Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Prepared for Battle (Daniel 10:1-21)

Let us consider Daniel chapter 10 and look at the final vision of Daniel. Now this lengthy final vision,  which has a preface (chapter 10), is then presented in chapter 11, and has a postscript (chapter 12), will be the final thing we consider in this great book.

Today, in chapter 10, we’re told about some very interesting spiritual warfare which surrounded the giving of Daniel final vision. Daniel had been mourning for the trials God had shown him were to come upon his people, and he had sought assurance from God that they would not be destroyed by the intense persecution that the last vision described. In fact, he may have been troubled by even more immediate concerns. You see, Daniel is nearing his own death. It is the third year of the reign of Cyrus in Babylon, about 535 BC, which means today’s vision takes place 1-2 years after the first group of Jewish exiles had returned to Jerusalem under man named Zerubbabel and Joshua, the high priest. 

One to two years previous, these exiles had arrived in Jerusalem., had cleared the temple area and had even already resumed the daily sacrifices. It’s likely by this point they have even laid the foundation of the temple. But then the work stopped. In fact, we know from history that the work stopped for fifteen years until God sent a man named Haggai, one of the minor prophets, to instruct the Jewish exiles to resume the work, which they did. So now you understand Daniel’s immediate concern - he’s likely just heard about the stoppage of the work and is alarmed by it and he is mourning.

Now, chapter 10 recounts how on the twenty-fourth day of the first month of the year, after Daniel had been mourning and praying for three weeks and as he stood on the bank of the Tigris River, he suddenly saw an angel. Angels are not usually described in much detail in Scripture. But this angel is described asdressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude” (Dan. 10:5–6). This figure was so overpowering that Daniel’s strength fled away and he fell to the ground as if he were in a deep sleep. Even when the angel came to him, touched him, and raised him up, he still stood trembling.

Then the text tells us the angel spoke. “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come” (vv. 12–14).

Now this is very remarkable! When Daniel prayed, God sent this powerful heavenly being to bring Daniel the vision of the future that we will hear about in chapter 11. But it saysthe prince of the Persian kingdom,” whom we must understand to be an evil but correspondingly powerful spirit (not a mere mortal ruler), this evil spirit resisted God’s angel so that for three weeks he was not able to come to Daniel. 

It must have been a great struggle, because it required the special intervention of Michael, the archangel, to resolve it. Now, when Michael was sent, the battle between these good and evil spirits tipped in the direction of the spirit messenger, and he arrived at last to give to Daniel God’s message. And what I want us to see is that this is a remarkable glimpse into the battles that are being waged in heaven. And although the occurrence here in Daniel is different from anything we find elsewhere in the Word of God, it nevertheless fits what we are taught about spiritual warfare. And so I want us to think about spiritual warfare this morning. That’s why I have titled today’s message, “Prepared for Battle. ” Now, I want to look at several texts which will help us consider the topic of spiritual warfare and being prepared for battle.

1) The first two chapters of Job are one bit of teaching. These chapters do not speak of outright warfare or struggle, but they show a scene in heaven in which the devil and his angels appear before the throne of God and in which God questions Satan about his righteous servant Job. “Have you considered my servant Job?” God asks. “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). Satan replies that Job fears God only because God has blessed and protected him, and challenges God to take away his possessions, predicting that Job will then curse God to his face. God gives permission. But Job does not curse God. Even after Satan is given permission to take away Job’s health, Job does not sin. Instead, he asks, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (2:10). He does not charge God with wrongdoing. You see part of being prepared for battle is our willingness to submit to God’s will, whatever our circumstances.

2) In the next to the last book of the minor prophets, the book of Zechariah, we have another insight into the spiritual warfare that surrounds us and the work God does for his people. Zechariah the prophet sees the high priest Joshua. He is standing before God’s altar, and Satan is there to accuse him. Joshua is clothed in filthy clothes, symbolic of his and the nation’s sin, and Satan is no doubt pointing to the filthy garments, asking what right a man so morally deficient has to minister before God in his temple. But God rebukes Satan. And the angel who is accompanying Joshua says to those standing by, “Take off his filthy clothes” (Zech. 3:4). In place of these he is given rich garments and a clean turban, symbolic of the righteousness of God imputed to him (v. 5). You see being prepared for battle means fighting with the righteousness given to us by God. We do not fight in our own strength.

3) In Revelation 12 there is another scene that has bearing on this warfare. An actual battle is described, involving the same archangel Michael. This text says, 

"There was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Christ.
For the accuser of our brothers,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony.”
(Revelation 12:7–11)

This passage is the closest parallel in Scripture to the heavenly messenger’s struggle to reach Daniel, recorded in Daniel 10 - and it reminds us that this battle is a REAL battle. But in terms of our being prepared for battle, Revelation reminds us that the WAR has already been won by God. Therefore, above all else, stand with God.

4) Finally, the key passage of all these biblical references to spiritual warfare is the concluding portion of Ephesians in which the apostle Paul encourages us to arm ourselves with God’s armor and stand against Satan’s power. You see, being prepared for battle means we are to play our part in these battles too by wielding the armor of God. Paul writes…

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (Ephesians 6:10–18)

So, given all these important revelations about the spiritual world - what do we really know about it? In terms of being prepared for battle, we know that God is with us, that we are a part of spiritual warfare, and that there are two important groups combatants who are waging this war around us all the time. 

1) The first are the godly, unfallen angels, which are mentioned in the Old Testament over one hundred times and in the New Testament more than one hundred sixty times. We are told that they are God’s messengers. They are created beings and therefore are not eternal. They exist in vast numbers. They are called “the heavenly host” (Luke 2:13). We are told in the Psalms that they reflect God’s glory to us (Ps. 138:1).

2) The second group are the host of fallen angels who fell with Satan at the time of his original rebellion against God and who are bent on opposing God’s rule and doing his people harm.

Why should we know about this good and evil host? John Calvin wrote of God’s purpose in telling us of this host:

We have been forewarned that an enemy relentlessly threatens us, an enemy who is the very embodiment of rash boldness, of military prowess, of crafty wiles, of untiring zeal and haste, of every conceivable weapon and of skill in the science of warfare. We must, then, bend our every effort to this goal: let us not be overwhelmed by carelessness or faintheartedness, but with courage rekindled let us stand our ground in combat.

But against whom do we stand? Who is in charge of the evil host? The scriptures tell us that at the head of these fallen angels is the devil, whom the Bible describes as a powerful foe. There are many jokes about the devil, some possibly inspired by the devil himself to make us think lightly of him and thus lower our guard. But the devil is no lightweight. He is evil, real, and personal. It is true that he is a counterpart of the greatest of the unfallen angels, Michael and Gabriel. But he is not a spiritual counterpart of God. God is God. Every other being has been created by God and is therefore limited for the simple reason that he or she has been created. And it’s important to remember the distinctions between God and Satan.

1) God is omnipotent; he is all-powerful. The devil is not. God can do anything he wishes to do. This is God’s universe, not the devil’s. Not even hell is the devil’s. God has created hell as the place where he will one day confine Satan and his followers.

2) God is omnipresent; God is everywhere at once. This cannot be said of Satan. Satan can be in only one place at one time. Consequently, he must either tempt one person in one place at one time, or he must extend his influence through one of the other spiritual beings that fell with him.

3) God is omniscient; he knows everything. This is untrue of Satan. Satan does not know everything. True, he knows a great deal, and he is undoubtedly a shrewd guesser. But he has no more certainty about what is going to happen in the future than we have.

Nonetheless, Satan is our enemy and we must be prepared for battle against him. So, let me close with some thoughts as to how you can be prepared for the battle against Satan:

1) The first is to put on the whole armor of God. Read the great chapter in Ephesians 6:11-17 and apply its truth to your life. The apostle Paul carefully identifies the source of the strength in our armor. He says, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

2) Second, realize that Satan often leads people from lesser sins to greater. It’s very frustrating for me today to see people thinking of lesser sins as nothing more serious than a cold. But small sins leach away our fear of God and hatred of sin. So, what can you do? My advice is to not give any place to the devil. Don’t permit even small sins. If you let the serpent’s head into your house, his whole body will quickly follow. If you are a person who tends to minimize sin, look at what every sin deserves and see it as the hateful thing that God despises. There is a spark of hell in every temptation and the least sin is contrary to the law of God, the nature of God, the being of God, and the glory of God. There is more evil in the smallest sin than in the greatest affliction we will face. Fight small sin in your life.

3) You need to reject the promises of sin. Remember in your temptation to sin that Satan promises the best, but pays with the worst; but God pays as he promises, for all his payments are made in pure gold.” If you are losing hope under the constant pressure of demonic temptation, remember often the promise of Paul in Romans 16:20, that “…the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.” Therefore, stand firm and Satan will flee.

4) Finally: Satan will often make a strategic retreat for a time to draw us out of our position of strength. In other words, He permits us a momentary victory to “swell our hearts with pride.” He lulls us into “a spirit of security” The remedy against this is Christian watchfulness.” Christians in this world should not live like rich men in a king’s court but like soldiers in the camps of war. 

The reminder today from Daniel is that Satan is a great and powerful foe, as I have said. Yet we are not to quail before him, but are steadfastly to resist him in the strength and armor of God. In the final assessment it will be seen that the Word of God and the kingdom of God have prevailed. In the end, it is good to be reminded that in this warfare, God is still sovereign, and for this reason his “truth” and “his kingdom” will prevail. That is what the angel came to tell Daniel. Daniel saw only the earthly scene (as we do), and his mind was troubled. But God showed that he was in control of history—he showed Daniel how it would all turn out—and Daniel was strengthened by that knowledge. So must we be as we stand for the Lord Jesus Christ, fight on, and look for his coming.