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Worship Theme: Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead

Sermon Theme: Rise and Shine

Worse? How could it get worse?

Of all the thoughts racing through his mind early in the morning, that one thought was stuck on repeat. There in the darkness of his bedroom his eyes were wide open as he was wide awake, wondering how he could make it through another day.

By this time, he was an old man, and oh my he had been through so much. As a young teen Daniel had been kidnapped and captured, ripped away from his home and replanted over 400 miles away. His body still had scars from that journey. As a young man he faced the fire as King Nebuchadnezzar tested and threatened him and others. But Daniel stood through it by God’s grace. Not long after, his good friends and fellow leaders Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego literally faced the fire when they refused to worship the king’s image. (We heard about that a few weeks ago.) But God delivered again.

Daniel saw the throne pass from Nebuchadnezzar to his son. He was around when the son was assassinated. He was there when the Persians overthrew the Babylonians—just as God had showed him in a vision.

As he traced these distant, yet vivid memories, Daniel froze on one particularly memory. He remembered when he was in that same bedroom, praying with windows wide open and he was caught. Those who hated him caught him praying to the Lord and had tricked Persian King Darius into throwing him to the lions. It was dead silent in that bedroom that night, but Daniel’s ears echoed with the deafening roar of the lions, as if he was still there. But God had delivered him from that too.

Nearly 70 years as an exile, Daniel had been through so much. And he had seen so much—wickedness, assassination, persecution, and much more. And then, the day before, God had shown him in a vision how the power would pass to yet another kingdom, Greece, and more fighting and wars would follow. As the vision continued, Daniel heard these words from the Lord in the first verse of the first lesson this morning: “There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then.”

 Lying there in his bed that word, tsarah, “distress,” sent shivers down his spine. “More distress? More trouble? More anxiety? And a time of distress like has never been seen before? What do you mean, Lord? After all I’ve seen and been through, it’s going to get worse? How could it get worse?” The 80+ year old Daniel wondered if he could get up one more day and rise out of bed in the darkness of the morning to face all the darkness that the world had to offer.

Been there before? Lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. Bloodshot eyes from another poor night of sleep. Joints aching. Low back throbbing. But it’s not just a matter of energy or effort to get out of the bed. No, your still-damp pillow reminds you of the tears you poured out the night before, wrestling with God in prayer. “Why, Lord? Why am I suffering so much? When will I catch a break?” Thoughts race through your mind as quietly lie there in the darkness. The gravesite you stood by. The friends you lost touch with. The family rift that hurts you. The love of your life who abandoned you. Your dreams that were shattered and the broken pieces you can’t seem to put back together. The news stories that frighten you. The pandemic that annoys you.

Distress? Definitely. Trouble? Tons. Anxiety. You betcha. And now the words of the Lord to Daniel ring through the centuries and reverberate in your ears. Tsarah. More distress? What? A time is coming when it’s going to get worse? How can it get worse?

Like when a parent comes into the room in the morning and says Rise and Shine! and the child just pulls the covers over the head to hide and says, “No! I can’t! I just can’t today!” So, some days you may think, “No way! I just can’t! I can’t get up. I can’t take it anymore. How can I Rise and Shine when the darkness is too much?”

Such has been the roller coaster ride of life since sin has infiltrated our world and infected our hearts. As Satan and his evil angels advance against us, our weak and weary hearts stumble amid the chaos. How easy to despair! How easy to doubt! How strong the temptation to give in and give up!

If your heart is hurting, if you feel like the world’s walls are closing in, if you feel like the darkness is enshrouding you, if you hear the message that the tsarah, that distress is going to get worse and that makes you anxious and afraid, then dear people of God, take heart! The Lord had more to say to Daniel and he has more to say to you. Our gracious God has a message of comfort for his people, for you, the belittled and beleaguered, the beaten, battered, and badgered in this sin-wrecked world.

Yes, as the End and Judgment Day comes near, God says it will get worse. But he also says this, from verse one today: “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise.” Take heart! Be strong! Don’t be afraid! Because Michael will Rise and Shine with power and protection.

“Who’s Michael,” you ask? Good question. Michael is a Hebrew name that means who is like God. Michael is mentioned five times in the Bible and in the book of Jude he is clearly identified as an archangel of God. The Lord is promising here to Daniel and to us that one who is like God because of his power and might will be sent by God to protect us.

I’m not sure this is something that we think about much as God’s people. I can’t remember the last day I woke up and thought, “Wow there’s a lot of evil and darkness in this world but thank God Michael and the angels are shining with their brilliant power on my behalf!” It goes to show the grace and the care of our God. Even though we usually don’t think about it, and perhaps even though we aren’t aware of it, God sends one who is like God, the archangel Michael, along with armies of angels to fight for us in a cosmic battle for this world and our souls.

But don’t wait with bated breath worrying about the outcome of this spiritual war. Don’t wait for a notification on your phone to announce which side won. The Bible already tells us. Here’s what Revelation 12 says, “Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.”

 Satan was not strong enough. Satan did not win. But it’s not because of Michael. It’s because of someone else. God didn’t just send Michael, someone who is like God. God sent Immanuel, someone who is God—God with us.

God promised this, too. In just a few weeks during Advent we will hear that promise again through Isaiah, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” At our annual Lessons and Carols service and on Christmas Day, we’ll hear that good news of God come here in human flesh, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . in him was life and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Then later we’ll hear Jesus himself proclaim, I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

 It may seem some days like this world is overwhelming, like you could never rise out of bed because the darkness of this world is too much. But Jesus tells you, “Take heart! I have overcome the world.”

 Jesus is the one shone in the world with the light of his perfection. Though Jesus felt pain and hurt and sadness and rejection, his righteousness always beamed with perfect trust and love for his heavenly Father. He did that for you. He did it so that the darkness of your despair could be covered with the light of his perfection.

Even the darkest doom of this world—death—could not overshadow the Light of this world. As Jesus hung on a cross and literal darkness clouded the skies, spiritual darkness closed in on him. The darkness of our doubt and despair, the clouds of our guilt and shame covered over him. And war broke out as Michael and his angels fought Satan and his demons as Jesus battled Satan, death, and hell. Yet as Jesus the Light of the World squared off against the Prince of Darkness, he raised the victory cry, “It is finished!”

 And he proved it! He proved it! Three days later Jesus was the one to Rise and Shine in victory. The devil has been crushed. Death has been defeated. Light and life won. And that, my friends, means that we have won.

So now back to Daniel. The Lord said to Daniel and to us that things are bad, and they’re going to get worse. The distress is only going to increase. Yet he promises to us protection from Michael and his angels, and then our gracious God says this, But at that time [in these End Times when things are bad] your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered.” That’s you. That’s me. We have our names written in the book of life, permanently etched there by our Savior Jesus. We will be the ones delivered. So, what will that look like?

The Lord continues; “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” He’s talking about Judgment Day here. All will be raised and either go to life in heaven or death in hell. But again, take heart! Be strong! Don’t be afraid! We already know our fate, secured by Jesus Christ. Verse three tells us: “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.”

 Jesus once said, “Because I live, you also will live.” That’s exactly what God is telling us through Daniel. Because Jesus was the one to Rise and Shine with life and victory, we too will Rise and Shine. We will rise to life with him forever and ever. We will shine in his glory forever and ever. What comfort! What joy! What hope is ours!

Lying there, wide awake, and staring into the darkness, Daniel’s heart was racing. Worse? How could things get worse? He had already seen and experienced so much! How could he get out of bed to face the darkness yet again? Then suddenly a smile crossed Daniel’s face as the Lord blessed him with a sense of peace and calm. The Lord had renewed and refreshed his soul once again. The protection of Michael and the angels . . . the promise of heaven and everlasting glory! There is purpose to life. There is value to shining like Jesus in a dark world and sharing the Light with others lost in darkness. But best of all, there is hope. It’s a hope that only God himself can give through Jesus. He gave it to Daniel, and he gives it to you and to me, summed up so well in the very last verse of the book of Daniel, “As for you [Daniel], go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.”

 And my friends, so will you. Amen.

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Milwaukee, WI 53202