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The Feast of St. Michael, Archangel
“Sermon on Michaelmas”
Rev. Dr. Walter Steele, Guest Preacher, Former Vicar, LCMS Missionary/Theological Educator to Kenya
September 29, 2019
+ In the Name of Jesus +
Daniel, chapters 10–12, put you in the middle of some interesting prophecy which—as a visiting preacher—I will mostly leave to your pastor to explain.
Instead, I want to drill down into the smaller section, the first part of our Old Testament reading, Daniel 10:10–14, and speak about the conflict between our Lord and his heavenly host and the prince of darkness and his wicked horde.
It is the 3rd Regal Year of the reign of Cyrus, king of Persia—536 BC. As prophesied centuries before by Isaiah, Cyrus of Persia—having defeated the kingdom of Babylon—issued a proclamation authorizing the Jews in exile to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild. He did this during the year of his accession to the throne.
We are told in both the last chapter of 2 Chronicles and the first chapter of Ezra that it was the Lord who “stirred up the spirit” of this pagan king to do this.
In the 7th month, the Jews built the altar to burn their burnt offerings morning and evening before the Lord their God. Yet, the foundation of the temple was not yet laid.
Our chapter in Daniel fits in at this point. But let’s continue with the historical record.
The building of the temple’s foundation started in the second year, on the second month, under the leadership of Zerubbabel. It didn’t always go smoothly. There was plenty of opposition and conflict. You can read about it in Ezra and Nehemiah. Trouble and tribulation continued. And the revelation made to Daniel addresses this up to and beyond the time of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. But I will leave that story for your pastor to tell another day.
All pretty straight-forward history, no? But now—the behind-the-scenes story.
Daniel 10 uncovers for us the hidden events that occurred between the building of the altar and the delay in rebuilding the foundation of the temple. It also tells us why there was continued opposition through the years.
The rebuilding the of temple was the one thing that had to be stopped by the enemies of God. Why was that so?
It had to be stopped because the temple was the place where God had promised to dwell among his people. It was the one place where the atoning sacrifices were to be offered for the forgiveness of sins. It was the House of Prayer for all peoples. It was the place of grace and mercy.
This, Satan hates! He would do everything he could—pull out all the stops—to halt its reconstruction.
So, the “prince of the kingdom of Persia” acted to thwart the decree of the king of Persia. Huh? What? Say that again! The “prince of the kingdom of Persia” acted to thwart the decree of the king of Persia.
The prince of the kingdom of Persia was no mere man. This was one of Satan’s demons, or, as I believe, was the prince of darkness himself. He influenced events to disrupt the work. And he succeeded in delaying the reconstruction for three whole weeks.
DANIEL’S TERRIFYING VISION OF THE MAN
Daniel, during the first year of the king’s reign, was studying Holy Scripture. We are even told what book he was diligently reading. It was the scroll of the Book of Jeremiah. As he prayerfully read it, he perceived in it that the days of the exile were coming to an end—the 70 years were over.
So, what did he do? He turned his heart to the Lord, he humbled himself. He fasted and prayed. He confessed before the Lord the sins of his nation—of the people of Israel. And he begged the Lord to let his anger and wrath turn away and to restore his people to their homeland. The Lord sent the Archangel Gabriel to further explain the Word of the Lord to this godly man. He gave him a vision of the 70 Weeks—something I will also leave for your pastor!
Two years later… Today’s Reading:
The building of the foundation of the temple has not happened. Something is wrong. The promise of the Lord is delayed. What could it be?
Daniel again turns to the Word of God. He fasts and he prays. He mourns over this turn of events. He speaks God’s words of promise back to the Lord like the Lament Psalms do: “How long, O Lord, holy and true do you fail to fulfill your word?”
Another messenger comes. This one is like Gabriel. But he is not Gabriel. He comes as a man. But this man is terrifying in his appearance. Daniel beheld a [priestly] man clothed in linen, with a belt of fine gold around his waist. His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like a flaming fire, his eyes like torches, his arms and legs like burnished bronze, and the sound of his voice like the sound of a multitude.
Daniel was terrified. Those who were with him fled in great fear. And Daniel was reduced to quivering uncontrollably before this One; for this One is none other than the Pre-Incarnate Son of God, the One who would come in the 69th Week as the Son of Man.
This glorious One reached out his hand. He gently touched Daniel, and he said, “O Daniel, man greatly loved—greatly treasured—understand the words I speak to you.” And Daniel stood up before him, even though he still was trembling.
he heard these words from his gracious Lord, “Fear not!” How often have we heard these words from our Lord’s lips in the Holy Gospels! Fear not!
When our Lord commands Daniel to understand his Word, he does not merely tell him to do so. By his very Word he imparts to Daniel understanding of his Word. It is as when you were commanded, “Believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” God by his Word accomplished the very command to believe. You were called to faith by the Gospel. In it, the Holy Spirit brought you to faith in Christ and through Christ Jesus to God the Father.
The Lord then graciously assured Daniel that his prayer had been heard. In spite of the delay, although Daniel was not seeing the thing he asked for—the rebuilding of the temple foundation—his prayer had reached the ears of God.
Daniel had set his heart—that means his entire inner being—to understand the will of the Lord. And he knew where to go to learn and to understand. He had gone to the Holy Scriptures. He had studied Jeremiah. He had read the other sacred writings. That is where you go if you want to know God’s revealed will. And his revealed will is all you need to be concerned with. His hidden will is inaccessible. Why the Lord allowed the delay is the Lord’s business. Daniel’s prayer was answered, but the answer was delayed. This called for humble trust. And that too characterized Daniel. He humbled himself before his God.
The Lord, in glorious appearance, told Daniel something amazing and, at the same time, important for you to understand.
Our ESV translation, along with many others, reads: “And I have come because of your words.” That is not exactly what the Hebrew texts says. Rather, that is an interpretation of the little word “by” or “in.” A better translation is: “And I have come in your words.”
Now that appears to be a problem. How could it be that the Lord would come in the words of a man? Well, that would be a huge problem if Daniel’s prayers were shaped by the thoughts and intentions of his own heart.
But, as we have already seen, that is not how Daniel prayed. Daniel knew that the right way to pray is to speak back to God the very words he has spoken. And those words are found in Holy Scripture. The Lord comes to us through his Word, in his Word, by his Word. And so, when you pray his Word back to him, he is present there in that Word.
Folks, this is why it is essential that pastors are trained to learn Greek and Hebrew, and to continue to increase in their knowledge of these languages. That way they can bring out to you the riches hidden under the translation. That is why your pastors, Pastors Sutton (and Meyer before him), and why I as well, were taught this at seminary. And this is why I am going to Matongo Kenya, to bring greater proficiency in the Biblical languages to the men who are being formed into faithful pastors there.
Now back to our text.
Daniel is told about the satanic opposition to the building of the temple. And in this is an amazing conundrum. The Lord is delayed by three weeks by the prince of darkness. And he is finally assisted by Archangel Michael, who comes to help him. This just doesn’t sit right with those of us who like our Lord to be amazingly awesome and always displaying his power and glory. But, for some reason—in the hidden wisdom of God—the Lord permitted himself to be delayed by the wicked foe. He waited until one of his ministering angels came to help him.
Was it so that Daniel would be driven back into the Word of God and Prayer by this time of Affliction? Perhaps. We are not told why. So, we leave “the why” alone.
Our Lord’s work is always cruciform—cross-shaped. Shaped by the cross upon which he will be defeated—or rather—the cross upon which he will be victorious.
We hear about Michael in the Book of Daniel. He also hear about him in Revelation 12. Here, once again, Michael does battle with the prince of darkness, there called a dragon, the ancient serpent, the devil and Satan.
How does Michael gain the victory? Was it by his own reason and strength? No—not! “They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the Word!” The apparent defeat of the Son of God by crucifixion, was actually the means by which Christ Jesus gained the victory. By his humiliation he brought down his proud, boastful enemy.
Satan wanted to stop the temple from being rebuilt because it was the one place—at that time—where the promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation was centered.
That temple, though, was a placeholder, until the true and living Tabernacle was built—until the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
And when that happened, what followed? What followed, once again, was satanic opposition.
- By means of Herod, Satan tried to kill the Christ Child. He used violence and murder. Yet, God sent his angel to warn Joseph, so that he took Jesus to safety in Egypt.
When that failed….
- He tried to defeat Jesus by three pointed temptations. He used deceit, twisting Scripture to his purposes. He failed there as well. Then angels came and ministered to Jesus.
- In Gethsemane, he tried again. Yet, Jesus committed himself to the will of the Father. Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And through the agony of knowing what was to come, he overcame the temptation to quit.
- Satan next got Judas to betray him. Jesus offered his disciple the bread of fellowship. Judas took it, but with evil intention. Satan entered him. He departed to do his dastardly deed. It was night. And soon it would be finished.
Yet, he who by a tree once overcame, has by the tree of the cross been overcome by the blood shed by Christ your humble Lord.
- A three-weeks delay in rebuilding the temple: Yet God was still working according to his good and gracious, though hidden will.
- A three-day delay—three days in the tomb—yet God was still working his good and gracious will for you.
- Christ Jesus rose victorious over sin, death, and the devil. And angels proclaimed the wonder to the women that Easter morning
Opposition to the Word of God by worldly powers is not merely political, economic, or even ideological. Opposition to the Word of God is driven by the demons, servants of the realm of Satan.
However, even though this “prince of the kingdom of Persia” could delay the work, he could not defeat or permanently stop it.
Why the Lord allows Satan his apparent victories is beyond our ability to know. It remains most often in the hidden things of God.
This, however, has been made known to us. Christians, like our Lord, endure the cross. We live life opposed by the devil, the world, and even our own sinful flesh. Some days they even get the upper hand and we stumble under the weight.
When we do—when you do—it is the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, shed in apparent defeat, that cleanses you from all sin.
We are never called or taught to pray to angels. But we are taught to know that God graciously sends them to assist us as we live under the cross.
Luther gets it right when he urges us to pray to God: “Let your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.” And just as Michael came and helped our Lord, so the holy angels come to do God’s will for the sake of his people. They join us in the battle already won by Christ Jesus.