This Thursday will mark the seventeenth Thanksgiving that at least some United States military personnel will be away from their families engaged in the Afghanistan War. Seventeen long years of deployments, battles, and deaths. Year after year goes by and more soldiers go off to fight. Go off and miss holidays with their families. Put their lives on the line and face threats.
After so many years of reports on the war, shame on us civilians who sometimes forget there’s a war going on. Living where we live it might be a bit harder, but fatigue sets in for everybody. It’s difficult to keep up the high level of attentiveness. Still, if the whole country forgets, those that have been, and those there now never could forget. A battle is being fought, and brave men and women are standing up to protect us all.
Its that picture of battle that the first lesson alludes to. It speaks of battle, although without many details. There are no casualty reports, no updates, there’s no reconnaissance data. There’s just one mention of the fight. “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise.” ‘At that time’ looks ahead to a time not yet being lived. Leading up to that time, this world will be a battlefield. Always. To those with battlefield experience, even to those without it, this world doesn’t look like one. Not a typical battlefield. Even when we hear the sounds of freedom, the blasts and booms that seem so very close, we know that’s not actual battle. Airplanes flying low along the coast, streaking across the sky, zipping over neighborhoods at night doesn’t signal attack. While this world may not be the typical battlefield scene, there is a battle happening behind the scenes. A spiritual battle is happening between God and the forces aligned against him. It constantly rages just beyond our ability to see it.
If the battle is happening behind the scenes in this world, that can only mean trouble for us in this world. Spiritual forces fighting it out spiritually will spill over in very real ways into our lives. Because really the battle is over us. It impacts us directly because the spiritual enemy of God wants to engage us in combat. That’s how Satan fights against God, he goes after the weakest link. He can’t beat God, but he can tempt us. Trouble comes when Satan sets his sights on us. The longer we live, the harder it seems to get. We feel those attacks more. We’re aware life is difficult.
Trouble seems constant. Kids might stop listening to us. They seem to want to go their own way as they get older. Maybe even following a path away from God. We might have been the kids who stopped listening to parents. We may have drifted away. Satan seems to be winning the battle for souls, and causing major damage to our souls too. People in our lives with no relationship to God cause us to be unsettled. We want to talk, but they don’t want to listen. We want to listen, but they don’t want to talk. Trouble will come if we press too far, and since we don’t want to lose the relationship, we don’t take the chance. To avoid trouble we keep quiet. Death surrounds us, has claimed family members who have died or who are dying. Sadness clings to us. It hurts, almost like death wins.
There’s familiarity with the distress Daniel spoke of. “There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then.” We feel like we’re living it. Distress in our own lives. Also dire warnings of the future. Around us is the near-constant threat of nuclear war. Our lives can be troubled if we’re overwhelmed with worry about one nation triggering the total destruction of everything. Others might be living in concern that our world can’t sustain current populations and growth. The struggle for food might cause mass panic. We’re familiar with catastrophic storms. Some believe and strike fear in everyone else with forecasts that if nothing is done this world will end. The big news is that the world will end. That’s the time Daniel spoke of. In great distress the world will end, but not by nuclear holocaust, not in mass die-offs from starvation, and not by a gigantic hurricane or tornado outbreak.
Living in a battlefield, with Satan and God fighting it out, the world projected to be coming to an end, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of comfort. Daniel prophesies the answer. Who rises to meet the threats? It’s not the American soldier. It’s not government with the right combination of laws. Or scientists with studies. The angel Michael stands. He arises to fight in the battle he’s already been fighting. But Michael is only an angel. He only fights because he was sent by God. He’s not the Savior. He only works at the command of the Savior. “But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered.” Delivered, rescued, saved. The people of God, you, at that time will be saved.
Your name is written in the book. It’s chiseled in just as surely as the names of the heroes of Vietnam are etched into the stone wall of the Vietnam Memorial. Into that book of life went your name, and all the others God saves. These weren’t abandoned in the middle of the distress. Those recorded in that book are brought to heaven as saints forever. “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake; some to everlasting life…” Many, many who are now dead will rise on the Last Day. All will rise from their graves. The raised believers will join believers still living at the end in one giant march into heaven. The first hymn described it this way, “But then there breaks a yet more glorious day; the saints triumphant rise in bright array; the king of glory passes on his way.” I can’t give you proof your name is in that book. You can’t take a piece of paper and scrape a pencil over the etching to prove to yourself it’s there. But you don’t need it. Your proof is the king who now proclaims what he’s done. That you can read in a different book. The Bible shares how Christ wrote your name in that book of life.
In love, Jesus printed your name in that book long before you were born. He saw your need for a Savior. Saw how you would live but battle sins. Temptations from Satan would hold you down. Your sinful nature would find all too many ways in which to disobey God. But Jesus knew all that. His plan was to take those sins from you. Carry them himself. Die for them and achieve forgiveness for you. That forgiveness won on the cross makes you a saint. Yes, right now, you’re a saint. Perfect in God’s eyes because your sins are gone. Christ Jesus took them. The spiritual battle raging all around isn’t in doubt. Your soul isn’t up for grabs. Christ won the battle for your soul. He faced his enemies and came out victorious. The prize was you. The stamp of victory was his resurrection. The living Jesus looks ahead to the sound of trumpets, a triumph call on that Last Day that’s coming. Through the suffering to the glory. Through the cross to victory. Through the trouble to the triumph.
Saints of God, you will rise to triumph. Your day is coming. Anyone who died in faith enjoys their triumph already. You and I still live here, in the battle, looking forward through Christ to victory. You won’t miss the victory. No celebration will happen without you. Because at the resurrection of all the dead, when the multitudes who only sleep now are raised on the Last Day, anyone who dies in faith will see life forever. Your loved ones already inhabiting heaven will rise to join you standing before the throne of Christ. Together as saints forever your body and your soul will reunite for all time. The triumph of heaven begins the moment God calls you home and continues forever into eternity after the Last Day.
When the battle finally stops in the Afghan War, someone will declare victory. No matter what, its victory at great cost. On the Last Day, when the great distress comes to an end, the waiting will be over. The battle done. The final victory achieved. Everlasting life awaits you on that day. Connected to Christ by faith, you are a saint of God. No longer fearing death, not worrying about anything, having no sin, your eternity will be just beginning. Even for saints, trouble will come between now and then. But triumph awaits. Saints will rise to triumph.