Christ the King Sunday
Scripture Reading: Daniel 7:1-18
Daniel’s Dream of Four Beasts
7 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.
2 Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. 3 Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.
4 “The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a human being, and the mind of a human was given to it.
5 “And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up and eat your fill of flesh!’
6 “After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard.And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule.
7 “After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns.
8 “While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully.
9 “As I looked,
“thrones were set in place,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow;
the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire,
and its wheels were all ablaze.
10 A river of fire was flowing,
coming out from before him.
Thousands upon thousands attended him;
ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was seated,
and the books were opened.
11 “Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire.12 (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.)
13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man,[a] comingwith the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
The Interpretation of the Dream
15 “I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me.16 I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this.
“So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. 18 But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.’
- Daniel 7:13 The Aramaic phrase bar enash means human being. The phrase son of man is retained here because of its use in the New Testament as a title of Jesus, probably based largely on this verse.
Sermon: “When Nightmares End”
General Mills published a survey of the top recipe searches from November 1 through Thanksgiving day 2016 at Betty Crocker.com, Pillsbury.com, and tablespoon.com. They then put together a state-by-state map of the most popular Thanksgiving foods.
✓ Chefs in Georgia, South Carolina, Delaware, and North Carolina were on the lookout for sweet potato dishes.
✓ West Virginians, Ohioans, and Pennsylvanians all wanted to make Buffalo chicken dip.
✓ Arizona and Wisconsin chefs searched for shrimp recipes.
✓ Here in Illinois, the number one menu item was mashed potatoes.
Of course, everyone eats dessert, and Thanksgiving dessert means pies. I’m willing to bet, though, that you didn’t have pies on your table that looked like this.
Special-effects artist Ashley Newman made this first set. Though gory, they aren’t edible. Feel free to chow down on this pie, [shows scary pie image] though, from the kitchen of Andrew Fuller. You can munch on every bit of it, right down to the straggly, nasty hair.
Those pies are almost as scary as the visions Daniel had one night. “I, Daniel, found my spirit troubled within me, and I was terrified by the visions going through my mind.”
Daniel’s fears filled his dreams, taking on form and substance so real they left him terrified. What keeps you awake at night?
According to a survey of two thousand people’s nightmares, the five most common fears that haunt our dreams are falling, having someone or something chase us, dying, getting lost, and feeling trapped.
“Going bald” is at the bottom of the list, at just 4.7%. Trust me, friends, it’s nothing to lose sleep over.
Daniel’s nightmarish visions were of four beasts, each more frightening than the one before. The animals stood for the empires that had ruled Israel for the last 500 years: Babylon, Media, Persia, and, the most terrible monster of all, Greece.
✓ The lion with wings goes back to decorations on ancient Mesopotamian gateways in temples and palaces.
✓ As for the bear, its appetite for flesh reflects the prophecy that God would stir up the Medes against Babylon.
✓ The leopard stands for the Persian Empire, its four wings a sign of how quickly they conquered most of the then-known world.
✓ The last and most fearsome beast, with its iron teeth and crushing feet, symbolizes the Greek empire of Alexander the Great.
Daniel 7 comes from the second century BC, when the Greek ruler Antiochus
Epiphanes was trying to grind Jewish faith and culture into the dust. Antiochus outlawed the Jewish religion, and then set up pagan shrines throughout Israel. He also forced Jews to eat pork. Those who disobeyed died.
The boiling pot exploded when, in December of 167 BC, Antiochus built an altar and an image of Zeus in the temple in Jerusalem. That led to a Jewish rebellion, as well as to this chapter of Daniel.
Lions with eagles’ wings, hungry bears munching on human ribs, a flying leopard, and a ten-horned beast with iron teeth that crushes and tramples with its feet—those are the things of nightmares.
The shape of our fears says a lot about who we are, as this clip shows.
Clip from Harry Potter
As was the case in Daniel’s vision, the last creature is the most fearsome of all, a dementor. Dementors drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air, and can even devour a person’s soul.
They’re the embodiment of author JK Rowling’s battle with depression. Here’s how she described it:
Depression is … that absence of being able to envision that you will ever be cheerful again, the absence of hope, that very way of feeling which is so vastly different from feeling sad. Sad hurts, but it’s a…necessary thing to feel. Depression is quite different.
Ms. Rowling’s description of depression sums up how the Jewish people felt as the persecution of Antiochus threatened their lives as well as their faith.
What happened to the promises of God? Had Abraham and Moses and David, along with all the prophets, been fools, now proven wrong by Antiochus? No, Daniel says.
An Ancient One took his throne. His clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. (Daniel 7:9-10)
God breaks the power of the beasts. Some linger, but their end will come. The fourth and most fearsome burned before Daniel’s eyes.
As one commentary said, “God can bring down the arrogant with a sneeze.” I think Daniel would agree, as would the prophet Isaiah.
God stretches out the skies like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent for mortals to live under! God reduces the privileged to nothing and throws the rulers of the earth into chaos. No sooner are they planted, no sooner do they take root on earth, than God blows on them and they wither, and a storm wind sweeps them away like chaff. (Isaiah 40: 22-24)
God’s kingdom is real; it’s everlasting and guaranteed by God’s power, not ours.
We say that despite all appearances to the contrary, as did Daniel. Vision, after all, is a thing of faith.
Theologian Paul Tillich said, “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it’s part of faith.” When doubt disappears, faith disappears with it. All that’s left is certainty and knowing.
✓ We have faith that the folks heading toward us on the opposite side of the highway will let a narrow painted line keep them out of our lane.
✓ We have faith when we board a plane, believing that the pilots flying it are sober and fully trained.
We live by faith all the time. Sometimes, though, when we catch up with the morning news, trying to wrap our minds around everything that’s happening in our country and around the world, we may, like Daniel, find our spirits troubled within us.
Next Sunday, Advent begins. We take heart in the image of Christ our King, born in the shadow of another iron-toothed empire, threatened, persecuted, and killed by that same empire, now risen from the dead and with us still. We say in faith that we see Daniel’s words fulfilled in Christ.
As I gazed into the visions of the night once again, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven…. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
May God give us the strength and faith we need to face the worst of our fears, whether they stalk our dreams by night, or our lives by day.