One of the movies I enjoy watching when the weather starts getting colder is “Grumpy Old Men.” The two main characters at John Gustafson and Max Goldman. They are elderly men who have been lifelong neighbors and friends. They get into a feud over a woman who moved in across the street and the things they come up with to do to each other to try to try win her is quiet funny.
There are two parts of the movie which stand out for me as I was thinking about this reading from Daniel 12. Towards the beginning of the movie, John and Max are talking about different friends of their and how died. John brings up a guy who died from hypothermia. Max responds with how it isn’t quick like a stroke. John replies with how a stroke is not the way to go because you end up like a vegetable. He’d take a cardiac episode any day. Max then brings up another friend of theirs who died in a head on collision with a freight truck on a bridge. The impact caused the car to fly right off the bridge and into the Mississippi River. Hearing that he died on impact, John says about how lucky that guy was. They both agree, when it’s their turn, they want their deaths to be quick and painless.
Towards the end of the movie … it’s Christmas Eve. John is walking home from a bar where he and Max got into another argument about this woman who lives across the street. On his way home, John has a heart attack and falls into a snow bank along the sidewalk. Back at the bar, Max realizes that he has been wrong in this argument and tries to catch up to his friend, his neighbor to apologize. (show video) Max comes across John’s bodying lying on the snow bank, runs up to him, rolls him onto his back, and asks him, “John, John, are you dead?” John replies, “Not yet, but I don’t want to die looking at your ugly face.” Max tells John to stay put and goes and gets help.
Now how did our Old Testament reading from Daniel 12 get me thinking about “Grumpy Old Men” and those scenes in particular? In these last Sundays of the Church Year, the readings take on a more “end-of-time” tone. They make us consider, “what’s going to happen to me when the end comes?”
At death, that moment when our heart stops beating and we give up our final breath, there is this unnatural ripping apart of our soul from our bodies. Our bodies remain here for our loved ones to put bury while the souls of believers in Christ go to be with their Savior. Daniel also warns that those who don’t believe, they are delivered to everlasting contempt.
And this is, or should be a least, mentioned during a funeral service. You see, the funeral service, the readings at it, the songs song, and the sermon preached are not for the benefit of the one who died. They are all done for those who still remain. So the readings, the songs, the sermon … they shouldn’t be about what the deceased person did in their life, but instead about what it is that Christ has done for them and for you. I’ve told Jessica numerous times, I don’t care if I die in the middle of Lent or Christmas … the people at my service are going to sing Easter songs, songs about the resurrection and victory of Christ over death.
But to some people, death is the end. Death is the end and after their body is put into the ground, they remain there and eventually become food for the worms. To those people, there is nothing after death. Those people believe that we are to live for the moment, to eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you may die. Unfortunately for them, that is not the reality of death. There is something which comes after death, Daniel makes that very clear.
“There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of the nations until then” (Daniel 12:1b). Before our reading, Daniel warns the people, the Israelites about the different antichrists who will come, who will claim to be the Christ, and then lead the people astray. Jesus talked about this in the Gospel reading. “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains” (Mark 13:5-8). But the things Jesus is talking about here is really only the beginning. Living in the end times now, we see these things pretty much every day.
Looking at what is going on politically in our nation and around the world, the wars and constant fighting in the Middle East, the global economy, the natural disasters, the social issues … it pretty bad, it seems like the world is going to hell in a hand basket. And we may wonder … can it get any worse? The answer is “yes”, yes it can get worse and yes, it’s going to be even worse down the road, unless Christ returns soon.
Jesus says about the days to come in Mark after our gospel reading, “those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again. If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect—if that were possible. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time” (13:29-23). The time of Christ’s return will come. When it comes, there will be an abrupt and definite end of all things. History may have a way of repeating itself, but at some point in time, the linear time line will stop.
Daniel says, “But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered” (12:1c). Upon Christ’s return at the end of time, those whose names are written in God’s book of life will be raised up and delivered. But whose names are written in that book? Is yours there? Is mine? I hope so, but me hoping it is there isn’t all that reassuring though.
Let me tell you … you can boldly and confidently answer “yes” to your name being in God’s book of life if you have faith and believe in Jesus as your Savior, as the Lamb of god who was slayed and who rose again for the forgiveness of your sins. Jesus says in Revelation 3 that he will never blot out one’s name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels (3:5). Through faith … God gives you the victory of the resurrection of Jesus and thus you have victory over this world.
This is what Daniel is getting at in verse two. “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” The Bible likes to refer to those who have died as sleeping, which gives this image that they are in this temporary state and they shall be woken up when their bodies are raised up. Christ’s second coming will be much different than his first which we’ll celebrate next month. Instead a being born in the shadows of a king, Jesus will descend from heaven as the King of kings and Lord of lords and with trumpets blasting. He will call out and all people, believers and unbelievers alike, will rise from their graves. Those who believe in Jesus will be raised to everlasting life. Those who don’t believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior will be raised and cast into everlasting contempt. They will be banished from God’s gracious presence and they will not get to enjoy the blessings of God. He will totally abandon them and they will suffer. But you … you who believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior … your name is written in the book and life and you will live with Christ and receive His gracious blessings!
But Jesus hasn’t made his grand re-entrance yet … which means, there is still more for you and me to do. Daniel says, “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (12:3). If you have faith in Christ, remain faithful even in times of persecution … then you are wise and your faith will shine through in this dark world. The light of your faith in Christ will help lead others to Christ. As others come to the saving knowledge of Jesus as their Savior, they will be redeemed and their name will be added into the Book of Life.
In “Grumpy Old Men”, Max was there to help his friend before John’s time ran out in a physical sense. God places you where you are, gives you the gifts and abilities to help lead others to know who Jesus is. As you help lead others to Christ, Christ’s love will shine ever more brightly in this dark world. Be confident in your faith and in your love of Christ, let your faith shine brightly despite what others may say or believe, for the day is coming when time runs out and Christ will come again and usher in his new kingdom. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.