Series on Daniel.
Reading: Daniel 9
Text: Daniel 9
The Seventy Weeks
I suspect that we are in a time in church life today when quote a few people are expressing disappointment with what they have experienced so far in their religious life. As a result some have become convinced that what is needed is a deeper relationship with Jesus and a stronger assurance of salvation
Daniel 9 shows us what is important when it comes to dissatisfaction with your spiritual life or lack of assurance of salvation. First there are two things Daniel show us we can do to strengthen our spiritual life and also what God’s gracious answer is to any spiritual anxiety we might have. So three points, finding God in the books, Seeking God in prayer and God’s gracious answer to the believer’s prayer.
Finding God in the books.
The year is 539bc Darius the Mede is now king and Daniel has been studying the books and praying. No doubt the exiled Jews were careful to take the sacred writings with them into exile when the temple was destroyed. These most likely included the books of the law which Hilkiah the high priest found about 25 years before the exile. Daniel mentions the prophet Jeremiah in verse 2. For the Jewish community in Babylon these books will have been invaluable in keeping alive their theology worship and religious traditions.
Daniel wrote us that he studied the books in order to find out how long the exile would go on for and so he discovered in Jeremiah 25:12 that the period of exile was to be 70 years His concern was for Jerusalem and long for her restoration. This prompted Daniel to turn to the Lord in prayer. So through the word of God Daniel came to experience the presence of God. This was no doubt the experience of many believing exiled Jews. Before the exile they experienced God’s presence in temple worship and sacrifice. After the exile with the temple destroyed they will have felt cut off from the spiritual experience it afforded them. But many will have rediscovered their spirituality through their giving attention to the books. The law of God and the prophets and the Psalms became a way to meet with the living God.
Many people today say that Christianity is all about having a relationship with Jesus rather than religion. Well what does it mean to have a relationship with Jesus and how can we find out about it? These questions can only be answered if we do what Daniel did , search the books about Jesus; such as John 10 where Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd who lay down his life for the sheep , that his sheep hear his voice and follow him. So from that we can say that when you are in a relationship with Jesus if you listen to him and obey him. To be a true follower of Jesus means obeying his commands.
It also says in the same book, John 6 that unless we eat Jesus flesh and drink his blood we have no part of him. Jesus was refereeing to his crucifixion and what he meant by that was unless we accept his sacrifice for our sin there is no forgiveness and no true relationship with Jesus either. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace for us to demonstrate that we gratefully accept his body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.
How do we discover the nature of this relationship? We find it in the God’s book, the Bible. I read a story of a man named Dr Martin Neimoller who in 1938 just before the outbreak of WW2 was taken to a concentration camp by Germany’s secret police. As well as imprison him they took his watch, wedding ring and pocket Bible. This is what he wrote. “The first night I couldn’t sleep I didn’t find any peace. I was quarrelling with God. I had lost my memory during the very strenuous week of the trial and couldn’t remember a single verse of the Bible! I assure you I would have given 8 oxen and years off my life if only I could have that book.!” To cut a long story short Neimoller did eventually manage to retrieve his pocket Bible and this is what he said then. “ The book had entered, the Holy Bible the book that bears witness and testified to the one in whom all the power in heaven and earth belongs, even in the concentration camp. There the book was and there He was with all his strength with all his comfort with all I needed.
But it takes more than just reading the books about God and his will for our lives to have a relationship with God and really having a relationship with Jesus is the same thing. The disciple Philip once asked Jesus “show us the Father and it is enough for us.” Jesus answer was “Have I been so long with you and you have not come to know me Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father.”
But it takes more than just seeing and knowing because when Daniel was confronted once again with the reality about God in the book it had a profound effect on him. He prayed and that takes me to the second thing as well as finding God in the books
A important feature of Daniels prayer is his confession of sin and note well that he includes himself in the sins of the Jews which brought about Jerusalem’s downfall and he is very explicit about it Righteousness belongs to thee O Lord but to us open shame. .. because we have sinned against thee, we have rebelled, nor have we obeyed All Israel has transgressed and the curse has been poured out on us, we have sinned we have been wicked.
Daniel doesn’t lay the blame for Jerusalem’s downfall on Babylon or Nebuchadnezzar, there is no question at all that all Israel are to blame and he includes himself too.
When things go wrong in the church the temptation is to point the finger at someone else. This prayer of Daniels helps us to do otherwise . If something goes wrong in the church then we all share in the blame one way or another this is why our corporate confession of sin is so necessary and helpful. There is no place for finger pointing. Rather if we are to pray as we should then our prayers must be humble, confessing sin, individually and corporately.
Daniels prayer also contained requests, for example, “Listen to the prayer of your servant and to his supplications and for your sake O Lord let your face shine upon your desolate sanctuary.” And again in verse 19 Daniels fervent prayer was “for the city and the people and verse 20 his prayer is on behalf of the mountain of my God .
In each case Jerusalem and its people are Daniel’ deep concern and form the content of these requests
The circumstances may be quite different but Daniels request for the restoration of Jerusalem does make us ask ourselves, “how important is the church to me? Do I pray for my church the way Daniel prayed for his;… fervently and with a great love for the church? We should because God loves the church. The Bible tells us that the church is the apple of God’s eye. He loves the church old and new testament church so much that he sent his son to die for the church,.. make her his bride. If the church is that dear to God’s heart then the church must also be dear to ours.
Daniel continues “take action O Lord because the city and the people are called by your name. The beauty of Daniel’s prayer is that while praying for Jerusalem he prays for God’s name and God’s cause. He had more on his mind than his personal concerns.
Daniel knew that the ruin of Jerusalem gave the pagan nations around reasons to mock the Jews and their God. What a feeble god those Jews have they used to say, (we can think of Sanballat, Geshem and Tobiah in Nehemiah 3 as an example). What a feeble God he can’t even protect their people!
After confessing the sin of the nation Daniel also pleaded with God that he might put an end to the mockery and to restore the city for his own name’s sake.
When we pray we often pray for our own welfare, for health and wellbeing. But when you pray do you also ask God to protect & bless and strengthen our church for His name’s sake, the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ whose name we are called by as Christians. Today also the name of Christ is ignored, mocked and blasphemed. Do you grieve over that and reflect on the word of God as Daniel did and then ask God that he continue to build his church here in our city. Pray that the gates of hell not prevail against our church for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is what the church has been doing down through the ages. Listen to one of Calvin’s prayers on this same chapter “May we never succumb to despair but with unconquered fortitude of mind may we persevere in invoking thy name and imploring thy pity until we receive the fruit of our prayers and after being freed from all warfare may we at length arrive at that blessed rest which is laid up for us in heaven by the same Christ our Lord.”
Well if Calvin were in our shoes looking back he would be able to see how the Lord answered his prayer beyond every expectation, not only was the church reformed but faithful confessions were written churches were established throughout Great Britain and Europe which in turn sent missionaries into the new world and beyond .
That brings me to the third thing God’s answer to Daniels prayer While Daniel was praying Gabriel appeared to him He calls Gabriel a man but we know him elsewhere especially at the annunciation as the messenger of God. Gabriel reassures Daniel and tells him he is highly esteemed. Itys clear that God looked upon Daniel favourably. He is loved by God because of his faith and because the sacrifice which pleases God most is a pure heart and an upright life. Perhaps Daniel wondered about his standing with God because of the nations sin, and because they had no temple in which to offer sacrifices to atone for their sin. Here Daniel discovers that what is important to God is not sacrifice and ritual but a personal faith in God.
That’s true today to we can be religious and go to church and look pious but what is important is what is in your heart and whether or not you really do trust in God in his love and his will for your life.
The angel then proceeds to answer Daniel’s concern about Jerusalem and the fact that God’s people were still in exile ,. When would it end?
Gabriel’s answer was 70 weeks have been decreed for your people and your city to finish the transgression make an end to sin and make atonement for iniquity to bring everlasting righteousness and rebuild Jerusalem until the Messiah. Most conservative scholars interpret the 70 weeks as 70 weeks of years meaning 490 years. If Daniel was hoping that the messianic age would begin when the exiles return of from Babylon following the 70 years exile then he needed to lift his eyes to a far more distant event. That doesn’t negate Jeremiah’s prophecy of 70 years after which the exiles did return to Jerusalem at the Persian king Cyrus behest. But there were bigger things to think about that the return across the desert to rebuild the ruins of the city Jerusalem. Rebuilding the temple and ruins wasn’t going to bring an end to transgression or bring in everlasting righteousness.
One cannot read these verses without asking the question ‘didn’t an end to transgression and everlasting righteousness come with Jesus Christ?’ Yes it did. Verse 26 tells us about the Messiah being cut off and indeed he was when he suffered and died on the cross and paid the penalty for our sins when he too our sin and covered us with his perfect righteousness so that we are reconciled to God. The church has taken this view of Daniel 9:24 for centuries. This is a Christ centred verse Jesus is the one who puts an end to sin, her is the one who came to lift us out of its bondage and guilt, he is the one who opened the way to eternal life. He died to give us everlasting righteousness.
We also note in the prophecy three distinct periods within the 70 weeks of years and again there is debate about that among scholars which is beyond the scope of this sermon as are the exact figures. When it comes to dates and figures in prophecy we need to remember that the Bible is not a political digest. There are those who try to speculate about the exact numbers and try to uncover a hidden meaning in them that would apply to political events we know about in history In some cases itys clear but not in every case So to dwell too much on the obscure details may cause a loss of focus on the main message of the Bible which is the good news about Jesus Christ. Clearly that is what the main focus is in verses 24 -27 .
But getting back to the three distinct periods, the first period of seven weeks refer to the time during the time when the Jews returned and began rebuilding of the temple and Jerusalem. The second lengthier period of 62 weeks of years is most likely the remainder of the time between the end of the recorded OT period and the coming of the Messiah. The final week of years is more difficult to come to grips with. According to the text it begins with “the Messiah being cut off and having nothing say. And in verse 27 he will make a strong covenant with many for one week but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice. This I believe is a reference to the completed work of Christ and the commencement of the new strong or better covenant i.e. the New Testament church age when the sacrificial system was done away with. Some believe that the end of sacrifice in verse 27 is also a reference to the final destruction of the second temple which took place 70 Ad this is the strong indication of the second half of verse 27. But I think this is better connected with the Temple curtain being torn in two.
So we see that Daniel was concerned about the future and about the covenant community the Jews. When would their exile end when would God restore their fortunes? Though the Angel Gabriel God reassures Daniel that there will be a restoration, for the Jews when they were to return to their homeland and rebuild, that was not the main fulfilment of the prophecy. The primary fulfilment in Daniel 7 is in the coming of Christ and the atonement he made for our iniquity one for all time because Christ also put an end to sacrifice and an end to the Old covenant and replaced that with the new and better covenant.
So once again we see the fulfilment of OT Prophecy in the coming of the Messiah. That means we can trust the promises of God to us in the Bible and the promise which we look forward to most is Christ’s return. Even though Christ has come and made atonement for sin we are still in a sense exiles as a church today. We are pilgrims and strangers awaiting our better heavenly city and country which is our true eternal home. And so for readers today this prophecy is not only a prayer for the church but a prayer for Christ’s return because what the prophet Daniel was asking for with respect to Jerusalem is exactly what will happen when Christ return and restores his church and so our prayer must therefore be come Lord Jesus come.
So in conclusion, is there dissatisfaction with your spiritual life? Do you wish for a better relationship with Jesus? Well this prophecy in Daniel 9 is a strong encouragement to look diligently for the truth about God and his plan for our lives and our church in the word of God. Daniel encourages us by his own godly example to do that prayerfully in humility, confessing our sins.
When we do then God’s answer to us is always one for forgiveness for Christ has made an end to sin and given us everlasting righteousness.