Different is Good
Learn to See What Eyes Can't See
Good morning Chapel family. Before we begin today’s message, I’d like to take a minute to pray for our country.
Well, today we come to the last message in our Daniel series—can you believe it? And I want to begin with a question: when you look toward the future, what do you see? It’s a really important question. When you look toward the future, what do you see…for our country? What do you see with this pandemic? What do you see for your job, or your family, or your love life, or your health, or your retirement? I truly believe that the way we view the future is one of the most important things about us. Because even if we’re not consciously thinking about it, our view of the future affects the way we feel; it affects the decisions we make; it affects the people we are.
Last week, Pastor Ted pointed out that the book of Daniel is divided into two halves. The first half—chapters 1 through 6—is historical accounts of Daniel and his friends living as exiles in Babylon. The second half—chapters 7 through 12—is all prophecy: visions of the future. And last week Ted got us started on that second section by preaching on chapter 7. So today I’m going to attempt to do the impossible: I’m going to cover chapters 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12. But mostly we’re going to focus on chapter 12—the very last chapter—because it’s a really good summary of that whole prophetic part.
Now, when you get to chapter 12, Daniel is an old man. Assuming he was brought to Babylon as a teenager, and now about 65 years have passed, you do the math—he was up there. Over those 65 years, the Babylonian empire has fallen, and now the Persians are in control…but Daniel is still there. So for six and a half decades, he has been living as a follower of God in this very godless place. In a context where it would have been so easy to blend in, Daniel has chosen to be different. So now he’s at the end of his life, and one last time, God speaks…and he speaks about the future.
So…Daniel chapter 12; let’s read the whole chapter. Hear the Word of God…
1 “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. 4 But you, Daniel, roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.”
5 Then I, Daniel, looked, and there before me stood two others, one on this bank of the river and one on the opposite bank. 6 One of them said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, “How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled?”
7 The man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, lifted his right hand and his left hand toward heaven, and I heard him swear by him who lives forever, saying, “It will be for a time, times and half a time. When the power of the holy people has been finally broken, all these things will be completed.”
8 I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, “My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?”
9 He replied, “Go your way, Daniel, because the words are rolled up and sealed until the time of the end. 10 Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.
11 “From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination that causes desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. 12 Blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days.
13 “As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.” This is the Word of the Lord.
If you found that a little bit confusing, you should try reading chapters 8, 9, 10 and 11! Because those chapters are filled with visions and angels and political intrigue and numbers—it’s a very complicated, prophetic section of the Bible. But here’s what I have found: as I have studied that second half of Daniel—the prophetic part—I’ve realized that there are just a few basic themes that keep coming up. Actually three basic ideas. Different emphases and different details, but the same three themes. And in chapter 12 God brings that all together.
So—are you ready to hear the themes? In all the prophetic visions of Daniel, three things rise up. Here they are: Trouble Will Come, God Will Prevail, and Time Will End. That’s it. Trouble will come, God will prevail, time will end. So let’s take each one of those, and for each one, we’re going to talk about a “so what”—like, if this is how you view the future, how will that affect the way you live?
So, first: Trouble Will Come. Isn’t that encouraging? Doesn’t that make you feel all warm and fuzzy? Trouble will come. And therefore—here’s the “so what”—expect it. Trouble will come, so expect it.
Now, in the book of Daniel, it focuses on a very specific period of trouble. Look what it says in Daniel 12:1…There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. So it’s talking about a particular time of future trouble, that theologians call “The Tribulation.” You know what the word “tribulation” means? It means “trouble.”
The clearest place this is described in the book of Daniel is in chapter nine. It’s talking about a coming ruler known as the Antichrist, and here’s what it says in Daniel 9:27…He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ Now, that’s prophetic language, and it means a period of seven years. In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him. So there’s this seven-year period, sometime in the future, when this world leader will make a covenant with God’s people, but halfway through the seven years he’ll go back on his word and he’ll do something blasphemous toward God—we don’t know what that is, but things will get really rough for people who follow God.
Right here in Daniel 12, after hearing all these terrible things that are going to happen, Daniel has a vision of these two mysterious men, and one of them asks a question—this is the end of Daniel 12:6…“How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled?” And then here’s the answer—verse 7: “It will be for a time, times and half a time. What is that? Well, in prophetic language, the word “time” represents a year. So “a time, times and half a time” means a year, two years, and half a year. Which adds up to how long? Three and a half years. So this is focusing on the second half of that 7-year Tribulation, when things get really bad for God’s people.
Now: Daniel isn’t the only place in the Bible we find this. Jesus talks about it in his famous Olivet Discourse, in Matthew 24. Listen to how Jesus describes the Tribulation—Matthew 24, verses 9 to 11: 9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Sounds like a rough time, right? And maybe you’re thinking, “Well, how do you know this is the same thing that Daniel was talking about?” Good question. Skip down a few verses, to Matthew 24:15—15 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. So Jesus specifically says, “That time of trouble that Daniel predicted years ago, it’s still coming, and I want you to be prepared for it.”
And we have absolutely no time to talk about it, but the book of Revelation goes into all kinds of detail about the natural disasters and wars and persecution that will happen during the Tribulation.
So here’s the bottom line: the Bible predicts that at some point in the future, there will be an intense, 7-year period of tribulation for the people of God. Will that happen during our lifetime? We don’t know. Will Christians be raptured out of the world before it starts, so they don’t have to face it? Some theologians say yes (that would be nice, right?); others say no. But all through the Bible, we’re told to expect it.
Now: take that and set it over here for a minute. Because besides that very specific period of trouble, the Bible teaches us that there’s a lot of general trouble coming. Daniel’s whole life shows us that when we choose to follow God in a godless culture, sometimes that will get us into trouble. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” That’s John 16:33. He wasn’t talking about the Tribulation; he was just talking about what will happen when we follow him. In 1 Peter 4, Peter says Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. In other words, expect trouble.
But wait—it gets even more depressing: we should also expect that as time goes on, the trouble in this world is going to get worse. Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3: 1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. (Now listen to this description…) 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. As time goes on, the Bible says this is the trajectory that our world is on: away from God, toward self-indulgence. So if you decide to follow Jesus and be different like Daniel, the world will seem like an increasingly hostile place. Don’t be surprised when that happens.
Some of you are thinking, “This is the most depressing sermon I ever heard.” But listen: if this is true—if trouble is coming, and if the trouble’s going to get worse as time goes on, expect it. Be the kind of person who’s not shocked when something bad happens.
Dumb little example: this past Wednesday night it was raining. It was about 10pm. I was in bed. And from the comfort of my bed I heard this little chirp. I tried to ignore it. I heard it again. And again. And I realized it was one of our smoke alarms, with a low battery. Don’t you love that? Now, in our house, we have nine smoke alarms (2 of them are carbon monoxide detectors). All of them are reachable by standing on a chair. Except one. It’s high up on the vaulted ceiling of our living room. So as I realized the alarm was chirping, I had been working on this message all day, and I laughed, because I know how God works with me. And I said to myself: “It’s going to be that one.” So I got out of bed; I walked into the living room (you know how you stand under a smoke alarm like you’re stalking prey, waiting to hear the next chirp?) And sure enough…out of the nine smoke detectors, that was the one. Which means I had to get shoes on, go into the backyard, in the rain, behind the shed, get the extension ladder—which was covered in leaves and mud—drag it into the house, set it up, climb up, and change the battery. I know, you really feel sorry for me, right? Like I said, it’s a dumb little example, but we face things like that all the time, don’t we? And here’s the point: because I was allowing the teaching of Daniel to shape my mindset, I went back to bed laughing rather than cursing. I was at peace. And that was a little victory.
Listen: don’t be shocked when bad things happen. When there’s traffic. When it rains on the day of your party. When the Covid test comes back positive, or when the tumor is found. Don’t be shocked when people shame you because of your faith. Nobody enjoys those things, but Jesus said in this world, that kind of stuff is going to happen. Expect it! And know that God walks with you through it.
When I was growing up, my dad always taught me: so much of life is expectations. If you expect life to be easy, and you expect everyone to love you, what will happen? Well, you will run into reality. And you will get bitter and angry. But if you expect life to be hard, you’ll be ready.
Here’s the second big theme. You ready? Here’s why this is not a depressing message: God Will Prevail. Amen? In the end, God will prevail. Back to Daniel 12, verse 1. It talks about this time of tribulation, but then look what it says right after that: But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. At the end of the day, God will not let the trouble overcome his people. He will deliver them. In that whole second half of Daniel, we find vision after vision of the end times. But when you sift through all the details, each of the visions teaches the same thing: a world leader will rise up to oppose God and terrorize God’s people, but in the end God will arise and defeat that leader. God will prevail. And therefore—here’s the “so what”: trust him. God will prevail…so trust him.
That message—that promise—is all over the Bible. Psalm 34:19…
The righteous person may have many troubles,
but the Lord delivers him from them all. God will prevail.
Earlier I quoted Jesus from John 16:33…In this world you will have trouble. Anybody know what the very next line is? But take heart! I have overcome the world. You know why Jesus can say that? That he has overcome the world? Because he actually defeated the most powerful evil in the universe. See, the strongest evil in the universe is not the Antichrist. The strongest evil in the universe is death. The Bible says death is the last enemy. And at the cross of Good Friday, and at the empty tomb of Easter Sunday, Jesus defeated death. He was dead, and he came back alive. And that is the moment in history—that is the truth—that changes everything! Because if he can prevail over death, there is no kind of trouble that’s too big for him. Amen?
So Jesus says, “Yes—you’re going to have trouble in the world, but I’ve overcome the world, so take heart.” You know what it means to “take heart,” right? It’s the opposite of “losing heart.” It’s the opposite of getting bitter and angry and hopeless. And Jesus says, “The reason you can take heart when trouble comes—whether it’s big trouble, like the positive Covid test or the malignant tumor, or whether it’s little trouble, like standstill traffic on 287 or a chirping smoke alarm 16 feet high on a rainy night—the reason you can take heart, is that I have overcome the world. And when you’re with me, you get in on my victory! You overcome with me.
If you’re struggling with depression, would you preach that message to yourself? Trouble will come, but God will prevail. If your marriage is hard, remind yourself of that truth: trouble will come…but God will prevail. If you’re struggling with your kids, listen to this promise: trouble that will come…but God will prevail. So trust him.
Here’s the third and final truth about the future: Time Will End. Look at the very last verse in Daniel—Daniel 12:13…“As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.” Time as we know it, will end. It’s interesting, because when you look at different cultures and different religions, there are basically two different views of time. In some ancient cultures, like the Babylonian culture, and also in Buddhism and Hinduism, time is viewed as cyclical. It just repeats in cycles over and over again. But the Judeo-Christian view is that time is linear. In other words, it’s going somewhere. There was a beginning, and there’s going to be an end. So the book of Daniel, just like the rest of the Bible, definitely takes that linear view of time. There’s an end coming. And therefore—here’s the “so what”—use it well. Time will end…so use it well.
I had to laugh when I read verse 8. Daniel has just heard all these mind-blowing apocalyptic prophecies about beasts and armies rulers. And look what he says in Daniel 12:8…I heard, but I did not understand. Some of you are going to walk away from church today, and you’re going to say, “I heard, but I did not understand.” Right? I mean, let’s be honest. “I heard all that stuff about the prophecies and the Antichrist and the Tribulation…not sure I get it.” Because there’s a lot of detail. And it’s mysterious! That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t study it, and it’s good to have a basic grasp of it, but don’t feel bad if you still find this part of the Bible kind of confusing. Even Daniel himself said, “I heard, but I did not understand.”
But then look what he says: So I asked, My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?” Can you just kind of boil it down and give me the bottom line? And here’s what the angel says—verse 9: He replied, “Go your way, Daniel, because the words are rolled up and sealed until the time of the end.” Go your way, Daniel. Don’t obsess over the details. Don’t be upset if you can’t draw a perfect diagram of end-time events. Don’t feel bad if you still haven’t watched all the Left Behind movies. “Go your way.”
What did he mean by that? Go your way? Did he mean, “Just forget about all this, and go on with your life”? No. I mean, there was a reason that God showed all this stuff to Daniel. Here’s what the angel meant: “Daniel, keep going the way you’ve been going. Keep living the way you’ve been living.” So how had Daniel been living? Well, for 65 years, he’d been living as an exile in a godless place. And because of his relationship with God, Daniel consistently lived different than the culture around him. Right? And sometimes that differentness came out in things he wouldn’t do—like not eating unclean food from the king’s table, or not bowing down to statues; sometimes it came out in things he did do—like continuing to kneel down and pray to God, even when it was illegal to do so. So for 65 years, Daniel had lived with this tension of living in a powerful earthly kingdom, right?—Babylon, and then Persia—but always making it clear that he really belonged to a higher kingdom. He respected the human king, but he always made it clear that his heart belonged to a higher King. That’s how Daniel had lived his life.
And the angel says, “Daniel, keep living like that. Especially because time is going to end—keep using your time well.”
See, if we think that time will last forever, we can just keep on putting off what’s important. But time won’t last forever. In that passage where Jesus is talking about the end times, look what he says—Matthew 24:45…45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? In other words, this is a person who’s been given a job. He knows what he’s supposed to do, to serve his master. And look what Jesus says—verse 46: 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. In other words, since Jesus is coming back—since history and time as we know it will come to an end—get busy doing the things you’re supposed to do. Things that matter. Like loving God, loving people, and serving the world. Use your time well.
Let me ask you a question: is there something you know you should do, but you’ve been putting it off? Because it’s unpleasant, or you’re scared? You’re afraid of failure, or it involves another person, and you’re afraid of that person’s response? Here’s what the Holy Spirit is telling you through the book of Daniel: do it. Take the risk. Don’t let fear control you. Because if you don’t do it—if you keep on putting it off, you may run out of time. Time is going to end…so use it well.
I view it as one of the great privileges of my job that I get to attend a lot of funerals. And man, I’ll tell you what: over these past couple of months, I think I’ve been to 6 or 7 funerals. Some of them younger people; some of them older. But every time, it’s this strong reminder that my time is coming. Either I’m going to die, or Jesus will come back. Time will end for me. So every time I’m tempted to put things off, God just drags me to another funeral. I appreciate the reminder. I need the reminder.
Colossians 4, verse 5: Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Because time is short, make the most out of every moment that you have with people. Tell them that you love them. Build them up. Speak truth to them. Ask them if you can pray for them. That random person that you meet in the grocery store, or that random person that you stand in line with at the DMV (that was me two weeks ago)—that’s not random. God says make the most out of that opportunity. Value them enough to treat them as a human. Because time will end.
I have to tell you guys I have so enjoyed this series. I have so enjoyed diving into the book of Daniel, and sharing what I’m learning with you. I really believe that God guided us to this book of the Bible for exactly this time. It’s been a great experience. But I also know this: we are going to forget most of it. We are! That’s just how the human mind works—we’re going to forget most of the details of what we’ve talked about these past six weeks. But that’s okay, as long as we remember the most important things. So remember this:
Trouble will come…especially when we’re following God in a godless culture, like Daniel was…so expect it. Don’t be surprised.
God will prevail…so no matter what’s happening, trust him. He’ll get you through it.
And time will end…so use it well. In other words, keep living like Daniel did—let your love for God move you to be different from the culture around you.
Because different is good.
We’re living in a world where there’s tremendous pressure to fit in. What does it mean to follow Jesus in a culture of conformity? As an exile in Babylon, Daniel shows us that different is good. He demonstrates not only how to resist the influence of culture, but how to be an influencer of culture, bringing grace and truth to the relationships and communities where God has placed us.