It’s time…to worry. Inflation’s at a 30yr high and it’s not going away! Buy gold/silver as a hedge against inflation! / It’s time…to calm down. 17 Nobel laureates say it’s all just transitory inflation…the economy’s booming! It’s time…to join the currency revolution! The dollar’s garbage and crypto is king! Buy in! / It’s time…to stay invested – The dollar’s strong as it’s ever been – the market’s going to the moon! It’s time…to destroy this bill. If we pass these laws, constitutional order is over! / It’s time…to pass this legislation. If we don’t, the economy won’t survive.
It’s time…to invest, or cry, or vote, or panic, or rejoice, or… A lot of options lately. So many “it’s times” that maybe you say, “It’s time to turn off my TV and just hide in my basement for the next decade and a half…” Whatever you do, it’s true… This is a time of question. A time of questioning what to do or not to do. And I don’t think it’s too much to say, this is a time of distress…
Something like what Daniel saw. The beginning of our sermon text said, “At that time” What time was it? In chs.10-11, Daniel had a vision of history – the time up to the end. It’s distressing stuff: the rise and fall of nations, of peace agreements and wars, of princes and princesses and intrigue and betrayal, the rise and power and operation of the Antichrist – who puts himself in God’s place and over God and persecutes all those who will not worship him, and finally a vision of his fall and the end. And, Daniel says “at that time…There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then.” And you know it’s not just some obscure OT prophecy. Jesus said exactly the same in a verse just before our gospel lesson today: “those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.” (Mark 13:19)
Is it that time now? I don’t know that we’re there yet, at the distress like has never been since the beginning of nations… Believers have thought so throughout the ages at various times. Martin Luther’s commentary on these chapters mentions how the Turks were about to overrun Europe, and he was sure it must be the end. Many now think this is that time beginning. Maybe it is. Maybe it’s not. I think it’s mildly irrelevant because two things are true:
- Whether it’s the time of the greatest distress ever or just a distressing time, it’s all distressing. Either way, you’ve seen hatred, maybe violence, lost love and jobs, seen debilitating debt. You’ve experienced disease, cancer, Parkinson’s. You’ve watched loved ones die: some have seen friends die in battle, others have lost children, and some spouses to sickness or age or disease. And if that’s not distress, I don’t know what is…
- Always we’re called to characterize the time, and we’re tempted to do so negatively: It’s time to despair; It’s time to doubt; It’s time to fill our mouths with a negativity that tells us that our hearts are full of fear. And, if it’s the worst of times actually – then it will be a time meant to show that we are God’s own people…or not, depending – but even in just our own, small, personal worst times, we’re tempted to believe that his deliverance isn’t coming and the distress is undeserved and to display that we belong to a different Lord – of our own making or finding – one who can do what we need/want/love/feel…
This is why Daniel warned, “Multitudes…will awake…to shame and everlasting contempt.” To distress that won’t end, because, after choosing to be outside of God’s presence in life, they will be outside of his presence in everlasting death. The sinful times and their distress, they draw us toward that type of destruction…
But you heard what Daniel said. He calls our hearts to constant repentance, a turning away from whatever make-truth, my-truth, your-truth we’re tempted to own, because as believers we see what is. The time to which he was pointing, the time worse than any time ever before, because of sin’s effects, and pending death, and worldly destruction? About it he says, “[Y]our people…will be rescued.”
Who are Daniel’s people? Those are believing Jews, like Daniel, but also other believers like ones you’ve known and like you yourselves. Those whom St. Paul calls “all Israel” or the “true Israel by faith”. Daniel specifies it right there, actually: it’s “everyone whose name is found written in the book” Pick your vision of the end – when the Son of Man comes to judge, some will be his by faith and others won’t, and it will be known and recorded, and the Son of Man who is full of life (Jn 5:25-26) will give life to those written in his book. We call it rescue, deliverance – out of your distress – God will provide by his work salvation for you.
Reading Daniel adds some color to that “salvation picture” we carry. “Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise.” Michael is either God’s angel general or, as one notable Lutheran theologian put it, “[T]here is good reason for believing that Michael is a name given to [Jesus]…” That the descriptions of Michael as prince correspond with the description[s] of the Savior the same way (“Messiah the Prince” – Da 9:25; “the Prince of princes” – 8:25; “a Prince and a Savior” – Acts 5:31) And that Michael, pictured in Scripture as battling Satan and his angels and defeating them, is surely in line with our Lord Jesus defeating sin (and it’s guilt), death (and it’s threat), and the devil’s powers at Gethsemane in the garden, on Golgotha and his cross, and when he walked out of Joseph’s tomb full of life again… That theologian concluded: “the leader of the angels of the Lord, [Michael], is none other than our Savior.”
I don’t know if I’d say it that strongly. He was smarter than I am. But I mention that to you because, either way, that is the beauty of the picture! Either it’s Jesus -not the good shepherd or open-arms smiling, but as protector and prince, who rises up in power to rescue those he has washed clean by his blood, those written in his book for life… Or it’s Michael, God’s great angel general, bringing deliverance to God’s people, which is really the salvation that Jesus will finally bring…
Either way, I think, it’s simply meant to have you say, “This time of distress leads to deliverance…” Deliverance for those whose bodies have been in the dust of the earth, those written in the book of life – they’ll rise to live. Deliverance for those who have experienced distress – they’ll see this great victory of life over sin’s destruction and death. Deliverance by faith in Jesus Christ, our Prince of Power who has provided our Peace, the forgiveness for our sins – by his payment death and mighty life it will be life everlasting… And, whether it’s distresses in your life or that distress like no one has ever seen – this time / that time / every time… It’s Time for Encouragement.
What’s encouraging to you? We’ve moved into more wintry times now, but isn’t nature generally encouraging? Forget hay fever or Reynauds – I mean how you’re astounded by the fall colors, love to get away to the cabin by the lake, could sit by the ocean for hours. I think it’s because there’s something bigger than us, more glorious and constant than every day out there.
Talking about encouragement in that way, is there any wonder in your mind why God would picture for Daniel that those who are his own, the ones he delivers by Jesus’ salvation, that they “will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and…like the stars forever and ever”? Not for me. I love the stars. That’s encouraging… just to stand somewhere where there’s complete dark and to just take it in – the vastness, the wonder of God’s expanse, and the stars above. They’re so far away and beautiful and if you get out far enough, they are astounding, breathtaking, whole galaxies hiding there just beyond this blanket of light we throw over everything.
And that’s one of my most encouraging memories of my dad. Standing up on the Mogollon Rim in northern Arizona, looking up at stars through a clearing in the pines – a vast multitude, brilliant and shining – with my dad, who is a saint triumphant in heaven. And I have others – of grandma and grandpas and friends. I’m sure you do too – of believers you’ve cherished who’ve gone before you. We don’t worship the saints. God does not call us to venerate them. He doesn’t ever ask us to pray to them. Our salvation comes through the work of Jesus just like theirs did, and our help is in the name of the Lord alone. But I wonder whether God wants us to wonder at them – those who have gone before – in a right way. Those who have been testaments to his salvation, who have held to his Word, who have instructed us by that Word in what is good and right to do? It’s right to think of St. Paul as a shining example, formerly the unbeliever Saul, by whose pen God prods hearts to faith all the time. It’s right to think in gleaming memory of your father who taught you God’s Word and his forgiveness, that manliness is being like the Son of Man. It’s okay to remember as beautiful your wife or your sister or your friend who was a godly woman and who reminded you of Jesus’ love. What encouragement God provided us through them! Though they died, they shine in our memory and they will shine like the stars at God’s deliverance. All “those who are wise”…” those who lead many to righteousness”; that’s what they were to some degree – just like you.
It’s Time for Encouragement. God has promised deliverance in order to steel our hearts for the distress we will see so that our wisdom can shine. Right now. Daniel said, “Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered.” (11:33) and “Many will be purified [by suffering like that], made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.” (12:10) What St. Paul declared as the theme for all his marching through the distresses of life, “[W]e preach Christ crucified…[foolishness to the world, but] the power of God and the wisdom of God.” And he reminded us of what is true – who we are – by that Jesus’ wisdom and his saving work, “you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:23-25, 30) He has applied to us a brilliance we could not achieve ourselves. That Jesus, our Prince, is our righteousness – the holiness that marks us down in his book as his own. We ought then to reason, if anyone else’s name is to show up there, it will be by Jesus’ work and name too. And those possible names are the ones with whom we live and work and play. Those who experience all kinds of distress. They need encouragement too. And God’s provided it – in his Son – the very one his saints love, the wisdom and they carry to the world in what they say and do so that others might know righteousness too.
Through Daniel, God promises deliverance that is encouragement this world cannot provide – a wisdom and a way this world doesn’t know on its own – a Prince, a Savior, our Jesus. It’s exactly for all this distress – and because more is coming. But we don’t worry. Encouraged by his work, now is the right time, just the time, to let his wisdom shine, saints of God, and to bring real encouragement to the world. Amen.