In Prayer by Brett Davis. Creative commons image on flickr9 As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and 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.
10 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.
13 As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
14 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. (NRSV)
They saw their homes burned, their property confiscated, and their loved ones tortured and slain. Their houses of worship were defiled and their faith outlawed under penalty of death. Those who could flee did so; those who could not were persecuted and enslaved.
I’m describing the plight of the Jews in the year 167 B.C.E. at the hands of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, ruler of the Seleucid Dynasty, a successor regime to the Empire of Alexander the Great. The Old Testament book of Daniel was written during this time…
But I could also be describing the plight of early Christians, particularly the seven churches in Asia Minor for whom the Book of Revelation was written.
|"Antiokhos IV" by Jniemenmaa (talk) 08:46, 20 July 2009 (UTC), own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons|
I could be describing the plight of Jews at the hands of the Nazis in Europe, or the present plight of Christians, Jews, and Muslims at the hands of militant groups such as ISIS or Boko Haram. History has a tragic way of repeating itself…
To truly understand what God is speaking through today’s Scriptures, we must imagine ourselves as these innocent people (if we can). At the same time, we’re called to a humble gratitude for the relative comfort, security, and prosperity we enjoy as Americans—because life could not have been more different for those to whom the Book of Daniel was written.
Suddenly, the Jews found themselves the target of state-sponsored persecution, enslavement, and murder at the behest of Antiochus Epiphanies. He went as far as to erect a shrine to Zeus in the Jerusalem Temple. For the Jews, it was as though God was dead and all the armies of hell were unleashed against them.
This is terror—just as it exists in our world.
But today, God’s Word is a reality check to evildoers and their victims: Their days are numbered…
The glories enjoyed by those who wield power through violence and terror will soon fade. Daniel speaks of an “Ancient One” who will pronounce a fiery judgment against the evil empires and their subjects. All power and authority shall be given to a new ruler who will reign with peace and justice. Though that day is a long way off, one thing is clear: terror and evil have a definite end.
In the meantime, Jesus is in the midst of the pain. The cross is proof positive of this—Jesus suffered and died by the worst evil that humanity could dish out. All the while, he cried out “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do…” So when it’s us, suffering evil—Jesus is suffering with us. Conversely, when we’re the ones committing evil, Jesus is crying out for God to forgive us. Either way, God always has the last word.
For thousands of years, the evildoers have tried to destroy God’s people, just as they crucified Jesus. They all fail—because these monstrous evils are not part of God’s plan. God’s plan is life. Our lives and loved ones, property and possessions can all be taken away from us; our arms and legs may be in chains—but we are God’s. And we are loved.
Even as we face the threats of terror and death every single day, we still can rest secure… Security comes in believing that we have been baptized with Jesus into death, thereby we are baptized into his resurrection. God wins.
God wins as when we enter into a daily communion of worship, thanksgiving, and prayer—confident that we can approach the throne of grace in every time of need. God wins when we live as witnesses—seizing every opportunity to do good to each other; praying for and with each other; and encouraging one another’s faith. God wins as we strangers to share in our belonging. God wins when we meet real needs. God wins as we forgive sins. And even if we die, God wins—as we enter into life beyond death.
As I said before, it’s a scary time to be a Christian. It’s a scary time to be a human being. Terror is hell and so is the war we’re trying to wage against it. But terror’s greatest threat isn’t to our bodies, but to our humanity. Fear can easily erase all compassion, patience, and forgiveness. In the fight for survival, good people can become every bit as evil as the terrorists.
Terror is equally threatening to our faith—because it’s never easy to trust an invisible God in the face of visible evil.
But faith that anticipates God’s victory receives God’s victory. God wins because goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; peace is stronger than war; faith is stronger than terror. This is God’s world; we are God’s people; life and love is God’s will. God wins.