Saints Triumphant Sunday - 18 November 2018
Rev. John Derme
"You will shine like stars." I know, it sounds like a line from a high school graduation speech. "When you set your heart on pursuing your passion, nothing can stop you. Just follow your dreams, and you will shine likes stars in this world." Of course, that is absolutely false. Plenty of things can stop you from accomplishing what you want to do. Very few people are considered "stars" in this world.
Yet today we heard those words, "You will shine like stars," and they didn't come from some fluffy motivational speech. We heard them in our First Lesson from Daniel chapter 12. Jesus doesn't want you to think that this life is going to turn out exactly as you want it to go. In fact, he is very honest about how distressful our lives will be. But after this life, when this world comes to an end, then you will shine like stars.
Jesus himself spoke this promise to the prophet Daniel. Of course, Daniel lived long before the birth of Jesus. He actually tells us exactly when Jesus appeared to him to speak the words that he recorded in our lesson: April 23, 536 B.C. That day the pre-incarnate Christ, before he became a human being, told Daniel what would happen in the future.
The people of Judah had just been given permission to return to their homeland following to the exile to Babyon. But Daniel remained in Persia. It was there on the bank of the Tigris river that Jesus appeared and told him what would happen to the Jewish people during the time between the end of the writing of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. Then Jesus also went from talking about the events of that coming time period to teaching about events that would happen before the end of the world. Jesus was speaking about the time in which you and I live.
That's where our First Lesson picks up. Yes, even though Daniel heard Jesus speak these words 2554 years ago, the pre-incarnate Christ was speaking about what is happening right now in your world. If you were hoping to hear a feel-good speech about how great your life will be, you may be disappointed, because at the beginning of Daniel chapter 12, Jesus says that these end times in which we life are more distressing than any time that has come before us.
We see distressing things in our world. We see constant war. War is terrible. We see hatred, and we know how that can ruin lives. We see natural disasters – terrible storms and fires, for example. But as bad as all these are, they aren't the most terrible distress. The worst distress is caused by false teaching. It's bad enough that false religions teach people that they have to do things to save themselves. But in his words to Daniel, Jesus warns us that we live in a time when Christians are led away from the truth and attacked by teachers from within the Christian church. Nothing could be worse than supposedly Christian teachers attacking those who teach what Jesus says and telling Christians to believe what is false. Yet Jesus says that is what is happening in our world.
Dear friends, if Jesus warns us about it, it must be serious. Take his words to heart, and do not be led away from him in this great distress. Do not follow these false Christians to hell. Be on your guard and do not believe everyone who calls him- or herself a Christian teacher, no matter how prominent or beloved her or she is. Hear and trust the words, warnings, and promises of Jesus alone!
When you hear Jesus' warning, you understand that you would never mistake him for a high school graduation speaker, because he is serious about the challenges before us. But he doesn't only have bad news for us. In fact, he has great news for us today – for the lives we live now, and for eternal life. While we live in this world, we are surrounded by distress, but he doesn’t leave us to take care of ourselves. He protects us. One of the ways he protects us is through his mighty angels. In his words to Daniel. Jesus metions one of his angels by name: Michael, his warrior archangel. Michael fights for God's people, for you. So you've got a friend whom you can't even see!
Finally, the Lord will help by bringing the distress in this world to an end. He will deliver us from it. Those who bring the distress will be stopped. Everyone whose name is written in the book of life will be saved. Even before the creation of the world, God knew you. He wanted you to be saved. He wanted you to be with him forever. He wrote the names of all his chosen people in a book, so you know that he can't forget you! And he promises to bring his chosen people through all the distress to salvation.
God did more than just choose you. He also sent his one and only Son to live and die for you. That is why, over 500 years after he spoke to Daniel, Jesus became a human being. During his ministry on earth, he spoke his warnings and promises to people. We heard them in our Gospel of the Day. Then he suffered and died for people. He suffered and died to pay for all the sins that you have committed, that would have taken you to hell. He declared you to be forgiven so that you can have life now and forever with him!
Since God chose you to be saved before creation, this can't be something that you have earned for yourself, as the false teachers say. It must be his free gift to you, as he clearly teaches in the Bible. He has extended this gift to you by his gospel message. He has washed your sins away in Baptism. He strengthens your faith in Communion. He has brought you to faith and he will preserve you in faith through his Word until the last day.
But even when the last day of this world comes, God will still not be done blessing us. Jesus explained to Daniel that at the end of the world he will raise us from the dead. Not just you and me, but multitudes will rise from death. Jesus will raise us just as easily as you or I wake someone up from a nap. On that day, the false teachers and all who rejected Jesus' gospel of forgiveness will go to suffer for their sins. You and I and all who trust in what Jesus has said and done for us will live forever.
Sometimes we wonder what it will be like in the new heavens and new earth. Jesus tells us that we will be glorified there. Those who are wise, he says, who know the truth, who trust in him alone will shine like the brightness of the heavens! Those who lead other people there will shine like stars!
No, Jesus doesn't have bad news for us today. He has amazing encouragement. He encourages us, though we live in the days of unmatched distress, to keep on faithfully hearing and trusting in his truth, because he saves us through that truth. In spite of the distress, he encourages us to proclaim that truth, so that other people will also be saved.
It is hard to stay faithful to him, but the glory that he promises us will be so worth it. God wants to give that glory to you and me and many others. You know people whose names are written in the book of life, but who don't know that truth yet. They may have been led away from Jesus by false teachings. You can lead them to righteousness. You can be the one through whom Jesus speaks his truth and tells them that he has lived and died for them. It's not easy to do that in this world. But Jesus promises us that our work will not be in vain. And when that work is over, we will shine!
Do not mistake this for a feel-good celebration or motivational speech. This is Jesus' Word out of his own mouth. It is the truth. In this world, you experience distress. But after this life, when this world comes to an end, then you will shine like stars.