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Sunday, December 18, 2016

December 18: Christmas According to Daniel

I saw in the night visions,

and behold, with the clouds of heaven
    there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
    and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
    and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
    should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
    that shall not be destroyed. - Daniel 7:13-14, ESV

Christmas According to Daniel:
The Son of Man vs. The Beastly Kingdoms of Man

I love Christmas, but sometimes the overly thick sentimentality of the world's celebration is too much for me to take. In other words, I love Christmas, but the idea that people are all basically good and that everyone will be happy and peaceful if we can just live out "the Christmas spirit" is a lie. It is actually a lie that goes directly against the true message of Christmas. The world's sentimentality might just blind us to the real joy offered, for what we need is not more "holiday spirit" but a Savior.

Far from the sentiment of holiday spirit, Daniel 7 brings us a stark and shocking picture of the kingdoms of the world. The great kingdoms of men are pictures as beasts which devour and destroy one another in succession. First, Daniel sees a lion with eagles' wings (Babylon). This beast was then replaced by a bear with "three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it was told, ‘Arise, devour much flesh.’" This is the Persian Empire. Next a leopard with four wings and four heads, representing Greece, which was divided into four kingdoms after the death of Alexander the Great. Finally, "a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet." This is Rome, mightiest of all of the kingdoms of men.   

The question we should perhaps ask ourselves is this: Which of these beasts would you like to have ruling over you? Well, God's people served and suffered under each one of these beasts in the 600 years from the days of Daniel to the rise of Christ. Daniel himself experienced the first two beasts, but he is given a vision (terrifying as it was for him) of the next 500 years of human civilization after him.

Interestingly, it is during the time of the fourth beast (Rome) that Daniel sees something very different and much more hopeful:

As I looked,
thrones were placed,
    and the Ancient of Days took his seat (Daniel 7:9)

Finally, into the midst of this ghastly, beastly, bloody, terrifying scene, God Himself comes and takes His royal throne. In contrasts to the world's beasts, God hands His kingdom authority to a man, specifically to "one like a son of man." This passage is where Jesus got His own favorite title for Himself, the Son of Man.

The beastly nature of the rule of the kingdoms of men was proven at the birth of Jesus. King Herod, who sat on the throne in Jerusalem, had one of his sons and one of his wives executed for plotting against him. Soon after the birth of Jesus, he would have all of the baby boys in Bethlehem slaughtered. Why? He was scared that a baby boy might be a threat to his throne. Herod was brutal and fearful, terrified and terrifying, just like an animal.

Has our world matured past the animal brutality of ancient rulers? Clearly and sadly, the answer is no. In South Sudan. 340,000 people have fled ethnic cleansing by the dominant Dinka tribe this year. 200,000 have fled Syria in 2016, fleeing a brutal dictatorship and an even more animalistic ISIS fighting against it in a savage civil war. South Sudan and Syria join a long list of places all around the world that have seen the worst savagery, committed by normal people.

In a world of animalistic cruelty, we need "one like a son of man," one who is human and humane, one who is strong and gentle, reasonable and kind, wise and loving, just and righteous. We need Jesus. Thankfully, Jesus has come and has been given His kingdom. His rule over all is a present reality. He is not only more humane than the beastly kingdoms of this world, but His rule is also eternal. He alone has a kingdom that will never end. He alone sits enthroned, unchallenged, forever.

This Christmas, we need so much more than sentimental holiday spirit. We need to come under the loving and powerful rule of the Son of Man. We need to see by faith that the baby on the manger sits enthroned as King of kings and Lord of lords. Only in His rule will our hearts find true peace.

Lord Jesus, You came to free Your people from the beastly reign of fallen men. You came to bring us out from the captivity of oppressive rulers and their Satanic agendas. You alone give us life, strength, forgiveness, hope and power over our enemies and their intent to destroy. Your death frees us from the power of sin and Your resurrection frees us from the power of death. Give us the eyes of faith to see the truth of Your reign this Christmas and always. May we come under Your protection and live for Your glory in this world. Amen.    

Here is an excellent sermon on Daniel 7 from Glenn Parkinson, Severna Park EP:

Here are two songs to help us worship our wonderful Deliverer this Advent season:

Rich Mullins' song, "My Deliverer," recorded by Rick Elias and the Ragamuffin Band (not the best video, but the best one I could find):

Third Day, "Our Deliverer":

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