We are now the the last vision in the book of Daniel, and it is a doozy. The whole experience takes up chapters 10, 11, and 12. I am going to cover it in bite-sized pieces each week, focusing on some of the details of the story that I believe are relevant to you and me today.
Close Encounters of the Divine Kind
Today we come across an incredibly strange experience that Daniel has, but an experience that is not unique in Scripture -- Daniel sees God, or at least an incarnation of God, and is dropped to the ground by what he sees. This type of revelation of God is what theologians call a “theophany” - from the greek “theos”, which means “God” and “phainein”, which means “show.” So a theophany is when you are “shown God” or “see God,” and that’s exactly what happens to Daniel here. He has been fasting and praying for three weeks, and a mysterious and awe-inspiring figure wearing pure linen and a gold belt appears to him -- it’s God. Some might say, no, that isn’t God, maybe an angel -- nobody gets to see God and live, right? While it could be the case that this is just an angel, when we compare this experience of Daniel’s to appearances of Christ in Revelation 1, Ezekiel 1, and Acts 9, there are very convincing parallels -- Daniel is seeing the glorified Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God.
Listen to the Revelator’s encounter with Christ from Revelation 1: “Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. 14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire;15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; 16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. 17 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. 18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. (Revelation 1.12-18a)
And now listen to the great prophet Ezekiel’s vision of mighty angelic beings a few years before Daniel’s vision: “26 And above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone; on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it. 27 Also from the appearance of His waist and upward I saw, as it were, the color of amber with the appearance of fire all around within it; and from the appearance of His waist and downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around. 28 Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. So when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of One speaking.” (Ezekiel 1 26-28)
Here’s one more theophany -- although in this case God is not literally seen, but clearly heard by Paul and his companions in Acts 9: “Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” 6 So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. 8 Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” (Acts 9.1-9)
Have you ever wanted to see God? Have you ever prayed, “Lord, show me a sign”? Or “God, are you still there?” Have you ever wanted God to make himself known to you in a very real way? Daniel wanted that -- and God answered in a way that Daniel never expected. Be careful what you pray for! Like Daniel, you may get more than you are ready to handle. When God hits you where you live, buckle up! While some here may not care a lick about seeing God, there may be others in this room who really want to know that God is real, and would like to see God in a tangible way in their lives. If you are hungry to see God -- to experience Him in for real in your life -- I’d like to share three insights you can gain from Daniel’s encounter with the Great I Am.
Here are three eye-opening insights from today’s text:
First, Daniel was ready to see God. Daniel was prepared physically and mentally to experience God in a new, fresh way. He was ready to meet God. You can tell not only from the fact that Daniel was fasting, but also from the timing and the location. First, the timing -- it was the 24th of “the first month” -- the month of Nisan. The month of Nisan was not a giant used car sales event; it was the first month of the Jewish calendar. And does anyone know what important feast happens on the 14th day of the first month in the Jewish calendar? Passover! A reminder of how God restored the captives of Israel and rescued them from slavery in Egypt. I wonder if that particular holiday had any meaning for someone like Daniel -- also a captive in a foreign land who was longing to be set free? Daniel had started fasting more than a week before Passover began, and here he is three days after the Passover feast ends, still fasting. The timing of today’s story reveals much about Daniel’s state of mind.
Moreover, the location of this vision is another clue that Daniel was prepared to see God. He is standing by the Tigris River, which runs from northern Iraq to the Persian Gulf, and runs at least twenty miles from Daniel’s home of Babylon at its closest point. Clearly, Daniel is on some sort of retreat, away from the clamor of the city, probably on some sort of spiritual quest. So we can tell from the timing and the location that Daniel’s heart and mind were focused on the mighty things God had done in the past. He had retreated to the desert to tune in.
But what about his body? He tells us that he had been fasting for three weeks. It seems strange that we might discipline our bodies in order to experience something spiritual, but there is no denying that fasting is a powerful discipline. Fasting is simply the act of denying your animal self in order to bring your spiritual self to the surface. When we fast, whether from wine or meat or video games or Facebook or Netflix -- or the most common classic form of fasting, food of any kind -- we are simply letting our body know that we are more than flesh and bone; that the soul takes precedence over our shadowy and fleeting physical existence. Of course, Christians are not required to fast like Muslims or other groups. For Christians, fasting is always optional. But if Daniel, Moses, Paul, Peter, and even Jesus himself are known to have fasted, it sure seems like it might be a good idea!
All of these factors, the fasting, the timing -- and even the location -- show us that daniel was ready to see God. Have you ever used a walkie talkie? Most of them have channels, or frequencies, that you use to talk with your friend. If they are on channel 1, you need to be on channel 1 to hear them. You won’t hear anything if you are on channel 2 or 3. The same is true with God. Unless you are tuned in to the right frequency, you won’t get a signal. You’ve got to prepare your heart and your mind -- and even your body -- to hear Him. Maybe that means fasting. Maybe that means getting away from the hustle of your daily routine. Maybe it means studying His scriptures with more focus for a time. But if you want to encounter God, you need to prepare yourself.
“And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.’” (Matthew 9.15)
The second surprising insight from today’s passage is that Daniel was shocked by what he saw. Actually, “shocked” is an understatement -- he fainted! Faceplant in the dirt! This encounter with God was not what Daniel expected, and it made his knees knock. He didn’t need to be afraid, as we will see later in the story. But what he saw was not what he thought he would see, and it shook him. And so it is when we encounter God. His ways are not our ways. His plans are not our plans. The bottom line is this: You must allow God to be Himself in your life, and not try to squeeze Him into your mold. People do that a lot, attempt to crumple God into a baggie the size of our pea brains. God is so much bigger than you or I could imagine! It is futile to try to recast God in our own image. Maybe He wants some things you don’t want. Maybe He doesn’t want some things that you do. Maybe He is not totally cool with your behavior yesterday, even though you are just fine with it. We have to let God be God, and not whittle Him down to our lame version of Him. Any God you can carve out yourself and stuff in a baggie is an idol. For God to be God, he must be bigger, wiser, and more powerful than we can fathom.
Here is what God said to Job when Job’s friends thought they had Godt all figured out. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.” (Job 38.4)
Finally, the last insight from today’s story is that Daniel was all alone in his experience. Now, I am sure some of us have met those people who very enthusiastically claim to have seen God. They desperately want us to see what they did, and they won’t stop talking about it. Some of us are those people and won’t stop talking about it!
As someone who has had more than a few close encounters with the Lord, I get it. It changes you. It inspires you. It moves you in such a way that you want everyone around you to experience the same thing. But usually they don’t. They aren’t interested. They’re too busy. They just don’t see what you saw. Daniel had a similar experience. The people who were standing right next to him didn’t see what he saw. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t real -- whatever Daniel saw had such an effect on him that it spooked the men he was with -- they ran from the scene in terror. Here’s what we can learn from Daniel’s vision -- you may have to walk the road alone at times. Others may not see what you do. Others may doubt you and reject you as a few cards short of a full deck. But if you have seen God, never doubt the reality of Him -- no matter what your closest friends and neighbors may say. They may not see what you see, but eventually, they will be affected by your reaction to Him. Here’s a good and faithful promise straight from the lips of Jesus for those of you who feel alone in your experience of God: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19.29)
Very Good News!
Later -- on three occasions -- the angel touches Daniel and urges him not to fear. We need not fear what God has for us -- though it may knock our knees out from under us! Take heart from these words spoken to Joshua when he encountered the Lord in Joshua chapter 1: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1.9)
80’s rap pioneer Michael Peace was once asked who he would like to meet when he got to heaven. He listed some historical figures and leaders. The interviewer was puzzled and said that most people he interviewed said they wanted to meet Jesus. Here was Michael Peace, a dedicated Christian, who didn’t even have Jesus on his list! Peace laughed and replied, “I already met Jesus 20 years ago!”
Maybe you won’t meet Jesus the way Daniel, Ezekiel or Paul did. You may not witness a vision in the sky of a figure in blazing white, with a voice like Niagara Falls and eyes brighter than the sun. But the same Son of Man that Daniel saw is ready to reveal himself in your heart -- any time you ask! That’s right: he is ready to reveal Himself to anyone who asks. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3.20)
You may not experience a vision of fire and angels, but His presence in your heart at the moment you choose to believe is nonetheless very real. If you open the door, He will come into your heart and dine at your table -- and He will be with you wherever you go. That is a promise -- His promise, not mine!
Won’t you open the door for Him today?