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"Heavenly Conflict IV"

MESSAGE FOR DECEMBER 2, 2007 FROM DANIEL 10

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          This morning we hope to conclude our treatment of the tenth chapter of Daniel.  Last week, we examined the unseen angelic and demonic world that through prayer God uses to significantly influence both world events and our own individual life circumstances.  We saw that this angelic activity in the heavenlies played out concurrently with Daniel’s three weeks of praying and fasting.  We noticed that the activities revealed in this unseen angelic realm were of a specific type, warfare.  Let’s look at these specific verses again to refresh our memory.  In verse 13, the angelic messenger says to Daniel, “13The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia,” Daniel had been praying for God to help him understand what would happen to his people in the future.  In answer to that prayer, a supernatural messenger is dispatched to deliver a prophecy to Daniel with that information and that prophecy is found in chapter 11.  However, God’s messenger was detained from delivering this prophecy for 21 days by a dark angelic being he calls “the Prince of Persia” who “withstood” him.  That word “withstood” literally means to “stand opposite” and implies conflict.   

          Daniel has a second encounter with an angelic being a few verses later and this messenger speaks with Daniel in verse 20, ““20Then he said, "Do you know why I have come to you? But now I will return to fight against the prince of Persia; and when I go out, behold, the prince of Greece will come.  21But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth: there is none who contends by my side against these except Michael, your prince.”  Again, we see a militant conflict as this angel says that he will return to make war against the prince of Persia with the archangel Michael contending by his side.  As you read this account, you may be tempted to wonder, why does the Lord of the universe choose to accomplish his purposes through these dramatic, militant means?  Why does God tolerate and even incorporate into his divine plan this militant conflict with Satan and his adversaries?

          There are probably many answers to that question, but this morning, we want to use this spiritual conflict in Daniel ten as a point of contact from which we will provide two Biblical answers to this larger question about God and how he rules his universe.  The first reason why God often executes his plan on earth through spiritual conflict is:  Because God is a warrior.  We may not be accustomed to thinking about God as a warrior.  That seems beneath him in some way.  If it does, it simply means that our concept of a warrior is not Biblical.  We see God as warrior in numerous ways in the Scripture.  First we see this in the fact that God is the King of Israel.  Although God did ultimately grant Israel’s request for a human king, he never resigned from being their divine King.  The Jews rejected both God the Father and God the Son as their King, but both were their kings, nonetheless.

          Kingship in the Ancient Near East implied the role of commander of the army.  All kings were warriors—that was simply part of their job.  God is seen in the Bible as the ultimate Warrior King.  We see this in texts like Exodus 15:3.  There Moses says, “3The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name.”  The Lord through Moses led the people of Israel through the wilderness.  Numbers 10:35 gives us an important detail about what happened at the beginning of each leg of their wilderness wanderings. “35And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, "Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you."  Moses declares whatever everyone in Israel should have known.  That is—that God is a Warrior who defeats the enemies of his people.  Additionally, one of the titles God uses for himself in the Old Testament is “the Lord of Hosts.”  That title specifically refers to God’s role as commander of the massive angelic host that fights for him.  That militant designation for God occurs over 200 times in the Old Testament. 

          We see God as warrior in other ways as well.  We repeatedly see in the book of Joshua it is God, not man who defeated his enemies and that it was God, not man who initiates the battles.  In Joshua chapter five, before the major invasion of the Canaanites begins, Joshua has an encounter with One who calls himself “the commander of the army of the LORD.”  Joshua worships this One.  It’s only AFTER this encounter with his divine General that the battle for the Promised Land begins, which it does in the next chapter with the battle of Jericho.  David, Israel’s greatest human warrior King regularly went to the Lord to secure his battle strategy.  He would consult with God as to when the battle would begin and how it should be fought (see I Samuel 23:1-5)

          As we mentioned earlier, the Ark of the Covenant, the place where God chose to dwell, regularly led the Israelite army into battle.  You may remember the incident in First Samuel chapter four where the Jews fought against the Philistines and because of the blasphemous behavior of Eli and his sons, God’s people were defeated, losing about 4000 men in battle.  Rather than seeking the Lord for the reasons for this defeat, the elders ordered the soldiers to bring the Ark of the Covenant into battle so that God would save them from their enemies.  The Jews lost again because of their sin and far worse, the ark of God was captured by the Philistines.  God would however never permit anyone to believe that HE was defeated as the Warrior King, so he stages a dramatic defeat of his own within the temple of the Philistines, where they had brought the ark.  The first morning after the ark was placed in the temple, the statue of Dagon, the Philistine god fell “face downward on the ground before the ark of God.”  The Philistines set the statue upright, but discovered the next day to their horror that the Dagon had again fallen before the ark, this time breaking off the hands and head of the pagan god.

          We see God’s affirmation of himself as the Warrior King in the configuration of the Israelite camp in the wilderness.  You may recall from Numbers chapter two that the tribes faced the tent of meeting on every side.  In the tent of meeting was the ark and that was not accidental.  In the Ancient Near East, the army always set up their camp with their king—their military commander at the center of their camp.  There were several implications of God being Israel’s Warrior King.  First, the people of Israel were taught that they were not ever to rely on a large army or impressive weaponry for their victory.  David says in Psalm 20:7, “7Some trust in chariots and some in horses,  but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”  This vacuum of trust in chariots and horses explains why in Joshua 11, when Israel fought against the northern kings of Canaan, that Joshua ordered his men to cut the hamstrings of the enemy horses and burn their chariots.  Typically, a commander would have confiscated those valuable weapons of war and used them for his own army.  God was communicating to Joshua and his army that he had no need of confiscated enemy weaponry. 

We see this same truth when David rejects the offer of Saul’s armor against Goliath.  He didn’t need armor.  A few stones and a sling were enough to bring down Goliath because David knew that “This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand…”  If God is fighting for you, you can bring down the impenetrable walls of Jericho with a loud shout.  If God is fighting for you as he was for Gideon, 300 men are more than enough to repel an army of 120,000.  We know that judgment came upon David because he wanted Joab to take a census of Israel’s army in First Chronicles 21.  God sent a plague on Israel for David’s sin because it was a mammoth act of arrogance on David’s part to take a census of the army.  It implied that his military victories were in some way related to the size of his army rather than the power of their Warrior King, Yahweh.  The Old Testament record of God’s army is unprecedented.  When Israel obeyed God, God always, 100% of the time was victorious over the enemies of his people and these victories were often against hopeless odds.

Finally, we know that this picture of the Warrior King is not reserved only for the God of the New Testament.  In Revelation chapter 19, which pictures the return of Christ—he is mounted on a white horse—the mount of a conquering Warrior King.  John tells us his robe has been “dipped in blood.”  That conveys the truth that Christ will trample his enemies under his feet, their blood drenching the bottom of his robe.  In both testaments, God is seen as the Warrior King over his people.

A second reason why God tolerates and even incorporates into his divine plan this militant conflict with Satan and his adversaries is more self-evident.  That is—In a fallen world, God enlists his angelic and redeemed human subjects to advance his kingdom through spiritual war.  The Biblical worldview has within it an essentially adversarial element.  There are two kingdoms—the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this fallen world system under the authority of Satan and they are at war with one another.  The expression of God’s kingdom present now on earth is the church of His Son, Jesus Christ.  The very first time Jesus mentions his church he does so in the context of conflict.  In Mathew 16:18 he says, “18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  The picture Jesus paints here is one of the militant church advancing against the protective fortifications put up by the kingdom of darkness.  As the church repeatedly and incessantly pounds against these spiritual strongholds, these “gates” of darkness will splinter.  They will not prevail.  That is the church militant.

The consistent message of the Bible is that these two kingdoms are irrevocably opposed to each other.  They are like oil and water.  There can be no peace between them.  The spiritual differences between them are so essential, running to the core of each kingdom, that there can be no truces and no cease fires—the battle will rage until Jesus comes back to consummate the victory he won over these forces on Calvary.  We see the opposition of the world in many places.  Jesus tells his disciples in John 15:19, “19If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”  That is a glaringly stark contrast.  If you are of the world—the world will love you.  If Christ has chosen you out of the world, this fallen, demonically charged world system will hate you.  This is one reason why Jesus in the next chapter of John’s gospel tells them in verse 33, “…In the world you will have tribulation…”  Jesus prays in John 17:14, 14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”

The world hated Christ and we who follow him should expect no better treatment.  If the world does not hate us, it’s not because the world has changed.  It’s simply because we do not accurately reflect the Christ they hate.  The world hates us because of Jesus and because of the gospel of Jesus.  Think about it.  The kingdom of this world is by definition populated by people who are in rebellion against God and that rebellion is seen in several ways.  First, the people of this world are self-centered and therefore propagate themselves and their selfish interests. They may be incredibly nice people, but that’s what they do.  They follow the pattern set out by their spiritual fathers Adam and Satan in their efforts to be god over their lives.  In our culture, the rebellion also expresses itself against the truth, claiming there is no absolute truth—“your truth is your truth and my truth is my truth.”  The world hates the notion of one authoritative, absolute truth.

Into that self-loving, truth-denying world system, the church marches with the message of the gospel which says to these self-loving people, “You are a wretched sinner and the God you assume loves you is in fact at war with you and his wrath rests upon you.”  To this truth-denying world the gospel says, “There is only one way you can escape the wrath of God and that is to humble yourself, admit the sobering truth about your desperate need and come to Jesus Christ by faith, repenting of the things you are now drawing satisfaction from and instead find your joy in Jesus Christ, who you now hate.  There is no other way.  The Bible alone is true—all the other options are dead end streets.  And, by the way, when you come to Christ, the world system you now cling to will reject you and you will find your joy in Christ and his people.”  That’s our message, folks.  Is it any wonder there is opposition?  The gospel attacks the very center of a sinner’s heart—who they are and what they should believe about the biggest questions in life.

The church in North America, parts of which are working diligently to make peace with the world in order to win them to Christ, must remember this.  As in all things, we must bring a comprehensively Biblical perspective to the way we try to reach the lost.  We must have a passion to reach people for Christ.  We must be intentional and even strategic in our pursuit to win lost people for Jesus.  We must seek to build relationships with lost people and use those relationships as a context where we live and preach the gospel to lost people.  However, we must also understand the Biblical truth we have seen about the world’s opposition to Christ and his gospel.  The truth of the gospel hardens people’s hearts as well as softens them.  Jesus said in John 8:45, “But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.”   Do we understand that?  The reason some people do not believe is because you tell them the truth.  This should not dissuade us from telling others about Christ.  It should however keep us from being naïve about the opposition we face.

We mustn’t be deceived into thinking that having a relationship, even a close relationship with a lost person, will remove the offense of the gospel.  We must also never compromise the distinctly world-repelling aspect of the gospel as many are doing today in order to win so-called “converts.”  There is a vast difference between friendship evangelism and friendship with the world.  In many parts of evangelicalism—like much of the emergent church movement, that distinction is being plowed under.  Friendship evangelism is forming redemptive relationships from which we can get a good hearing for the gospel spoken and lived out.  Friendship with the world is an entirely different thing. James 4:4 says, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”  Sadly, some parts of the professing evangelical church that are most concerned with and energetically seeking to reach the lost wrongly assume that if you are friendly enough and do your best to be culturally informed and “relevant,” those things will compel the lost person to become a follower of Christ.  That’s unbiblical and naïve.  It overlooks the offense of the gospel.  The Biblical witness is clear—the church of Jesus Christ is in opposition with this Christ-hating world and only a miracle of grace will bring a lost person to true, saving faith of Christ.  The Bible teaches that we face three specific areas of spiritual opposition, the world, the flesh and the devil.

The devil, as we saw last week is called in Ephesians 2:2, “the prince of the power of the air.”  Although Christ has delivered a mortal blow to him on Calvary’s cross, he is still actively opposing God’s people as God allows that for his glory.  Jesus in John 10:10 calls him a “thief” who comes to “steal, kill and destroy” people.  First Peter 5:8 is written to believers and says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  Satan still has the capacity to do horrific damage to a believer who is not sober and watchful about their life.  He is the master deceiver and he can wreck spiritual havoc on a person whose desires for the things of this world leave them open to his deception.  As the “accuser of our brothers” [Rev. 12:7] he can decimate the weak conscience of a believer who is not clinging to the promises of the gospel. 

But genuine followers of Christ who are seeking after Christ should not fear him.  First John 4:4 promises, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”  Whenever Satan enters into a conflict with a follower of Christ, because of the presence of the Holy Spirit within the believer, Satan is always outgunned.  He is forced to rely on deception and trickery to bring down a believer.  James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  As we submit to God and resist the enemy’s lies, temptations and accusations, he must flee, just as he fled Jesus in the wilderness.  We can claim that promise in our war against the darkness. 

A second area of spiritual opposition is this world system we have already spoken of at length.  The demonically controlled world system is Satan’s great propaganda machine.  The world is the primary vehicle through which he spews his lies.  The world is the megaphone for his accusations against the church and the conduit through which we brings us his temptations.  The church however should never cower before the world.  Jesus says in John 16:33, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."  Christ has overcome the world.  He has taken the worst it has to give and triumphed over it.  That means that all who are united to Christ have in Jesus also overcome the world through him.  Luther said it this way, “And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.”

          The final area of spiritual opposition within the darkness is what the Bible calls the flesh or what some translations call the “sinful nature.”  This is that unredeemable part of us that will not be destroyed until we die.  If the world is the transmitter of the devil’s lies and accusations and distortions, the flesh is the receiver that is in each one of us.  Our flesh is in sympathy with the world and the devil—it craves the darkness.  It is expressed through our sinful desire to live independently from God.  It may manifest itself as a blatant rebel that spits in God’s face.  But it may just as likely try to counterfeit the work of the Holy Spirit in ways that, rather than serving God, instead serve our selfish desires.  The flesh counterfeits genuine godly sorrow over sin with anger and frustration over a sense of personal failure.  The flesh apes genuine humility with self-serving expressions of self-condemnation and self-pity.  However, neither should the follower of Christ fear the flesh.  We should be very aware of it—sensitive to it, but not fearful of it.  We are called instead to kill it when it makes itself known.  Paul says in Romans 8:13, “ For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”  As we, in the power of the Holy Spirit, kill the flesh through self-denial and the spiritual disciplines, the flesh does not need to be the dominant spiritual influence in our life.  Christ won the victory over the flesh at Calvary and, united in him we too are dead to its controlling influence.

          All this means one thing—all those in Christ are warriors.  There are no non-militant saints.  If you are not in conflict with the world, the flesh and the devil, its not that you are above the fray.  It’s because you are either AWOL or a POW and perhaps you don’t even realize it.  God will allow conflict into our lives because it’s in our need for him and trust in him in the midst of conflict that he is glorified.  His strength is made perfect in the weaknesses that are so clearly manifest in spiritual conflict.  In the book of Judges, after most of the Promised Land had been claimed, there were certain enemy strongholds that had not yet been cleared and occupied by the Jews.  Chapter 3:1 tells us why God allowed that.  “Now these are the nations that the Lord left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. 2 It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before.”   Don’t miss that God would not allow this next generation to not engage in warfare because it’s in the battle that we see our own weaknesses and cry out to Christ for deliverance and victory.  It’s in battle that we learn to trust our Warrior King to deliver us and give us triumph through Christ.

          In Revelation chapters two and three in Christ’s letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor, promises of eternal life are made to those who conquer.  Listen to some of them in rapid succession.  To the church in Ephesus, “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.'”  He says to the church at Smyrna, “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.”  Pergamum hears this promise, “To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.”  To Thyatira Jesus says,The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron,” Jesus gives the same kind of promises to the conquering believers in the other three churches.   Jesus is clear—heaven will be filled with warriors who have persevered in their militant struggle over evil and through the power of the risen Christ have endured and triumphed.

          Finally, we know we are warriors because we have been equipped for war.  God through the Holy Spirit has given us the armaments we need to wage successful war against the darkness.  Second Corinthians 10:4 says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.”   Through prayer, faith, the truth, especially the gospel, the righteousness of Christ and the word of God we triumph.  Paul in Ephesians chapter six lists those spiritual resources as if they were spiritual armor because that is what they are.

          This is the Biblical context out of which the warring angels are battling each other in Daniel chapter 10.  As you think about this aspect of God’s character, does it repel you?  It shouldn’t—we should take great comfort from this Divine Warrior who will protect his people and who will lead them again and again against the forces of darkness arrayed against us.  The question is not—“is there a war on?”  The question is—“do we know there is a war on more important than any human war that has ever been fought?”  Are we living as if the Christian life is a war, or does our life more reflect that the life of the believer is more of an escape from this world?  May God give us the grace to be the church militant in our prayers, militant in our living and giving and militant as we bring the good news of the gospel to a world at war with God so that we by his grace when Jesus comes back, can reign with him as the church triumphant. 

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