indescribably worse. But that will not be the case for us through the work of the Son of Man, who, though eternal God, became a humble man, so he could die on the earth, so he could be buried in the earth, and, then praise God, as God could be raised from the earth and return to the presence of the Ancient of Days, his heavenly Father, in whose presence he had always been – and promises – yes, promises — where you and I will someday be – without any reason to be afraid, but with every reason to be happy and thankful and filled with what the Bible calls a glorious and inexpressible joy.
And it’s what Jesus has done for us in the past is what gives us the confidence to trust the promise that he will continue to do that for us until the end of time, which includes the end of our lives. The last verse – verse 14 – says it this way: “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 had just seen a horrific vision of these fierce animals – earthly governments and societies and cultures – attacking God’s people over the time of history – but all those “animals” died. Those kingdoms ended. There is no human being alive who could possibly know the names of every single kingdom that ever once was but now is not. But the rule of Jesus Christ in the hearts of people who believe in him as their Savior has never passed away – and it will not!
And, as Daniel here saw, it can’t pass way, because this kingdom is obviously not an earthly one, but a spiritual kingdom called the Holy Christian Church – people of all time, including right now like you and me – people whose names we have never heard of and would likely have difficulty pronouncing – people who have faces very similar in features to those we see around us this morning and people of skin colors and spoken languages far different from ours, but all completely united in the voice of faith that cries out, “Lord Jesus, My King – and the King of All, have mercy on me – and give me your peace,” – because they have been people, many long since dead, and some still alive, who have gone through – and are still going through – the exact same kinds of things that confuse us, that torment us and that make us at times quake with fear – all of whom are people who put their trust in the same King we do – the one who has all authority, glory and sovereign power – people, who, even if we only think about those in our own synod mission program we are united with, yes, in Massachusetts and Tennessee and North Dakota – but also in Cameroon and Ethiopia and Kenya and Malawi and Nigeria and Zambia – people in East Asia and India and Indonesia and Pakistan and the Philippines and Thailand and Vietnam – people in Bolivia and Brazil and Colombia and Ecuador and the Dominican Republic and Haiti and Mexico and Puerto Rico — people in Albania and Bulgaria and Russia and Ukraine.
For that 97-year-old tennis player from Ukraine, age may truly be just a number — and we do of course thank God for good health and long life, if that is our Lord’s will. But let’s especially thank God with all our hearts that when it comes to Jesus Christ and our heavenly Father — the Ancient Days — Ancient is not just a number, but is so much more. It’s the comfort of what our Savior has done for us to make us part of his family through the forgiveness of our sins, such as we will also receive through the Lord’s Supper – and it’s the promise that in the midst of the craziness of what has always been the case in this world, he will continue to watch over us and rule over us – until you and I reach the time when there will be no end of days to thank him and to thank him and to thank him again – with an awful lot of other people. Wouldn’t it be great if Leonoid was one of them?