We Are Dying to Live

Today’s first reading from the book of Daniel 12: 1-3 shows how our great and gracious God has flipped everything around so that we are not living only to die, but “we are dying to live.”  November 18, 2018.

The six-year-old looks forward to his birthday.  The sixteen-year-old looks forward to her prom. The twenty-six-year-old looks forward to a promotion.  The forty-six-year-old looks forward to vacation. The sixty-six-year-old looks forward to retirement. How do we say it?  What’s the phrase? “I’m dying to open my birthday presents.” “I’m dying to wear the prom dress,” she says. “I’m dying to get the pay raise and extra benefits.”  “I’m dying to get on the cruise ship.” “I’m dying to sleep in each day and go for a walk whenever I want.” Perhaps those references to dying demonstrate a casual view of a serious subject, as if to say, “Death?  No big deal!” But death is a big deal, and one day each of us will face it.

So, what is our attitude, our outlook, about death, especially when it strikes closer to home, when we’re watching a loved one slowly slip away because of cancer, when we get the shocking news of a tragedy, when aging takes it final toll, when we ponder our own end of time on this earth?  Avoid the subject? Run the other way? Close our eyes and try to ignore it? More often than we care to admit, especially when Death swings his sickle and cuts short the life of someone we care about, there is fear. Is it possible to develop a whole new attitude regarding death? Yes! “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27 HSB), Jesus said.  Today’s first reading from the book of Daniel chapter twelve shows how our great and gracious God has flipped everything around so that we are not living only to die, but we are dying to live.  The prophet is pointing to …

Distress

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?  Dumped into a furnace because of their loyalty to the Lord.  Daniel? Dangling like lunch meat before the eyes of hungry lions because he followed the true God.  Yikes! Besides those historic accounts, this Bible book includes predictions about the four hundred years between the Old and New Testaments with nations being crushed like grapes in a winepress and the people of God getting squeezed in the vise grip of death.  It was a time of distress.

Glance at the headlines.  Watch the news. What do you see?  What do you hear? Evidence that 2018 is also a time of distress.  Just when world conflicts simmer down, local crime cooks up. Just when the waves of violence in the streets seem to ebb, the economy moves toward low tide.  And if that’s not enough, we have to deal with hassles at work or a relationship that is crumbling, to say nothing of the unexpected onslaught of a disease. Then we step in front of a mirror and see blemishes of greed, furrows of evil desires, wrinkles of worry, and the warts of sin.  What did we agree to at the beginning of worship? “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Our own sinfulness is the greatest stressor, the greatest distress, in our lives. The prophet Daniel is simply being honest. He reminds us that being a Christian does not mean putting on rose-colored glasses so that everything looks pink and pretty.  He passes along to us a message which he received from God, “There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations.”  Look around.  Look at your own life.  Do you think Daniel’s words have come true?  I do. There are days when we feel like calling out with Job, “Only a few years will pass before I go on the path of no return.  My spirit is broken, my days are cut short, the grave awaits me” (Job 16:22-17:1).  This is a time of distress, and we can easily feel like we are living only to die.

Deliverance

But then in a vision Daniel sees angels at work, protecting the people of God who had been scattered in exile throughout the Babylonian empire.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out of the furnace without even smelling like smoke. Daniel walked through the lion pride as though they were kittens.  At just the right time, God used his angel armies to raise up the Persian government and overthrow the Babylonians. After the Persians had served God’s purpose but continued to demonstrate pagan practices, God said, “That’s enough!” and raised up another world power.  Through it all, God was using a powerful angelic prince named Michael, who worked behind the scenes as his secret agent, to deliver God’s people from their enemies and guarantee their status as God’s children. Five centuries after Daniel, in a field outside of Bethlehem, God used his angelic armies to announce, “A Savior has been born to you.  He is Christ the Lord!” (Luke 2:11).

God has used his holy angels and his own mighty hand to shape history in such a way that we have heard and believe the good news that Jesus delivered us from the exile of God’s anger and declared us to be his saints.  “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people will arise ... At that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered.”  Only saints get their names written in the book of life which God will open on the last day.  Do you want to know if your name is in it? Then ask yourself this question, “Did Jesus really pay for my sins?”  You know the answer is, “Yes!” If your sins are covered by Jesus’ blood, and they surely are, that means God has declared you to be a saint, and your name is in the book of life.  God delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the flames of a furnace. God delivered us from the flames of hell. God delivered Daniel from the jaws of lions. God delivered us from the jaws of Satan.  God delivered the Israelites from captivity in Babylon. God delivered us from the captivity of sin. Look to the God of deliverance, and your attitude about death and “The End” will change. Yes, we are dying creatures, but we are looking forward to living with God now and forever.  We are dying to live.

Decision

God also gave Daniel a peek at what’s coming at the end of history.  “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”  Those who spent their lives avoiding God will experience a horrible fate on Judgment Day.  They will hear God say, “You wanted to live without me. Now die without me – forever!” They will be sentenced to perpetual divorce from God, never-ending shame and everlasting contempt.  This truth about God is hard for those who picture God as a lovable grandpa in the clouds who wouldn’t do anything worse to a person than a slap on the wrist.  But that is not the picture the Bible paints of God. The same God who at the time of Noah threw oceans of water over the mountain tops drowning a whole world of screaming people, the same God who scorched Sodom and Gomorrah in a hurricane of fire, the same God who saw to it that wicked Queen Jezebel was fed to dogs, that same God still reigns in heaven.

So, where does that leave us when God lines people up and makes decisions on Judgment Day?  Contrary to votes for a senate seat in Florida, God’s final decision is just that, final. But take heart!  Because Jesus’ blood covers our hearts, God’s decision to declare us to be saints will stand on Judgment Day.  Trusting that decision changes our attitude about death and “The End.” Yes, we are dying creatures, but we are looking forward to living with God now and forever.  We are dying to live.

Dazzling glory

Let’s face it.  Death is the rudest enemy, intruding into God’s good creation.  No one looks forward to dying. But we can look forward to what’s on the other side?  There’s an old story about a man who was terminally ill and afraid to die. He expressed his feelings to a friend who had come for a visit.  The friend was quiet at first, not knowing what to say. Just then they heard scratching at the door. When he opened it, in bounded his beautiful dog who often went with him on walks and visits.  The dog was glad to see his master. The friend then turned to the dying man and said, “My dog has never been in your room before, and he didn’t know what it was like in here. But he knew that I was here, and that was enough.  In the same way, I’m looking forward to heaven. I don’t know much about it, but I know my Savior is there, and that’s all I need.”

Unless Jesus returns first, the day will come when we will walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  But we don’t have to wonder what’s on the other side because we know that Jesus is there. And we won’t be idly sitting at his feet as he scratches behind our ears.  Listen to Daniel’s vision, multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake ... 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.  The description of believers as “those who are wise” has nothing to do with a person’s IQ.  I have known some seven-day-old babies who are wiser than Ph.D. scholars because those scholars have rejected Jesus, but those babies have faith planted in their hearts at baptism.  Do you realize that when you confess in the creed, “I believe in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” that you are demonstrating your membership in God’s eternal Mensa society? Do you realize that you can demonstrate that wisdom by confessing it not only here in church among fellow Christians but in your everyday life with people who don’t know as yet that “saint-status” is theirs through Jesus?  When you do, you we will be standing shoulder to shoulder with the prophet Daniel and with Pastor Theodor Jaekel, whose bronze plaque in the entryway has this Bible reference inscribed on it. Like them you will be shining like the stars. Your death and mine will be a step into dazzling glory with Jesus. Doesn’t that change our attitude about death and “The End”? Yes, we are dying creatures, but we are looking forward to living with God now and forever.  We are dying to live.

Death has been swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54).  What imagery comes to mind?  What picture? What scene? Is death a mackerel and victory the shark?  Is death a mouse and victory the lion? Is death a Twinkie and victory a fifteen-old boy?  How about this one? Death is a nasty tasting horse pill popped onto the tongue by someone willing to grab a big glass of water and gulp it down.  Is that too explicit? Are the images and scenes too gross to talk about, even think about? Maybe it’s the subject matter. Who wants to talk about, even think about, death?  Whether we like it or not, whether we think about it or not, every day, every step, every breath, every heart-beat inches us closer to death. We are living creatures but moving closer and closer to death.  It appears as though we are living only to die. But can there be a new reality? Yes! Daniel shows us that in the midst of distress, as we look to God’s deliverance, God’s decision in our favor, and dazzling glory to come, we get a whole new attitude, a whole new outlook, on the subject of death.  Because Jesus swallowed the horse pill of death, we never will. We are dying to live with him forever!    Amen.

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on November 18, 2018