A great Scottish preacher called Thomas Chalmers once wrote, 'I beseech you to think how certainly death will (and how speedily it may) come upon you. Even the youngest among us should be aware that death can come quickly. The agony of the parting breath will come. The time when you are stretched a lifeless corpse before the eyes of weeping relatives will come. The coffin that will enclose you will come. The hour when the company assemble to carry you to the burial ground will come. The minute you are put into the grave will come. The throwing in of the loose earth into the narrow house where you are laid, and the spreading of the green sod over it - all, all will come on ever living creature who now reads these words. In a few short years both I who write, and you who read my words, will both be in our graves, and another generation will populate the earth.'
Chalmers wrote these words in the 1800s and he and has generation have long since died. Their opportunity to embrace the eternal life that Jesus so freely offers has passed yet ours remains. But our days are numbered, soon we too will die and another generation will populate the earth.
In the last chapter of the book of Daniel a heavenly messenger tells Daniel, 'Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt' (2).
Now is the time to ensure that we are raised to eternal life rather than to everlasting contempt and shame. But it might surprise you to realise this is not about being a good person or about being able to name the day and hour you prayed a prayer of commitment.
1. Being right with God is not about being a good person
When Gerry Adams was asked, on Gay Byrne's program 'The Meaning of Life', what he would say to God on Judgement Day he replied, 'I'll say, "I did my best. Here I am. Take me in."'
Like Gerry Adams many people think that they are essentially good enough for God. They hope that he will notice their achievements and ignore their failings. And yet Jesus said 'who is good but God alone?' The apostle Paul, writing to first-century Christians in Rome declared that 'there is no one righteous, not one. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.' If none of us are by nature good or righteous then how do we make sure we are not raised to eternal shame and contempt? These verses show us.
It is not about being good, it is about being made good. Those whose names are in the book of life will be purified, made spotless and refined (10). A similar idea is found in the book of Revelation where we read that those 'who have come out of the great tribulation ... have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb' (Rev. 7:14). Those who are raised to eternal life are people who have benefited from what Jesus achieved on the cross. Because he shed his blood they have been purified and made clean.
You see Jesus lived a morally perfect life and then died on a cross. He was righteous and then died for the unrighteous. He perfectly obeyed God's law and then took the punishment for our disobedience. He never sinned but experienced God's anger for our rebellion. Our Holy God sees the selfishness in our hearts and thinks of it more seriously than we would like yet he invites us to trade in our unrighteousness in exchange for the perfect righteousness of Christ. He offers to forgive our sin and treat us as if we had always lived like Jesus.
Notice, in verse three, that those who have experienced this gift of righteousness want to tell others about God's wonderful kindness. They lead many to righteousness (3). 'But I am not very good at evangelism', you say. Remember to be involved in mission is to be a link in a chain. You might not be the midwife who gets to witness the birth of a new Christian but you may have played a role by living in such a way that commends the truth, by giving to the mission of the church and most importantly by praying for people.
2. Being right with God us not about being able to name the hour you prayed a prayer of commitment
Being right with God is not about being a good but being made good; and, being right with God is not about being able to name the hour you prayed a prayer of commitment.
A man who was living a life that showed no evidence of the influence of God declared to a Methodist minister, 'but I am still saved'. This man believed that because he had prayed a prayer of commitment at a meeting, many years previously, he was eternally secure. The book of Daniel would say otherwise. Not everyone who claims to be one of God's people really is, and those who are God's people prove it by persevering under pressure.
The temple in Jerusalem had special significance before the coming of Jesus. Daniel has been told that many years after his lifetime a political tyrant would go to that temple and stop the burnt offerings. Then after a period of time (referred to as 1,290 days in verse eleven) this tyrant would desecrate the temple (which he did by setting up a statue of Zeus and sacrificing ritually unclean animals on the alter). A shorter period of time would then pass (leading to the 1,335 days of verse eleven) until the tyrant died and the burnt offerings resumed. Around this time the tyrant would kill many of God's people. Indeed these events give a picture of all the troubled times God's people face.
Now look back to verse one. 'Now at that time Michael (an archangel), 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. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered' (1). They might die for their faith but they will be kept faithful. We believe in one who is able to keep us from falling (Jude 24); we believe that not even persecution or danger or sword can separate us from his love (Romans 8:35); and, we believe that he who began a good work in us will see it through to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
Christians let God down but he picks us up. Christians stumble but God ensures that we do not finally fall. Christians may need more than one run at the hurdle but God ensures we ultimately clear the bar. You see the evidence that we are one of Jesus' people is seen in his persevering grace. Knowing that you are a Christian is not about being able to name the day you prayed a prayer of commitment; knowing that you are a Christian comes from witnessing the power of God at work in your life.
3. Being right with God involves experiencing change
This brings us to our last point. Being right with God involves experiencing change. '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' (3).
Christians are people who have been changed from being unrighteous to being righteous. Christians are people whose lives show the transforming presence of God. Christians are people who seek to live to please God and make him look good. Christians will be raised to eternal life and will display God's glory for ever.
But not all are raised to eternal life. 'Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt' (2). Who are the people raised to shame and everlasting contempt?
Those who are raised to everlasting shame and contempt are described as those who do not understand (10). In the Bible our failure to understand God's truth is seen as being the result of the hardness of our hearts. If all this seems nonsense to you it may be because you just don't want it to be true. If you have seen the true beauty of Christ dying for you on the cross it may be that God, in his wonderful kindness, is opening your eyes to see his truth.
Those who are raised to everlasting shame and contempt are described as being wicked, and they will continue to be wicked (10). Don't think that means they are especially bad people. The central sin (the sin from which all evil results), according to the Bible, is our failure to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. All of have held God at a distance, all of us have questioned his right to tell us how to live and all of us have done things that he says are wrong.
Everyone needs God's forgiveness. Maybe you have heard about how Jesus can transform your life but you would rather stay as you are. You could do nothing worse. You will perish because you refuse to love the truth and so be saved (2 Thessalonians 2:10). 'God is willing to save you. Are you willing to be saved?' (Thomas Chalmers).
'Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt' (2).
Thomas Chalmers wrote, 'there is a pathway of deliverance from the state of condemnation to the state of justification.' In other words there is a path that leads guilty people to peace with God. This path is not about being a good person; it about receiving the gift of Jesus' righteousness. Have you given up trying to prove your worth to God and cast yourself upon his mercy and grace? It is not about being able to name the day and hour you prayed a prayer of commitment; it is about experiencing God's transforming presence in your life. So that we can say, with the hymn-writer John Newton, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am”.
This book ends with a word of comfort from the heavenly messenger to Daniel. Daniel was now in his late eighties yet he is told to serve God to the end. He is told that he can approach his death with confidence knowing that his heavenly inheritance is sure. We too can approach our impending death with confidence if we are trusting and following Jesus. For a great exchange has taken place. On the cross God treated Jesus as if he had been guilty of our wickedness, and now God treats us as if we had lived Christ's life of perfect obedience. 'Go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance' (13).