You will shine like a star forever, ever.
I've been reading Korean traditional fairy tales to Esther at night. One of them is " The tale of the Brother and Sister who became the Sun and Moon" and the other one is " The tale of a green frog".
Deep in the mountains at night, a mother was on her way home, carrying with her a basket of rice cake. She had to go through ten hills and at each hill, a tiger appeared and said" If you give me a piece of rice cake, I will not eat you". On the very last hill, the mother ran out of all the rice cakes and was eaten by the tiger.
Still hungry, the tiger went to the house of the mother, where the brother and sister were, and tried to eat them by faking his voice. The brother and sister who recognized the tiger's voice, climbed up a big tree in the backyard.
When the tiger tried to climb the tree as well, and failed, the older sister told him to put sesame oil on the tree. Seeing the silly tiger slipping off the tree, the brother accidentally told him to use an ax to climb up the tree. When the tiger started climbing, the brother and sister prayed, " Send us a gold rope if you want to save us, and if not, send a rotten rope." From the sky, a gold rope came down and the brother and sister ascended up to heaven. Seeing this, the tiger also prayed for a rope. This time, a rotten one descended and on his way, the rope broke and the tiger fell and died. The brother and sister in heaven each became the sun and moon, still brightening our paths in the dark mountains.
As I was reading the storybook to the kids, I wondered why Korean fairy tales are so depressing. The story where a mother who left her children alone at home in a deep forest, got her rice cakes stolen, and was eaten by a tiger is sad. The fact that not only does the tiger eat the rice cakes and the mother, but it eats the brother and sister as well is depressing… there is no part of the tale that is not sorrowful. As well, the story, “A Wayward Tree Frog” is depressing because the tree frog was not able to protect its mother’s grave, so cries and croaks whenever it rains. However, I believe that these Korean traditional tales contain and express the pain, agony, and depression that our Korean ancestors had to endure and experience from the invasions of foreign countries.
As I was contemplating about today’s sermon, I have realized that the sadness and regret our Korean ancestors experienced is very similar to stories in the Bible. Because the history of the Jews is similar as our Korean history, which is sad, regretful, and they had also have lost and taken away their “rice cakes” and “mother” from powerful foreign countries. However, the depression and agony are not the only parts of these two histories; there are new hopes and comforting messages. Thus, through today’s sermon, I would like to think together about the sincere sympathies and hopeful messages in times of agony and sorrow.
First, the Book of Daniel that in the Old Testament can be divided into two parts: First part that includes Chapters 1 to 6, and second part that includes Chapters 7 to 12.This is because the theme and the background of part 1 and part 2 are so different from each other.
Chapters 1 to 6 are about being captured by the Babylonians and going into exile. Daniel and his three friends refuse the food from the king and decide to become vegetarians. This is because the food from the king was the food that was sacrificed to idols… Also, they tried to keep their faith and were thrown into the furnace and into the lion’s den. So the people in captivity had to undergo numerous hardships.
Chapters 7 to 12 are a completely different story about four visions. Chapter 7 talks about a vision of four beasts (a lion, a bear, a leopard, and a horned beast). Chapter 8 is about a vision of a ram and a goat. Chapter 9 is about a vision of Gabriel the Angel) and Chapters 10 to 12 is about a vision seen at the great river, the Tigris. This can be interpreted as the history from when the king Cyrus came to throne till when Antiochus Epiphanes dies. It is important to understand the historical context of the time in order to understand the second part of the Book of Daniel.
So let’s briefly consider the history at that time. South of Judah becomes destroyed by the Babylon in the year 587. After that Cyrus of Persia conquers Babylon and the prisoners are able to return to their hometown. So the Jews were able to return home for their long-awaited freedom. But after the end of the Persian period, Alexander conquers the world. When Alexander dies from sever at the age of 33, six generals conquers the areas that were in Alexander’s control and divides the areas into four independent kingdom. At that time, Palestine, along with Egypt, becomes under the rule of the Ptolemaic dynasty.
Then, in BC 198, Paneas War happens and the Palestine becomes under control of Selucids Seleucus (Syria) dynasty. At first, a friendly relationship began between the Jews and Antiochus III of Seleucus because the Jews helped to get the garrisons of Egypt out of Palestine. So Antiochus III granted the Jews tax exemptions and helped with the sacrifices and the building of the temple. He also gave permission for them to live according to the law of their ancestors.
But when Antiochus III lost the war with the Romans and he lost 5000 talents as reparation. The problem was started when he had to raise money and he looked to the temple sacrifices for the money. The successor Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) plundered the treasures of the temple and imposed heavy taxes. People who were not able to pay taxes were sold as slaves and arson and massacre were carried out. In order to impose Hellenistic culture and religion, he built Greek-style stadium, temples, and public baths. He prohibited the Jews from keeping the Sabbath. He let out the pigs that were loathed by the Jews into the temple and he created an altar for Zeus in the temple. The Jews had to undergo these offensive sufferings.
This is the historical background of Chapters 7 to 12 from the Book of Daniel. But the chapter contains messages of comfort and hope to the people of Israel:
At that time Michael, 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. (Daniel 12:1)
The verse implies that although several afflictions and tribulations continue, everyone written in the book of life will be saved.
Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life (Daniel 12:2)
This verse says that even the dead from the tribulation will reawaken and enjoy the eternal life.
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. (Daniel 12:3)
The Gospel of Mark is also similar in that Chapter 13 is based on First Jewish–Roman War. It started in AD 66, when Jews rebelled against Florus, the Roman Governor of Judaea, when he demanded 17 talents from the Jewish Temple treasury. In an hour, Roman soldiers killed 20,000 people, and this triggered Jews from Idumea, Galilee, and Beroea to participate in the revolt.
The Roman Emperor ordered 60,000 soldiers to repress the rebellion. As a result, in AD 70, Jerusalem was completely destroyed, and even the last rebels killed themselves in the temple of Masada. This is the infamous Battle of Masada, in which 110,000 Jews died.
As we know, the book of Daniel is based on suffer and pain caused by Antiochus Epiphanes, and the Gospel of Mark Chapter 13 is based on suffering of Jews. Both of them are known as apocalyptic literature, as they detail the authors' visions of the end times. These kinds of books were written to give hopes to suffering Jews by telling that though they might perish in this world, righteous people would go to heaven in the end.
In any case, the most important thing is to keep one's faith during hardships and persecution.
When we first look at Mark, it says, “Watch out that no one deceives you” (13:5), “do not be alarmed” (13:7), “You must be on your guard” (13:9) and “He who stands firm to the end will be saved (13:13).
The verbs used in these verses are continuous in that it tells us to continuously watch out, not be alarmed, be on our guard and stand firm. What is it that we must watch out and be alarmed about? According to verse 5, it is trickery, more specifically in verse 6 it says, “Many will come in my name, claiming ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.” The expression ‘I am he’ is the same expression as ‘I am who I am’ in chapter 3 of Exodus. Simply put, a person who forges himself to be God, someone who pretends is the person who deceives.
The fall of man - the starting point of sin is a person’s greed and desire to be like God. In our greed to know good and evil like God, we ate the forbidden fruit and in our greed to become powerful, we built the tower of Babel. The bible is telling us that when the time for the final judgment approaches, more will be deceived and more will claim themselves to be Christ.
Around the world, there are about 300 people who call themselves as the Christ. Unfortunately, just in Korea alone, about 27 call themselves as the Christ, 39 as God himself, and more than 10 who call themselves as the savior. People like Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church, Sang Hong Ahn of World Mission Society Church of God, Myung Suk Jung of JMS etc. are the prime examples of such people.
Why would people deceive and pretend when the end of the world approaches? Because, when a time of danger comes, people’s spiritual judgment weakens and they tend to look for something or someone whom they can depend on. Their whole mind becomes unstable
Furthermore, verse 8 says, “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.” The reason for the use of ‘birth pains’ is because he wanted to emphasize the pain associated with giving birth.
Why? Because the end of the world mean a new beginning and the Jews had believed that the kingdom of God would only form after a period of suffering, the birth pains of the Messiah.
It becomes easy for one to fall into fear or suspicion at times of war, earthquakes, famines and other disasters. However, these are the signs of the coming of a new world, thus, he tell us “he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (13:13).
Last week during our weekly book meeting, we watched a movie entitled Of Gods and Men. It is about what happens at a small monastery in Algeria when it becomes the heart of a war. When the monks were first threatened by the revolutionaries, the monks begin to seriously consider fleeing. When they first approached the people in the village telling them they may leave, the people said, “You are not the birds, we are. When you leave, we will be like the birds that have lost a branch, lost a tree.” The monks decide to stay and say, “a wild flower does not follow the sun, it will bloom wherever there is God’s grace.” In the end, the monks preach, heal and pray with those in the village and eventually are captured by the soldiers and meet their ends.
While watching the monks stand firm in the ground of pain and suffering, I could not help but ask, whether we are standing firm in our lives. I hope that you will see and believe these birth pains to be the beginning of a new world, new hope. And I hope that we all will stand firm in our spots, holding to our faiths.
There might be some people wondering about why I am preaching about the End of the Age… According to the church calendar, today is the twenty fifth Sunday after the Pentecost, and next Sunday is the last week on the church calendar. And from the first week of December, Advent starts the new church calendar. In another words, after this week and the next week, this year ends according to the church calendar.
Like there is a start to a year and an end to a year, there is a start and an end to our life. But there is two things to the End of the Age, one of them is the universal destruction; the entire universe will go through God’s judgment. The other is the personal end to their life. We all are just looking at the End of Age. But a truly wise person would live their life remembering such End. Remembering the End that will go to everyone and for all the life on the universe, this person is wise and sensible.
There were couples of meetings last week, like I said before: Book lovers club, Bible study on Wednesday, and Friday’s meeting. At the start, I already discussed what happened at Book lovers club. During the Bible study we looked at Isaiah’s hope, how Isaiah got the hope he had to think about the hope that we received and whether or not we are living our life to fulfill that hope. And on Friday’s meeting, one person said that they just ended the first part of their life and started the second half, when they look back into their life, and they started to think about how they should live the rest. Then, I also started to think if I am going towards the right direction.
At the start of the sermon, I told you about how I read a fairy tale about our nation to Esther. The story about how a sister and a brother became the Sun and the Moon. I told you how our country endured 5000 years of a sad history. We used to lose the rice cake and the loss of their mother to the tiger, and our sisters and brothers used to be in situations to be eaten by predators. There is also the sad history about how the Jewish nation was endangered by the plans of destruction by the Antiochus Epiphanies, the resistance against the Romans until the Battle of Masada where 960 warriors ended up suicide.
But the two nations did not end just by grief. Instead there were expectations and hope… In the fairy tale, the sister and brother became the Sun and the Moon to protect their people from the tiger; for me, I thought about God’s Archangel Michael and how he prepared the army to liberate God’s people. Like the Sun and the Moon, I thought about the people who held their faith even through suffering and persecution to shine like a star for eternity. Both stories share hope that was found during the suffering and grief.
Loving believers, another year is coming to an end. Our life is also coming to an end. How was last year for you? How should we live to live with reason?
I hope that you and I can lead many people towards the Truth to shine eternally like a star… so that we can keep ground in our lives during the dark generation…
I would like to finish my preaching as reading a poem.
Not all stars are twinkling
Things twinkling are not all stars.
In the dark side,
Keeping the orbit,
There are other stars.
Tears are always in their eyes looking like gypsophila.
In darkness, a few moments of gleaming just
shows their loneliness.
The most beautiful star is
In a highest spot,
Fretting itself for its sin,
Washing the pain
With clean tears.
Some stars shall not be twinkling.
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