By Simon ManchesterSunday 25 Aug 2013Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
St Thomas’ Anglican Church
Daniel – Sorrow for the Church
When I was a small boy and I was taken occasionally to church I used to prepare for church by filling my pockets with toys. It was the way to get me through the service. It wasn’t so much the singing and the praying bits,they seemed to go quite quickly,it was the long listening bit while somebody spoke. It never occurred to me to listen to the preacher,and I never did listen to the preacher,and so I went in knowing nothing and I went out knowing nothing. And I’m conscious that for many of you we’ve come to that part of the service where there is a long time for some listening and I’m sorry that if you’ve brought no toys to play with,you just are stuck! But I’m not really sorry because I hope you’ll listen. We have discovered that the things that are in the scriptures are more significant,and more valuable,and more important than things that are said in the newspapers or on the television and there are many who come here Sunday by Sunday especially to listen to the word of God. And so I want to ask you perhaps for the first time ever to listen from the start to the end of a shortish sermon and see what happens.
And I’m going to pray that God will help us,let’s bow our heads. Our loving Father we ask this morning that you would help us as we think about a portion of your word,to understand you better,and ourselves better,that the significance of this part of your word would do good for us and that would cause us to give honour to you. In Jesus’ name we pray,Amen.
I don’t know if you have at present a difficult relationship going on,one of the things that can really help a difficult relationship,and this may be rare but think about it,this really helps,is when the difficult person comes and really apologises to you. Imagine somebody whose been giving you trouble lately coming and saying to you something like this,”I just want to say to you that I’ve been really unfair lately. I’ve been difficult and selfish,I have been unhelpful,I’ve been unkind,I’ve been wrong,I am hoping that you will forgive me. I want from now on to be supportive,helpful and kind. I really am sorry.” Seems to me that that is a hugely attractive piece of communication. It is hard not to love somebody who comes and talks to you like that. They’ve built a bridge which goes nearly all the way over to you,and it is almost a small thing for you to seal the bridge and cause the friendship to really be constructive. We don’t however hear that kind of language very often and we don’t speak that kind of language very often because it’s foreign to our pride to do it,and it is also increasingly foreign to the culture in which we live to speak like that. The humble apology is becoming a rare animal. For example it used to be the case that if you couldn’t make a business meeting you sent your apologies ahead. Now I have noticed that people send a “heads up” and a heads up doesn’t mean that you apologise it just means I’m telling you that I’m not going to be there. Or think also of when somebody says something hurtful to you and you look upset and they say,”I’m sorry you’re upset.” Which means I’ve hurt you and now that you’re upset that’s your problem as well. Or think of the way we don’t apologise for things but we explain them,we find somebody who’ll help us to explain it. “The reason that I did that is because of my upbringing. The reason that I did that is because of the medication that I’m on,because of the pressure that I’m under,it’s because of the things that are going on around me,that’s the reason I did that. I’ve explained it to you.” None of this of course builds a bridge,it leaves things broken down,painfully broken down. Now if an apology is constructive and it is a constructive thing,there’s no more important apology in the world than the apology that a person gives to God. What could be more important than to have a relationship with God? A good,loving relationship with God. And who is more deserving of our apology than God? And who’s more quick to forgive than God? And who makes it more worthwhile when we do apologise than God? I’m hoping that you will follow this morning an apology which is recorded in the Bible,Daniel chapter 9. Please look at it because we don’t trust preachers in this building,we expect preachers to get their message out of the scriptures,and this message this morning comes out of Daniel chapter 9.
We’re following the book of Daniel on Sunday mornings. The book of Daniel comes towards the end of Old Testament history. Daniel has come to the point of realising that God deserves an apology from him and the people. Daniel is part of God’s people,he is part of God’s people who have been thrown out of the promised land,they’ve been thrown out of the promised land because they have been unfaithful and they have been thrown into the land of Babylon,what we would call Iraq,as exiles and prisoners. And in this chapter 9 Daniel decides that he will ask God for mercy and as he asks God for mercy he gets more from God than he could ever have possibly dreamed. I hope this will help you this morning. Maybe there is somebody here this morning and you never think about God’s mercy,it’s just not something that you think about very often,I hope today you’ll see that you need it,and that God powerfully rewards people who ask for it. Maybe here this morning there is somebody who longs for God’s mercy but you just think you’ll never deserve it,you’ll never be able to earn it,I hope you will discover today that the mercy of God is given specifically to the people who don’t deserve it. And then maybe there are some people here today who have lost interest in the mercy of God,it is nothing special for you,you’ve heard about it a thousand times,I hope that you will rediscover your appreciation for the mercy of God and all the dimensions of it. So three quick things this morning,we’re going to look at the prayer that Daniel prayed,the apology,we’re going to look at the answer that came from God,and then we are going to finish with a minute on the importance of this particular subject.
First,the prayer. Look at chapter 9 verse 1,the king his name is Darius. Verse 2,Daniel has discovered in the scriptures that the 70 years of exile is up. Verse 3,’So I turned to the Lord.’ Verse 4,’I prayed to the Lord.’ And for verses 4-19 he prays an apology,he prays a confession. Now this is a very interesting little introduction because Darius is the king who has defeated the king,who defeated God’s people. So Darius has defeated the enemy of God’s people and therefore the door is open for God’s people to go back to the promised land. In the bible Daniel discovers that the imprisonment was always going to be 70 years. Jeremiah 25 says,’When the seventy years are fulfilled I will punish Babylon.’ Jeremiah 29,’When 70 years are completed I will bring you back to Jerusalem.’ And so Daniel is a bible reading man imprisoned,it is very interesting because it is Daniel as we’ve seen in recent weeks who is given visions by God and is able to interpret them,but the normal way that Daniel gets his messages from God is he reads his bible. That’s the normal way God speaks. I hope there is nobody here today who’ll wait for God to speak in your ear one day,or across the sky,the normal way that God speaks is through the scriptures. If you want to be a practical person and maybe today here you’re a man who says,’I’m too practical to go reading the bible.’ The bible says that the bible will equip you for every good work. It will equip you for every good work. Not only is Daniel a bible reading man he is a praying man. He might have said,’OK 70 years is up,Darius has turned up it’s time to go home. Let’s go,let’s organise this.’ But he doesn’t,he turns to God and he prays,because it says in Jeremiah 29,’not only will I bring you back to Jerusalem,but God says,you will call to me and I will listen,and you’ll seek me and you’ll find me,and I’ll bring you back from captivity.’ And so Daniel gets down on his knees and he prays a prayer of confession.
I want to mention some quick things about this. First,he regards God very highly. Verse 4,’great and awesome God’,verse 4,you keep your covenant,you keep your contract,verse 7,you are righteous,you’ve been faithful to us we’ve been unfaithful to you,all the problems that have happened God are our fault,you’ve been faithful. Verse 9,you’re merciful,you’re forgiving,verse 12,you’re fair,all the trouble that has come to us is exactly what you said would happen if we turned away,and we did turn away and now it has all happened and it exactly fair what you have done. Verse 14,the Lord is righteous in everything he does. Here’s a great secret if you want to pray confidently,know that God is very great,very good,and has all the answers.
Second thing about the prayer,he recognises his sin and he recognises his people’s sin. Verse 5,we have sinned,we have done wrong,we’ve been wicked,we’ve rebelled,we’ve turned away,we’ve not listened. Complete opposite isn’t it to the person who says,’well God I’ll tell you what’s been happening,it’s not been my fault,it’s all been somebody else’s fault. I will try and explain it to you,it’s gone like this and in the end I am basically asking you to help me to get revenge on somebody else.’ It is the complete opposite of that isn’t it. Daniel says basically to God,’you’ve given us the clearest instructions,we turned away from you,we turned away from what you’ve said,we didn’t care,we knew that we didn’t have to be perfect,we knew that we had to just go on being as faithful as we could and turn to you for forgiveness but we didn’t do the faithful bit and we didn’t do the turning bit and now we recognise our sin.’ Verse 7,you are righteous,we are shameful,verse 8 we’ve sinned,verse 9 we’ve rebelled,verse 10 we have not obeyed,verse 11 we’ve transgressed,verse 13 we haven’t turned,verse 14 we have not obeyed. He couldn’t be more self aware could he,he couldn’t be more honest,he couldn’t be more humble. You may remember that Jesus Christ described himself in the New Testament as the doctor,Mark chapter 2,and he called himself the doctor because he would help the person who knew they had the sickness of sin,but the person who thought that they were great,fine,healthy,no need,would of course never go to Jesus and never get any help. Well Daniel is completely honest about his sin sickness.
And the third thing about the prayer,he asks for help. Verse 15,Lord remember your people. Verse 17,listen to our cry,verse 18,because of your mercy,because of your compassion,your generosity,your favour,your pity. Verse 19,and for your reputation listen,hear,forgive,act,do something. It is an amazing prayer. He has got a very high view of God,he has got a very humble and honest view of himself and the people,and he has got a very confident view that God is able to do something. That’s his confession. Now although confession is something that we all know about it has become a very rare jewel in the world. Who does confession properly today? I mean I know it gets rattled through sometimes in a church,we’re all guilty of mumbling our way through a confession at some stage,sometimes we mean it,often we don’t,but who do we see doing a really good confession today? If somebody goes to confession in a movie you know what’s happening,they are either hiding in the church that’s why they’re there in the confessional box,or they’re saying something to the priest that they’re not really sorry for then the priest is saying they didn’t really have to be sorry about it anyway. That’s what happening often isn’t it? Or there are some confessions which are just hypocrisy. “Dear God,really sorry,now I’ve said it I’m going back to do it again.” We’re all afraid of that aren’t we. We’re afraid of that in our own heart,and we’re afraid of that for other people. And then of course there is the view that confession is completely negative and it is unnecessary and it is all that guilt stuff that the church pushes onto you,and in the end let’s forget all that,just think about yourself and how you can be happy and how you can do what you want and make the most of life,and let’s turn away from all this negative confessional stuff,except that the people of the world are extremely restless. There’s not much peace,there’s lots of tablets being swallowed,there’s lots of people lying on couches to get themselves sorted out,and we’ve turned away from something really wonderful where we could say to God,’please forgive me.’ And the word of God would come back,’I do forgive you.’
I was reading this week what somebody said about the Lord’s supper you know the familiar Lords supper,that when reconciliation happens it at its best it isn’t just sorry,sorry,it’s come to dinner. And God says you see in the Lord’s supper to us,’Come to dinner. I want you round my table. I’ll really forgive you. We’re back together again,we’re friends.’ It is a very,very,wonderful thing. When the prodigal son came back and said to his father,’I’m sorry.’ The father rushed out to meet him and threw his arms around him,it was wonderful. When the tax collector in the church called out at the back of the church,’O God have mercy on me a sinner.’ Down came the word from Jesus,’You are forgiven and greatly blessed by God.’ It’s a wonderful thing. So that’s the confession.
Second,the answer verses 20 -27. I want to warn you that this is the hardest section in my opinion in the whole bible. Those of you that have been studying it this week know that verses 24-27 are as cryptic and as mystic as any verses that I know. They are what are called apocalyptic verses. Symbols and numbers,and they are very,very,difficult verses but it doesn’t mean that we can’t get somewhere. I read a story of some clever bible students who were working on the book of revelation and they were struggling for answers and they couldn’t work it out and they decided to give up and go down for a game of basketball at the gym and on the way to the basketball court they went past the cleaner of the gymnasium sitting in his room reading his bible,and there he is reading the book of revelation. And one of the clever students leaned in and said,’you’ll never work that out!’ and the cleaner looked at him and said,’I’ve already have worked it out,Jesus wins.’ It is an excellent summary of the book of revelation,it is an excellent summary of the bible. Jesus wins! A lot of smart people never get that do they. Well now verses 20-27 teach that God will win. I want to give you an approach to these very tricky verses which I think is reasonable and edifying and this is where you really need to work hard.
First,I want you to notice that the answer to Daniel’s prayer comes really fast. Look at verse 21,’while I was still in prayer,Gabriel,the man I had seen in the earlier vision came to me in swift flight,’ verse 22,’he instructed me and said Daniel I have now come to give you insight and understanding,’ verse 23,’As soon as you began to pray an answer was given,here it is.’ The answer to the prayer comes really quickly,’O God please forgive us,’ down comes the answer.
The second thing is that this cryptic message,is to Daniel,who’s been thinking about,what’s he been thinking about,the end of 70 years. And God’s message comes to Daniel and this is what God’s message says to Daniel,’Daniel forget about 70 years,if you think 70 years is the goal of my plans for you,you’re kidding. I want you to think about 70 times seven. I want you to think about something which is much bigger than getting back to Jerusalem. I want you to think about something that is much bigger than just having that city restored,I have much bigger plans for you,70 times seven. It is very similar to when I think Peter went up to Jesus on one occasion and said,’how many times do I have to forgive my brother? Up to seven?’ Jesus said 70 times seven,meaning much bigger,keep going,keep going with the forgiveness. God you see is incredibly merciful and if you look at verse 24 you’ll see all the things that God plans for His people.
First,He plans that there will be the finish of transgression. You see that in verse 24,he plans to put an end to sin to atone or cover wickedness,to bring in everlasting righteousness to seal up vision and prophecy which means to bring it to fulfilment,and to anoint the most holy. That is what God has planned for His people. It is not just that they would get back to Jerusalem,He has something much more wonderful planned for them. And so I want to suggest to you that if we’re trying to work out what this 70 times seven is,this perfect plan of God,we could actually break it into three stages. Part of the plan is to get back to Jerusalem and fix it. Part of the plan is to wait for the anointed one,we know of course that to be Jesus. And part of the plan,this last little bit,is that the anointed one would do his work brilliantly. We can break up the 70 into those three stages and that is exactly what this passage of scripture does. It breaks it up into something called 7 “sevens”,62 “sevens” and one “seven”. 7 “sevens”,that’s a little bit of time,back to Jerusalem,fix up Jerusalem. 62 “sevens” a little more of history right down the track until the anointed one comes. And then there’ll be this one “seven” where the anointed one will do His work magnificently. So I want o suggest to you that is the very broad break-up of these plans. Look at verse 25,’From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild … there will be seven ‘sevens’,and the sixty two. And you’ll see in verse 25,the streets will be rebuilt and there will be trouble,and there was. Verse 26 when the anointed one comes he will be cut off,it is a very interesting phrase that means separated,it is the same phrase used in Isaiah 53 where the servant was cut off,it describes brilliantly I think what Jesus has come to do,to be separated to be cut off from God in order that we would never be separated or cut off. And look at verse 27,’and finally he will confirm a covenant,he will make the covenant prevail,and he will put an end to sacrifices and offering and that is exactly what Jesus did when he died on the cross. He brought an end to the need for sacrifice. And that is a really good break-up of the plan of God. This is the big picture of God. Daniel has asked for mercy,God says I’ll give you mercy but it is not going to be just going back to Jerusalem,that’s mercy but I’m going to lead you through to the coming of the anointed one the messiah and the messiah is going to do a job,is going to do a work in the world which will really bring you mercy. You won’t just end up with Jerusalem,you’ll end up with Jesus. You won’t just end up with a place called Jerusalem which is temporary,you’ll end up with a place called Jesus which is eternal. You won’t just end up with a future which is shortly down the track,you’ll end up with a future which is forever down the track.
And I think that interpretation of this answer from God to Daniel’s prayer does justice to the gospel,I think it does justice to the bible as whole,I think it does justice to history,it means that you don’t have to go out and buy complicated textbooks in order to work this out,it means that the numbers are treated symbolically which is the normal way we treat numbers in apocalyptic literature,and ultimately it honours Jesus which all scripture does. So I want to suggest it to you,I’ve done a lot of reading on this,this week and I am not putting it forward as the perfect answer,I’m not the first person in the world to ever stand up and say I’ve worked Daniel 9 out,but I think it is suitable,I think it is legitimate,I think it is reasonable,I think it is edifying,that God you see when He gives mercy to people does infinitely more than just something short term.
So let’s finish with this last minute on the importance of this passage today. The mercy of God is double edged. It not only provides you with forgiveness for sin but it also brings you into huge blessings. When you ask God for mercy not only are you forgiven for sin because Jesus died but you are also brought into very great blessings of God because Jesus died to secure them for you. You’re brought in to the fellowship of God,the comfort of God,the family of God,the joy of God,the peace go God,the plans of God,you’re brought into huge blessings when you ask God for mercy. You may go to Him with a very small thought in your mind,I just need to be forgiven for one rotten thing,and God says,’well I’ll give you that,I will give you that forgiveness,but I will give you infinitely more.’ Jonathan Edwards the great preacher of the18th century said ‘our problem is that we set our sites too low.’ He said,’we are content to lick the earth and God wants us to find the fountain of life,Himself.’ That’s our problem you see,it is not that the pleasures of the world are so dreadful,it’s that we haven’t worked out that the pleasure of God is so much better. The comfort of God,the fellowship of God,the promises of God,the joy of God,the peace of God,the future of God,those are much,much greater things than the trinkets that people go for down here. People think don’t they,if I can get a house,if I can get a family,if I can get some friends if I can have a television,everything will be great,how deceptive that is. God calls us you see to someone much,much greater than all of those trinkets and that is Himself. Well Daniel put his finger on it because he asked for mercy but he had no idea how much God would give him. Jesus of course knew how much a person would receive when they turn to him in prayer because Jesus said,’not only have I laid down my life for you,but I have come that you may have life to the full.’
Let’s pray,let’s bow our heads. Our gracious God we thank you for this part of the scriptures. We thank you for teaching us here that you are a God who is very great,and very faithful,and very merciful,and very forgiving. We thank you for giving to Daniel the desire to pray and to ask for mercy. We thank you for answering him in ways far beyond what he could have imagined. We thank you that in Jesus Christ we come into the real mercy,the forgiveness and the blessings. We thank you that we find in Jesus Christ a home,riches,a future. We pray that you would save us from having our aim too low,we pray that you would lift up our mind and our heart to you,that we would be devoted to you and that in your goodness you would help us to be faithful to you,but especially that we might be dependant and grateful of your mercy. In Jesus’ name we pray,Amen.