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Longing for Control

December 5 2021

Book: Daniel

Scripture: Daniel 7:13-14

This morning we will continue our Advent series – Season of Longing – as we prepare to celebrate the arrival of Christ Jesus. We are looking at human desires from the perspective of the Incarnation and this morning we will consider our longing for control.

Our text is Daniel 7, just two verses. And before I read, I want to say that I am particularly thankful for an essay by seminary professor Fred Zaspel called “Jesus Christ, the Son of Man”. It was very helpful in writing this sermon.

13 “I saw in the night visions,

and behold, with the clouds of heaven

    there came one like a son of man,

and he came to the Ancient of Days

    and was presented before him.

14 And to him was given dominion

    and glory and a kingdom,

that all peoples, nations, and languages

    should serve him;

his dominion is an everlasting dominion,

    which shall not pass away,

and his kingdom one

    that shall not be destroyed.

This is probably the most important vision or prophecy in the book of Daniel, which is a book full of visions and prophecies. Many of the themes in Daniel are repeated in the book of Revelation and many of the visions were about ancient kingdoms and powerful kings.

But this vision is unique because it is clearly Messianic. This is a prophecy concerning Jesus but notice how Daniel describes him. He says, “there came one like a son of man”.

The phrase “son of man” is used over 100 times in the Old Testament, but this is the only place where it explicitly refers to the Messiah. And that is strange, because Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man eighty times in the Gospels. In fact, it was the title he most often used to describe himself and in Matthew 26, he explicitly links his use of the title to Daniel 7.

What makes this even more strange is when you look at all the other hundred times this phrase “son of man” is used in the Old Testament. Everywhere but Daniel, it simply means “human being”. A “son of man” was a Hebrew idiom for “human being”. That’s it.

And many times, writers used the expression to create distance between humans and God. For instance:

Numbers 23:19 – “God is not man, that he should lie,

    or a son of man, that he should change his mind.”

Or the words of David:

Psalm 8:4 – “What is man that you are mindful of him,

    and the son of man that you care for him?”

God is not like us. We are not like him. That seems to be the point.

But then you get to Daniel, and everything gets confusing. Daniel sees the Messiah being given an everlasting kingdom, but this Messiah looks like a “son of man”.

And then, of all the titles Jesus could have chosen for Himself, most of the time he uses this simple idiom – the Son of Man.

What does Jesus mean by it and what does it have to do with us?

In Daniel, the vision is a contrast between the Messiah and all the other kings. All the kingdoms of the earth are ruled by men who are described in Daniel as terrible beasts and all of their power was temporary. But God’s kingdom will rest in the hands of a man who is somehow also God!

By calling himself Son of Man, Jesus is claiming to be that king – that man who is somehow God. But it’s also the most humble title Jesus could have claimed for Himself – first because of what it actually means, which is simply “man” and second because of how Jesus chose to use it. Listen to some of these examples:

Matthew 8:20 – “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Mark 8:31 – “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed…”

Luke 9:44 – “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.”

None of that sounds much like a powerful ruler, does it? It sounds more like Jesus is a homeless, powerless, nobody. There’s a humility here that is impossible to miss.

And yet, nowhere does Jesus let us believe that He’s lost control. He told His disciples about his death and resurrection so many times because He wanted to make it obvious that He was always in control. The great King of the Universe was choosing humiliation and death. He was not surprised by it.

But for this to make any sense, we need to go back to the beginning. Because of our sin, the Old Testament makes it very clear that there is a distance between us and God. He is not like us. We are not like him.

But before sin entered the world, things were different. Genesis 1 explicitly says that we were created in God’s image and given a task – to fill the earth and rule over it as His representatives. God created us, in many ways, like Him. And He gave us authority to care for the earth.

But Adam and Eve forfeited this responsibility when they disobeyed God and rejected His authority. And the great irony of the story is that their sin was a desire to be “more like God” than they already were. They wanted more control. And they quickly realized they wanted something they could never have.

That desire for control is everywhere and it is easy to spot when you consider the emotions it creates. When we don’t feel like things are going according to our plans, it usually produces anxiety, anger, or both. Feeling out of control makes us anxious or angry.

And this comes straight out of the Bible.

Proverbs 16:32 – “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”

Proverbs 10:24 – “What the wicked dreads will come upon him.”

Pay attention to your emotions. They are often telling us about this desire for control. And if we stop to evaluate the things that are causing us to become angry or anxious, most of the time it’s something we have no control over. We are spending emotional energy trying to figure out how to fix something we can’t fix.

And the question the Bible repeatedly asks us is this: Do we believe Jesus is king or not? Do we believe He is good or not? Do we believe He cares about us or not?

The hard part is that God is asking us to trust Him with all this even though we can’t see the big picture. Paul calls it living by faith instead of by sight. And what makes it so difficult is that God’s kingdom isn’t fully realized yet. The world is contesting the rule of Christ. Every knee has not yet bowed. Every tongue has not yet confessed. That’s why it is difficult to trust God with all the stuff we can’t control.

But thankfully, God did not wait on us to trust Him. He came to us, and He’s been in control the whole time. Jesus becoming a man and doing everything for us is meant to shatter the illusion that we have any control at all over our own destiny. We think God wants us because of our faith, but it has nothing at all to do with us.

I read a story this week about a missionary serving with the Masai people in Tanzania. At one point, the missionary shared with one of the tribes elders his own struggles with faith.

In their conversation, the Masai elder pointed out that the word the missionary had been using in Swahili to convey the word “faith” was not a very good word in their language. The word they were using for “faith” meant literally, “to agree to something.”

The Masai elder explained that to believe like that was similar to a hunter shooting an animal from a great distance. The hunter only needs an eye and a finger. But true faith is more like a lion going after its prey. The lion uses his eyes, ears, and nose to locate the prey. Then he crouches, and stalks along the ground.

The lion gets into position and pounces. All the power of his body is involved and as the animal goes down, the lion envelopes the prey in his arms, pulls it to himself, and makes it a part of himself. This, said the elder, is the way one believes, making faith a part of oneself! The missionary nodded in agreement, but the elder was not done yet.

He began to encourage the missionary, saying: “We did not search you out. We did not even want you to come to us. You searched us out. You told us about the Most High God. You told us WE must search for God. But WE have not done this. Instead, God has searched us out and found us! All the time WE think we are the lion. In the end, the lion is God!”

And that is the point. It has always been the point. We’re not God. He is. We’re not in control. He is. And to prove the point, God became a man. The lion of the tribe of Judah became the lamb who was slain. The circumstances of the Christmas story and ultimately the mission of Jesus prove that God has everything under control.

And what we need to do with all our anxiety and anger about failed plans is take them to Jesus in repentance. For that reason, I want to end with one verse from John 16. Before Jesus said this, he was telling the disciples about some of the difficult things they would endure in their lifetimes. And then he says this, to them and to us:

“I have said these things to you, that IN ME you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

He did it with broken body and shed blood and He invites us to join Him at the table of repentance and faith. [Fence the table] Pray. Words of Institution.