Summary: A sermon preached for the 50th anniversary of St. Peter Lutheran Church in St. Albert, Alberta, Canada.
Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of St. Peter Lutheran Church. 50 years. If this congregation was a man, he could expect that half of this life has already passed, and so have the days when he had no love handles or wrinkles. But a congregation is not an individual—it’s more like a corporation. OK, so let’s compare St. Peter’s to a corporation. McDonald’s turned 50 in 1998. At that time it had 31,000 restaurants in 121 countries which brought in $40 billion US dollars a year. Are you envious of their success? Not when you consider how McDonald’s has contributed to heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure by selling food high in cholesterol, sugar, and salt. In contrast what is St. Peter’s legacy? And what is its future? God has something to say about that in Daniel 12. God wants us to know that there’s trouble ahead, but triumph too!
The prophet Daniel received the words of our text in the form of a vision. Daniel was about 85 years old at the time and had recently spent a night in the lions’ den for refusing to stop praying to the one true God. Even though many of his fellows Jews had returned to Israel to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple, Daniel was still in Babylon. Perhaps he felt too old for such a journey or thought that he could be of more help to the Israelites by continuing to serve as an important official in the Persian government. What we do know is that Daniel was interested in the work that was being conducted some 800 km away in Jerusalem. And so it pained him to find out that even though the Israelites had made a good start rebuilding the temple, their efforts quickly stalled. There were a couple of reasons for this. The local non-Jewish people did not want the temple rebuilt and the Israelites to re-establish themselves. But the Israelites’ own sinful nature was getting in the way too. They were more interested in building up their own homes instead of the house of God. And so Daniel fasted and prayed about the matter. God responded to Daniel’s prayer by sending a “divine man” (probably the pre-incarnate Christ) to tell Daniel what was in store for God’s people. Listen again to the beginning of our text where the divine man said: “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” (Daniel 12:1a).
In the previous chapter of the book of Daniel, God spoke about what the Jewish people could expect in the immediate future—continued opposition and persecution. Now, at the beginning of chapter 12, God takes Daniel all the way to the end of the world. And so what God speaks about here not only pertains to Jews but to people of every nation; God speaks to you and me. God warns us that “There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then” (Daniel 12:1a). Jesus offered a similar warning in the verses before our Gospel lesson this morning. He said: “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains… 12 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me…” (Mark 13:7-8, 12-13).
What’s in store for St. Peter Lutheran Church in the next 50 years if the world lasts that long? There’s trouble ahead. We can expect that there will be more and more pressure and persecution on those who profess faith in Jesus. The good news is that we won’t have to face these troubles on our own. Did you catch what the divine man promised Daniel? He said that at that time of great persecution “…Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise” (Daniel 12:1a). Michael, as the divine man explained earlier to Daniel, is a leader among the angels and is directly engaged in fighting for and protecting God’s people down through the ages (Daniel 10:13).
Since Michael is an angel, a spiritual being, the battles he engages in are also spiritual in nature. So yes, as the end draws near there will be wars and famines that will cause physical hardship, but the greater and more dangerous hardship will be spiritual in nature. Jesus warned about that when he said that as the end draws near there will be false teachers who twist God’s Word. Satan will also use evil governments to make it harder for Christians to proclaim God’s Word. You see, Satan is not happy that you have a place to come and hear God’s Word on a weekly basis. He doesn’t it like it that you have opportunity to bring your children here to be baptized, or that you can bolster your faith by regularly receiving Holy Communion. He’s tried to stop or at least distort those activities in the past 50 years here at St. Peter’s. And you can be certain that he will keep trying to divert your attention from God’s Word and the sacraments. He will make you think that family, school, sports, music, and work “obligations” are more pressing. And the sad reality is that Satan will win some victories. In fact his attacks will be so relentless that believers will feel like an undermanned hockey or soccer team trying to hold on to a one-goal lead while the opposing team repeatedly and relentlessly attacks the net. The only thing that will save us is the clock. Time will run out on Satan when Jesus returns in all of his magnificence to glorify those who remained faithful to him. The divine man describes the triumph that awaits like this: “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” (Daniel 12:1b-3).