Why Daniel?
January 14, 2024

Why Daniel?

Series:
Passage: 1 Maccabees 1:41-61, Zechariah 8:1-8, 20-23
Service Type:

Why Daniel?
1 Maccabees 1:41-61 & Zechariah 8:1-8, 20-23
by William Klock

 

The world is not what it once was.  My great-grandmother—the only one of my great-grandmothers I ever knew— was born in 1896.  When she died in 1993, I remember everyone talking about how much the world had changed in her lifetime and how she’d seen it all.  She was the daughter of Portuguese immigrants from the Azores, one of thirteen children in a close-knit family.  She grew up in Mission San Jose, a little town on the east side of San Francisco Bay.  It was centred on a church established by Father Junípero Serra, the 18th Century Franciscan missionary.  It was the Catholic California version of one of those New England Puritan towns centred on a white, clapboard Congregational church.  She could remember the days when no one had ever seen an automobile.  And she’d seen Neil Armstrong put that first human foot on the moon.  The Christmas I finally got the Atari 2600 I’d been begging for, she sat patiently and played Pac-Man with me, this woman who had grown up in a world not only without television, but even radios.  Hers was a lifetime of change.  It happened so fast.  From kerosene lamps to computers, from horse-drawn buggies to space shuttles, all in one lifetime.

 

Everyone talked about that century of progress in technological terms.  I don’t remember anyone talking about my great-grandmother having also seen the century of regress that happened simultaneously in religious, spiritual, and philosophical terms.  My grandmother had seen church attendance peak in the 1950s and then slowly decline.  The church that had once been the centre of the community in which she grew up is now little more than a tourist attraction.  She saw the decline of the family, the rise the “me” generation, and the sexual revolution.  She didn’t have the education that would have given her the philosophical language to describe those changes, but she knew them and felt them in her bones—and her bones ached terribly.  She knew sacrifice.  Her mother died when she was ten years old.  She dropped out of school after the fifth grade to take care of her family, doing most of the cooking and baking and housekeeping for her father and twelve brothers and sisters.  She knew what it meant to be part of and committed to a family and a community, to give and to sacrifice for the sake of others, and she couldn’t help but notice as her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and their (our) generations became focused on ourselves, on consumption, on materialism, unwilling to give, unable to comprehend the life she knew growing up.  Even though these things weren’t what people were talking about, these were far more significant, far more profound changes that took place during the Twentieth Century—far more important than telephones and TVs and airplanes and computers.

 

As a people we’ve adapted pretty readily from buggies to cars, from trains to aeroplanes, from telegraphs to texting.  It’s not to say technology hasn’t introduced its own problems.  But the other changes: the spiritual, the religious, the philosophical?  That’s another story.  And as much as the sexual revolution and the rise of rabid individualism were shocking and disorienting in a broad cultural sense for my great grandmother, the continuing spread and evolution of those same social, spiritual, and philosophical trends—and not least their acceleration—leaves most of us, I think, feeling like someone’s pulled the rug out from under us.

 

The pace of all this change spiritual and philosophical change is staggering.  The folks who promote all these changes like to pretend that nothing’s changed, but the rest of us are left breathless, troubled, even with anxiety about where things are headed and what it will mean for us.  There’s a cartoon where a Leftist, Progressive, Liberal man accusingly asks a traditionalist: “Who radicalised you?”  And the traditionalist leans in and says: “No one.  I’m just a normal person from five years ago.”  I think every one of us here can identify with that.  Just a few years ago the idea of people telling you their “pronouns” and expecting you to seriously play along was absurd.  Just a few years ago, most people would think you were crazy if you said that one day the City of Courtenay would be flying a rainbow “pride” flag from city hall and painting rainbow crosswalks downtown.  Just a few years ago, to look at the world and sort everyone into classes of “oppressor” and “oppressed”, to judge everyone on the basis of power and privilege or the lack thereof, that was the purview of a handful of Marxist academics.  And now, if you don’t support these things, people ask, “Who radicalised you?”  “Why can’t you get with the programme?”  Or they “cancel” you—something else we’d never heard of until a few short years ago.  If only we had the confidence to stand firm and respond like the man in the cartoon: “I’m just a normal person from five years ago.  You’re the ones who have lost your minds.”  Instead, we often feel as if we’ve been thrown into deep, murky water and are struggling to stay afloat while our feet scramble to find something solid on which to stand.

 

And speaking of something solid on which to stand, where is the Church in all of this?  We’re increasingly side-lined.  Our part of the world has always been the least-churched part of Christendom.  I like to think that there’s something providential in that—that God has us right where he wants us to teach us and to prepare us for the days ahead.  (This is, after all, why I think we need to study Daniel.)  Christianity has, at least in the eyes of the world out there, become pretty much irrelevant.  When I meet people in our community and talk to them about what I do, I realise that even a lot of older people, have no idea what we’re about.  They have as much idea of what goes on in a church as I have what goes on in the Legion Hall or the Masonic Lodge.  And they have as much interest in what goes on here as I have interest in the Legion or the Masons.  I’ve talked to people who don’t recognise a clerical collar, who don’t know what a pastor is, who know nothing about the Bible, and—one woman I talked to a few years ago—who thinks Jesus was a nice man who lived “a couple hundred years ago” and was “riffing off Buddha”.  The Dutch missiologist Stephan Paas describes this attitude towards the Church as “apatheism”.  Most people aren’t hostile towards us.  They just don’t care.  They think we’re quaint and maybe a little weird and that’s about it.

 

But when the Church does stand up for something: for the gospel, for Jesus, for right and wrong, for truth—when we do make ourselves heard.  When we openly challenge the gods and kings of the pagans.  Well, then we’re in trouble.  People get angry and nasty.  And there are people in the church who will jump overboard lest any of the anger or nastiness fall on them, lest people “out there” think less of them or call them haters or bigots for refusing to go along with this rapid-onset cultural insanity.  And so we end up sidelined even more and to communicate with the world around us becomes an even more uphill battle than it was before.  Like the Christians in the First and Second Centuries who were falsely accused of being atheists (because they worshipped only one god, which was as good as worshiping no god in the Greco-Roman world); who were accused of incest (because they called each other Brother and Sisters); who were accused of cannibalism (because they ate the body and drank the blood of the Lord); who were accused of being politically disruptive troublemakers (because they refused to worship Caesar).  The accusations today are a little different: we’re “haters” because we insist that sin is sin and truth is truth; we’re “bigots” because we believe that Jesus, crucified and risen, is the only way to the Father; and we’re patriarchal, sexist, misogynists, because we talk of God as Father and Jesus as Son and believe that God created men and women to be different, but complimentary.

 

And it’s even more troubling—like the rug being pulled out again—when fellow Christians give in and capitulate to this increasingly anti-Christian culture.  For most of my life, the division between the liberal Mainline churches and orthodox Evangelical churches has been in the past.  As Evangelicals we’ve watched those churches that capitulated to the culture a hundred years ago become less and less relevant as they’ve dwindled down to almost nothing.  And we’ve thought the church was done with those sorts of mistakes—with capitulating to the demands of the culture to get by or to become socially acceptable.  You cannot worship Yahweh and Zeus at the same altar—not and keep your soul.  Our generation (yours and mine) not only recognised that move as a betrayal of Jesus and the gospel, but also that it didn’t work.  And yet a new generation is trying it all over again.  My own seminary, a bastion of Evangelicalism when I went there, seems now to be turning out pastors who are reshaping the church and the gospel in light of those Neo-Marxist categories of oppressor and oppressed, of privileged and unprivileged; and embracing expressive individualism and all that means in terms of identity politics and postmodern sexual ethics and ideas of sexual identity.  I’m part of an alumni group on Facebook.  If you dare to say the things the seminary upheld thirty years ago, you’ll be woke-scolded and shut down in that infuriatingly post-modern passive aggressive way we’re all starting to know so well.  They sound remarkably—and creepily—like the Director of N.I.C.E. in C. S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength.  I listen to the sermons of some of those younger alumni and hear pastors who are leading their congregations in the process of “Deconstruction”, promoting a false gospel having more to do with Marx than with Jesus, and even defending sexual immorality.  Many of us here were forced out of the mainline Anglican churches as they followed a similar path decades ago, but now once strongly Evangelical denominations like the Christian and Missionary Alliance, the Mennonites, and the Canadian Baptists are spiralling that same drain—and their pastors, even as the go down the drain into apostasy and irrelevance, they’re rebuking and scolding those of us who are holding to the Bible with everything we’ve got, our solid rock in the midst of this raging sea.  Even our own Anglican Church in North America hasn’t been immune.  Barely a decade after our founding, having experienced all this wickedness, and we’re already having to confront a young generation who, with no personal experience of our old struggles, is ready to run straight back into that old folly.

 

What do we do?  The world is largely ambivalent to our message.  (I hand-delivered over a hundred invitations to Christianity Explored a few years ago to our neighbourhood and not a single person followed up, let alone showed up.)  And when we do speak up, when we do make ourselves noticeable, we’re shouted down, falsely accused of all sorts of things, and sent to go sit in the corner like bad children—and sometimes that’s exactly what we end up doing, because we don’t know what else to do.  So what do we do?

 

Brothers and Sisters, we’re not the first believers to face this, although after two thousand years of Christendom, it certainly feels like we’re the first.  And after two thousand years of Christendom, I think we’re struggling with how to respond to our world and with what to do.  Do we defend ourselves from the false accusations or do we go and sit in the corner?  How do we proclaim the good news when people are predisposed to dismiss it?  What do we do when our traditional methods of evangelism no longer work?  What do we do when the world pressures us to go along to get along?  And, I think the most important question of all, where is the Lord in all of this?  Brothers and Sisters, again, we’re not the first.

 

We could look back to the letters John wrote in the book of Revelation to the churches in Asia Minor—letters exhorting them to stand firm in faith, on Jesus and the gospel, because a storm of persecution was coming.  We looked at those letters two years ago.  Let’s look at another time of trouble for God’s people that most of us probably aren’t nearly so familiar with.  The books of First and Second Maccabees in the Apocrypha tell the story of Judah about 160 years before Jesus was born—in the time between the testaments.  The Jews had returned from the Babylonian exile, rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple, but still lived under Persian Rule.  The Greek conqueror, Alexander the Great, defeated the Persians in 331 BC and Judah became part of his empire.  Alexander, however, didn’t live very long and his generals divvied up his empire and then they and their descendants fought with each other for two-and-a-half centuries.  Poor Judah ended up caught in the middle of that.  Those Greek kings, for the most part, left Judah alone.  She had a special status as sort of a temple state, ruled by the high priest.  But things slowly went downhill.  The priesthood was bought and sold by corrupt men.  A lot of Jews gradually adopted the pagan ways and ideas of the Greeks and became less and less faithful to the torah.  But things really went bad for Judah under a king named Antiochus IV.  People called him “Epiphanies”—just like our current season of the church year—because he believed he was Zeus manifest (epiphany) in the flesh.  Antiochus was at war with Egypt and he wanted Judah to know that she belonged to him, not to the Egyptians.  He also wanted to get his hands on the temple treasury to fund his war efforts.  So Antiochus pillaged the temple, desecrated it with an altar of Zeus, and actively suppressed their Jewish way of life—their ability to live by the torah—and tried to turn them into good Greeks.  Here’s how the author of First Maccabees tells it.  Listen and see if any of this sounds uncomfortably familiar.

 

Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, and that all should give up their particular customs. All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the towns of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land, to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and festivals, to defile the sanctuary and the priests, to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and other unclean animals, and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, so that they would forget the law and change all the ordinances. He added, “And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.”

 

  In such words he wrote to his whole kingdom. He appointed inspectors over all the people and commanded the towns of Judah to offer sacrifice, town by town. Many of the people, everyone who forsook the law, joined them, and they did evil in the land; they drove Israel into hiding in every place of refuge they had.

 

  Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-fifth year, they erected a desolating sacrilege on the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding towns of Judah, and offered incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets. The books of the law that they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. Anyone found possessing the book of the covenant, or anyone who adhered to the law, was condemned to death by decree of the king. They kept using violence against Israel, against those who were found month after month in the towns. On the twenty-fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar that was on top of the altar of burnt offering. According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers’ necks.  (1 Maccabees 1:41-61)

 

Immense pressure was put on the people to conform.  Many of their leaders were in on it.  Many, feeling the pressure and fearing men rather than God, capitulated.  But not everyone.

 

But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. Very great wrath came upon Israel.

 

In the midst of that nightmare of persecution the book of Daniel was written.  (I know, you were starting to wonder what any of this has to do with Daniel.)  People were asking those questions: What do we do?  How do we remain faithful?  Where do we draw the line with these pagans and their demands?  And that all-important question above all else: Where is God in all of this?  Why is he allowing this to happen to us?  And so some anonymous writer, inspired by the Spirit, undertook to exhort his people by looking back to the last time Judah had faced tragedy and had been tempted to compromise with pagans: the Babylonian exile.  Specifically, he looked back to a man named Daniel.

 

In the centuries since Daniel had lived, he’d become the popular subject of stories about faithfulness and wisdom.  This man living during the reign of Antiochus collected some of those stories to form the first part of his book—stories written in Aramaic, which had become the common language of the Jews since their exile.  And then he wrote (in Hebrew) an apocalypse in the style of a prophecy told by Daniel, and in that apocalypse he recounts the history of Judah’s recent troubles, and through it all reminds the people that no matter what things look like, the Lord is sovereign over all—even pagan kings—and that he is with his people, even when it doesn’t seem like it.  And in the end, knowing the faithfulness of the God of Israel, he looks forward in hope to the vindication of his people and to the Lord finally setting things to rights.  Daniel is really quite a bit more complicated than that, but that’s it in a nutshell.  We’ll crack open the nut in the coming months and I trust we’ll be blessed, encouraged, and exhorted by what we find inside, especially knowing that it was written to people who felt as though the rug had been pulled out from under their feet and who were asking many of the same hard questions that we’re asking as God’s people today.

 

The answers aren’t always easy.  Sometimes we have to work out the math ourselves—like a “story problem”.  One of the interesting things about Daniel is that while we classify the book with the “Prophets” in Christians Bibles, the Jews placed this book in the section they call the “Writings”—all the books that aren’t Law or Prophet.  Not everyone agrees on why this happened, but the prevailing view seems to be that Daniel was seen early on as wisdom literature—like Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes—those books where the big questions are worked out.  Where is God?  How does faithfulness work out practically in life?  Daniel does just that and one of the things I appreciate about the book of Daniel is that it shows us how we work out these questions, how we work out how to be faithful to the Lord in difficult times and difficult places, in light of what the big story of God and his people teaches us.  I had originally planned for our Old Testament lesson to be something from Daniel, but as I looked at the lectionary and the lesson it gives us from Zechariah 8, I realised that it’s perfect.  Whoever compiled and composed Daniel as an exhortation to the people of Judah living under Antiochus Epiphanies, not only looked back to Daniel’s experience in the Exile, but he also knew the story and the promises the Lord had made to his people before and during that exile—promises like the one we heard earlier from Zechariah:

 

Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath. Thus says the Lord: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the Lord of hosts shall be called the holy mountain. Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Thus says the Lord of hosts: Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, says the Lord of hosts? Thus says the Lord of hosts: I will save my people from the east country and from the west country; and I will bring them to live in Jerusalem. They shall be my people and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.

 

He knew that there were parts of this prophecy yet to be fulfilled and in those dark days, that unfulfilled prophecy gave him hope, because he knew from the history of people that the Lord always does what he promises.  In particular, there’s the second half of our lesson, from verses 2-23:

 

Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, the inhabitants of many cities; the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, “Come, let us go to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.” Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”

 

The author of Daniel looked around at his people.  Even though many of the people he knew were doing their best to be faithful, he saw so much compromise.  No one was looking to the people of Judah and seeing the Lord in their midst.  The nations looked at Judah and saw a people who were conquered—and that meant their god was conquered too.  But because he knew that the Lord is faithful, he could look forward in hope to that day when the Lord would restore his people and make them what they were—what they are—supposed to be.  He could look forward to that day that you and I have seen fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah, when the men and women of the nations would finally, at last, take hold of a Jew—the Jew—and plead, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”

 

Brothers and Sisters, we have seen these prophecies fulfilled in Jesus. We are the gentiles who have grabbed hold of his blood-soaked garments and he has led us to the God of Israel.  We who were not a people, have through him, become his people.  We see promise after promise fulfilled in him, fulfilled in the pouring out of the Spirit, fulfilled as the gospel has gone out to the nations.  And we, too can look forward in faith knowing the Lord’s faithfulness—knowing, for example (again, just one of so many) that one day the knowledge of glory will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.  Friends, no matter how difficult or dark the days, whether we walk beside still waters or through the valley of the shadow of death, though we know blessing or we know cursing, though we experience his approval or his discipline, the Lord is with us.  He has given his Son for our sake.  He has poured out his Spirit to equip us for his work.  He has given us his gospel to proclaim for the life of the world.  And he has done none of that in vain.  I think Daniel will help us answer those hard questions, but before we hear him speak, let’s commit to holding fast to the solid rock, to the basic truths we already know, revealed in Jesus the Messiah himself: that the Lord loves us, that the Lord has a glorious future for us and all of creation, that the Lord is with us no matter what.  And most of all that great truth revealed in Jesus and in his death and resurrection: that the Lord will go to any length to keep his promise to us.

 

As we prayed in our Collect, let us pray again: Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth:  Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace (and fill us with faith and hope); through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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