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Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Greater Kingdom (Daniel 2.28-45)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; January 22, 2017
Text: Daniel 2:28-45

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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:: Scripture and Music ::
Singing Together: Hear the Call of the Kingdom (Getty/Townend)
Singing Together: Let Your Kingdom Come (Kauflin; Sovereign Grace)
Offering of Music: Bless the Lord, O My Soul (Nygard)
Hymn of Sending: O Worship the King (LYONS)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks  the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

We are continuing today in a series from Daniel, seeking to answer the broad question, “What does it mean to serve God in the world?” So far we’ve seen that it is possible to be in the world, but be distinct in belonging to and following Christ. And last week we saw how it is possible to honor and serve God even in when we up against impossible situations. We left off last week with Daniel about to describe and then interpret a dream that had been disturbing King Nebuchadnezzar for some time. First we will look at the dream and its interpretation, then we’ll consider what we might learn from it.

The Terrible Statue (vv. 28-36a)

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream had disturbed him for some time. And you heard the description of the dream in the scripture reading so I won’t read all the way back through it. Instead I’ve found a picture of it because this is one example where I think images do a better job than words. We read that the statue was strikingly huge and TERRIFYING. Head, chest, mid-section, legs, and feet were all different materials. And then the whole thing was violently crushed when part of a mountain fell upon it and the whole statue collapsed and was carried away on the wind like scraps of old paper.

It must have been the case that Nebuchadnezzar saw part of himself somewhere in that statue and dream, and it terrified him. He was so disturbed that he threatened the lives of all his advisors in an effort to find out what it meant or rid himself of those closest to himself who might betray him. Though he was the most powerful man in the world, he was full of fear, which played itself out in devastating ways to those around him. But as we saw last week, God provided Daniel with an opportunity in the midst of that impossible situation, and along with some wisdom from Daniel, he gains audience with the king.

A Lesson in Humility (vv. 36b-43)

After revealing the dream itself, Daniel goes on to explain the dream. Different parts of the statue represent earthly kingdoms that will come after the “golden head” that is Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire. Many folks will be quick to assign subsequent Empires to each part of the statue, like the Persian Empire for the chest and so forth. But I think that misses the point in the same way that we often over-allegorize parables and miss Jesus’ main point. Look at what Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar, starting in verse 37:

You, O king, are the most powerful king on earth. The God of heaven has given you the works: rule, power, strength, and glory. He has put you in charge of men and women, wild animals and birds, all over the world – you’re the head ruler, you are the head of gold.

Here is Daniel’s first message to the powerful king: this power you have did not come from yourself or human beings, but from the God of heaven. Now remember that Daniel has already given God credit for revealing the dream, so God has been named and Daniel has Nebuchadnezzar’s ear. He is quick to name God as the one with the ultimate power, even in this world.

Then Daniel goes on to explain the rest of the statue. The subsequent materials and parts of the statue represent kingdoms that will follow Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. They will be “inferior,” but they will nonetheless defeat the Empires that came before them. In other words, Nebuchadnezzar’s power will not last. He will one day be defeated, and not even by a superior power, but by an inferior one. Can you imagine the guts it would take to say this to the most powerful man in the world – and one who has already threatened to kill you? Having said that, Daniel has already said that he could not name the dream; only God could. And he certainly isn’t “blowing smoke” as Nebuchadnezzar previously charged the advisors with doing. One thing about a supremely negative interpretation – one couldn’t accuse Daniel of trying to curry favor.

I think the message itself is a double message of humility. Nebuchadnezzar does not have all the power; God’s is greater and God gave or allowed Nebuchadnezzar to rule at this time. And Nebuchadnezzar would not keep his power; another inferior kingdom would replace his. So in many ways, the dream was as disturbing and terrible as Nebuchadnezzar seemed to think it would be.

But Daniel is not done!

The Revealer of Mysteries (vv. 44-45)

There is one more part of the dream that Daniel explains. After talking about the Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom and the ones that will follow, he says:

But throughout the history of these kingdoms, the God of heaven will be building a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will this kingdom ever fall under the domination of another. In the end it will crush the other kingdoms and finish them off and come through it all standing strong and eternal. (v. 44)

This is the same God of heaven who Daniel named as the “Revealer of Mysteries,” the one who was able to both describe and interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. This is the same God of heaven who gave or allowed Nebuchadnezzar to rule and hold power, strength, and glory… in charge of men and women all over the world. This is the same God who will allow other inferior kingdoms to rule after Nebuchadnezzar. And this same God has His own Kingdom, existing and growing in the midst of all those earthly kingdoms. The Kingdom of this God will not only exist and grow in the midst of the others, but will crush the others and last forever. It is the “stone cut from the mountain by the invisible hand that crushed the iron, the bronze, the ceramic, the silver, and the gold.” (v. 45)

And Daniel finishes, “The great God has let the king know what will happen in the years to come. This is an accurate telling of the dream, and the interpretation is also accurate.” (v. 45)

Speaking Truth to Power (vv. 46-49)

Now there was no guarantee that Nebuchadnezzar would hear or receive what Daniel had to say. He could have killed him on the spot. But as I said last week, this exchange was not about Daniel getting past his “impossible situation.” It was again about maintaining faithfulness in his identity as one of God’s people. To the extent that he had opportunity, with all the wisdom he could muster, and with God’s help, he spoke God’s truth to human power. He told the most powerful man in the world about a greater power and a greater Kingdom. He pointed to God and, in doing so, rendered faithful worship and service to God. I believe we ALWAYS have an opportunity to choose faithfulness, even if we do not see a way out of our situation. We belong to God and can honor God in some way.

In this case, at least for a while, Nebuchadnezzar was humbled. He “fell on his face in awe before Daniel” (v. 46) and honored Daniel and his friends with high positions in the kingdom. He also acknowledged God in this way: “Your God is beyond question the God of all gods, the Master of all kings. And He solves all mysteries, I know, because you’ve solved this mystery.” (v. 47)

Now let me be careful here. We love a happy ending! Daniel got out of his impossible situation, Nebuchadnezzar was humbled and acknowledged God, and Daniel and friends were richly rewarded. But that doesn’t always happen. I think the real story here is that God was lifted up, truth was spoken, and Daniel found a faithful path when the way seemed impossible.

If our overarching question is, “What does it mean to serve God in the world?” I think the answer isn’t in terms of results, but in terms of faithfulness. We are citizens of God’s Kingdom, living in this world but belonging to God. Serving God means faithfulness, obedience, wisdom, and lifting God up with truth and grace. Sometimes that means speaking; sometimes it means acting. And those are things we can do, whether free or in chains, whether at home or in exile, whether accepted or rejected. We re-affirm our participation in God’s Kingdom every time we pray, “Thy Kingdom come” and “for Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” Amen.

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