There was an elderly lady who lived in Aberdeen. She'd been part of her church for years. Her husband had died some time ago. She used to teach Sunday School classes. Some of those children were missionaries all over the world. But now the Sunday School class had shrunk. The congregation had shrunk. It had been some time since she could remember the church being full. World War Two had broken out. And now the minister had resigned to become a chaplain in the RAF. She was told the church was in debt and couldn't afford another minister. Some of her friends said the church should just close and call it a day. In fact they held a church meeting for to decide what to do. Of the 58 people who sat in the large empty Victorian church that night, only 26 voted to carry on. The elderly lady felt discouraged. And so she went home, threw a few coals onto her small fire and sat down in her favourite chair... We'll find out what happened later.
We join Daniel's story in chapter 10 when he too had reason to be discouraged. Now in his late eighties, he was still in exile in Babylon far from the home of his youth. In fact we learn that Daniel is in mourning. Verse two says this: 'At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. 3 I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.' So why was Daniel just eating vegetables? Why wasn't he using his usual aftershave lotion? In verse 12 we find out Daniel has been praying. And what has Daniel been mourning and praying about?
It is probable that Daniel was praying for the Jews who had been allowed by King Cyrus to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. However, it is likely that by this time they were encountering opposition to their plans. Ezra 4:4-5 records that the
peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They hired counsellors to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.
The renewed plight of God's people after all that time in exile would likely have distressed Daniel, and made him turn to God in prayer like we saw last week. And it is after this period of mourning and prayer that Daniel is given a vision. Verse 1 simply tells us that,
Its message was true and it concerned a great war.
This vision, that only starts to be fully revealed in chapter 11, concerns the suffering of God's people. And it's a pretty stark headline for the vision, that this chapter acts as a trailer to. But it reminds us that Jesus says to his people,
If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Jesus suffered , and those who follow him, to some degree, will share Jesus' rejection too. And so Daniel's vision underlines this. In the future, God's people will suffer. But we're told this not to make us sad, but to prepare us. I've got a friend who lives the country, and he once took some of us out onto his land and let us have a go with his Dad's shotguns. Before I had go, he said, "Be careful, it's got a powerful recoil." And he was right. It did have a powerful recoil! He told me not to put me off, but to prepare me. So the bible includes such visions not to make us fed up, but to brace us for the future.
So God's people were facing an uncertain future. And so God sends Daniel a vision, a vision that would not only brace him but encourage him. A vision that would hearten Israel in the tough times. And vision that would cheer God's people today as well.
What I want us to be encouraged by tonight is this: God rules in power, and works through prayer. Now you might be thinking, "Hmmm, I think I've heard a sermon like this before over this last term." And in one sense you'd be right! But there is a reason God has given us this book that keeps on hammering home the message that He rules. It's something we struggle to understand and apply to our lives. So unless you trust God perfectly and your prayer life is truly wonderful we all need to be listening. I know I need to! So my first point is:
God Rules in Power.
Let's read from verse 4:
On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.
Who is this man? Some suggest it is the Angel Gabriel who we see in Chapter 8, but then why not name him? Some suggest it is a vision of the pre-incarnate Christ as the description is similar to that of Christ in Revelation Chapter 1. However, in verse 13 the man says he was helped by the angel Michael, which makes me feel less confident about saying he is Christ. Either way God is the source of this vision. And this messenger communicates the splendour, power and dread of the God he serves. Daniel, an old and hungry man is wrecked physically and psychologically by this vision. Let's hear what Daniel say in verse 7:
I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; the men with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground. A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. He said, "Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you." And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling.
Listen to the words Daniel uses again: "terror overwhelmed them…I had no strength left…my face turned deathly pale….I was helpless….[he] set me trembling on my hands and knees…I stood up trembling." The text doesn't just say 'Daniel had a really scary vision'. No, the text lists in detail how Daniel felt. Why? Because it impresses on us the power of the vision. The raw power of God's messenger, and the God he serves. Seeing this vision left its mark on Daniel.
Jon Bradley was an American soldier who served in the Pacific during World War Two. He became famous as one of those soldiers who raised the flag on top of the island, later to be immortalised as a memorial. He never spoke of what he saw. On his first date with his to be wife, he briefly discussed it for 7 minutes. It was only after they married that his wife saw the toll it bore on him. He wept regularly at night for four years. All because of what he had seen. The trauma he'd experienced. Daniel too was traumatised by what he saw that day. It was the sheer power of God's messenger that brought him to his knees.
My wife was working nights this week, so I had some time to watch the superhero film The Avengers. The bad guy is Viking god called Loki. And at one point Loki meets the Incredible Hulk. Loki stands up to the Hulk and says "I'm a God you dull creature and I will not be bullied!" The Hulk then promptly picks him up and flattens him and retorts "Puny God!" Our God is not puny. He rules in power! And that should give us great confidence when we face uncertain times. Our God is far more powerful than his enemies. And we see this from verse 13 onwards where the messenger reveals what he has been doing for the three weeks Daniel has been praying:
But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.
The messenger has been fighting with the prince of the Persian kingdom. That's not the human king of Persia, but seems to be a demon. The messenger is helped by Michael, an angel.
Last week I had dinner at a friend's flat. She lives on the second floor and the living room windows have a view of the whole city. And imagine pulling the curtain back at night time is so pleasing as the view of the Tyne Valley, Gateshead and Newcastle all lit up at night comes into view. Here in Daniel, it's as if God is pulling back a curtain and we're getting a glimpse into the spiritual world that we don't usually see. And it seems to reveal the reality of angels and demons. These are the same forces Paul writes about at the end of Ephesians when he says:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
The bible shows that we live out our lives on a spiritual battlefield. And every time sin rules in our hearts, such forces are involved.
The American preacher Ligon Duncan tells the story of a young Francis Schaeffer, the American writer, trying to share the gospel with a man, and show him spiritual realities. They sat in a church, and Schaeffer said , "Tell me, what do you see?" A the man listed all the pulpit, the font, the chairs and the furniture." He listed all he could see and still Schaeffer asked him if he could see anything else. The man said, "No!" To which Schaeffer replied, "Let me tell you what I see. I see powers and principalities. I see spiritual forces above engaged in a war for your soul." Schaeffer knew the reality of spiritual conflict. And we must too. But we must do so remembering God rules in power. We see in verse 14 that the messenger has come to tell Daniel of what will happen to God's people in the future. God knows the future because God rules in power over the future.
In verse 21 the messenger tells Daniel he will reveal what is written in the 'Book of Truth,' which is a picture of God's total knowledge and rule over history. God is far greater than his enemies. And so Daniel's vision tells us that although God's people will suffer for a time, we can know that our God rules in power. We now know that God has triumphed over Satan at the cross. History heads in God's direction alone. When life is uncertain let that truth warm your hearts.
So when we consider the reality of demonic forces, as John Piper says, we musn't "be presumptuous, as though demons were weak; and [neither must we] be anxious, as though they were stronger than Jesus." God rules in power.
And it's worth saying this too: If you are like the man Schaeffer was speaking to all those years ago, Satan doesn't want you to put your trust in Jesus. And it is a terrible thing to be in the wrong with the God who rules in power. So please, put your trust in Jesus to deal with your sin and make you right to God. It is a wonderful thing to know that the God who rules in power 'esteems' you and loves you in Jesus.
And because God rules in power it makes total sense to bring our prayers to him. Daniel knew that. And so he prayed for three weeks that God would show favour to his people and city. And so my second point is
God Works Through Prayer.
Let's see what use Daniel's prayers were in verse 13:
Then he continued, "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.
Daniel prayed, and God sent a messenger to Daniel. Now don't go home tonight and get disappointed that when you pray for something, God doesn't send a heavenly messenger. This is not to be expected. But what we can say is that God does hear and answer our prayers.
And again, it's as if God is pulling back to curtain and showing us some spiritual realities here. Daniel prayed for three weeks, and the messenger says he was detained for three weeks by fighting a demon. And this appears to be a response to Daniel's prayer. And it makes you wonder why does God do it like that? Why does God move his people to pray so he can answer them? It seems a difficult way of doing things! Dale Ralph Davies, in his commentary, suggests that God allows us to see our need so that we will prize the fulfilment of it. We delight in how he meets our needs.
God does work in creation without prayer, but it seems that in many cases, like here in Daniel, he moves the hearts of his people to pray and he begins to bring help to his people. God works through prayer.
William Still became a minister just after the war. His church was in inner city Aberdeen parish with a shrinking congregation. A few months after taking up the post he visited an elderly lady. She said this: "I have been praying for many years that God would send a man who was a little bit out of the usual to do a work for the Lord here in Aberdeen. And from what I hear, you are the answer to my prayer." She continued saying: "It was only after my dear husband died and I was by then rather frail and only able to sit at my fireside and pray, that the Lord gave me this burden. It was as if he had said to me, 'you have served me long with these children and in your local congregation, but this is the task of your life, reserved for you in your eighties. You have to pray something for Aberdeen.'"
William Still ministered at Gilcomston Church in Aberdeen for sixty years, and it still one of the largest churches in Scotland. God used the prayers of that old lady as she sat by her fireside all those years ago. It's a great example of how God works through prayer.
Because God works through prayer Daniel prayed for God's people. But it's worth noting that Daniel doesn't pray to angels or pray about angels at all in any of the prayers in Daniel. In fact he's totally shocked when a messenger comes to visit him. He knew nothing of the spiritual conflict until God revealed it to him in a unique time and place in history. As John Piper points out, "Daniel's praying was not about angels. And probably ours shouldn't be either." We should pray for God's will in our lives, families and church but leave it up to God how he gets it done. Daniel's prayers were powerful because of the God he prayed to, and we can take encouragement that we pray to the same God.
God Rules in Power, and Works Through Prayer.
Let's just spend a little time applying this to our evangelism. Sometimes we wonder why people do not respond to the gospel. I'm sure many of us at some point have brought a friend to a talk or event at church where the gospel has been made so clear, we think, "This is it! They've got believe now." And at the end of it our friend turns to us and just looks totally not bothered. Why is that?
In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul tells us the reason for this: Satan blinds people to the truth. Paul writes in 4:4:
the god of this age [Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
And so Paul knows the remedy to this is God working in power to give them sight. It takes the same power that made the world to give us spiritual sight.
He writes in 4:6,
For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness,"made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
And so we must pray for our friends, families and community that God would work in power to open their eyes. It might mean making a prayer diary, jotting a few names down to pray for on a weekly basis.
And if you're not yet a Christian, I know that might seem strange. But I hope you can see that if you believed all this were true, you'd want people to pray for you in this way.
One of my favourite films is Gladiator. I haven't watched in a while because I've probably watched it too much, but at one point Maximus, the hero, gathers together his Roman troops before battle and to encourage his troops he says, "Brothers, what we do in life... echoes in eternity." As we look at Daniel we must be encouraged too as we face the spiritual battle. We have a God who rules in power, and works through prayer. In fact, the God who rules in power, and works through prayer offers you a chance, through your prayers, to collaborate in his purposes - and to do something that will indeed echo in eternity