By Simon ManchesterSunday 7 Jul 2013Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
St Thomas’ Anglican Church
Daniel – The God of Gods
We are in our second week of a journey through the book of Daniel,Daniel of the Old Testament. It’s a two and a half thousand year old manuscript that we are looking at,and yet it is astonishingly relevant and it raises the question which everyone,in every generation,and every century,needs to face and that is the question of whether one god is as good as another? Or is it possible that there is only one god who speaks,and one god who saves,and one god who rules,and one god who exists? The key question today is bound up with the word ‘only’.
I recently emailed this congregation and asked if they would tell me something original about themselves,anybody who would like to get back to me and tell me something unique about you,and the purpose of this was really to do with our fellowship after the meeting,but just let me give you a little sprinkling of what I received back. There was somebody in our congregation for example,who is the second cousin to Don Bradman,and I imagine,although he may have had many second cousins,probably the only one in our church. Somebody told me that they had spent a night on top of the Cheops pyramid,and again surely the only one who’s here today who’s done that. One man in our congregation was private secretary to the Prime Minister Harold Holt,and I am willing to bet that he is the only one in our congregation with that task. And one man here played the part of Australia’s first clergyman on ABC television,and I am absolutely sure that they are the only person here who’s done that,and maybe the only person in the world who’s done that. You see there comes a point where you have to work out whether there is actually only one. We are used to thinking about choices,we have the privilege of being able to choose a movie,or choose a restaurant,or choose a holiday,or a pet,or a hobby,but what if it actually turns out that there is only one god? What if it turns out that behind the film which separates the earth and heaven that there is one god,one god who speaks,one god who saves,one god who rules and one god who is? And what that means is that if a person in the world chooses another,then they choose a dud! They choose a vapour,they choose a danger. And for 80 years a person can appear to be quite safe and as if built on sand but there will come a day when there will be disaster.
Last week in Daniel chapter 1 we saw God hand His people over to exile in Babylon,and although the geography changed for God’s people and although the culture changed for God’s people,we recognised of course,that He God remained the same,He remained the king. And Daniel knew that God was the king even of Babylon,and Daniel let the people of Babylon know that his allegiance was still with the God of Israel. The God,the only God. This week we come to the famous dream when the Babylonian king tries to work out what his dream,what his nightmare is all about. It’s a dream where God shows to this pagan Babylonian king that He God,is unique. That He is the only one who speaks and the only one who exists. I want to divide the chapter therefore into two this morning,first verses 1-23: The only God who speaks,and then verses 24-49: The only God who stays. The only God who speaks,The only God who stays. I was originally going to call these two points: the God who speaks and the God who stays,but that is to miss the point completely. The key is the word ‘only’.
It is interesting there are four groups of gurus or fortune tellers in Daniel chapter 2,but they are as dumb as a post. Only God speaks. And there are four world powers in Daniel chapter 2,and they all turn to dust,only God stays. So let’s think first this morning about the only God who speaks.
It is a very great story,I hope you know the story,it is a great piece of history where Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonian king has nightmares. Andrew Reid in his commentary on Daniel says “Nebuchadnezzar had begun to make Babylon a wonder of the world. A city of learning,wisdom and beauty. He conquered far and wide,he dispensed justice,he housed the fugitive,he made the whole land happy. This was Nebuchadnezzar philanthropist,benefactor,architect and builder. No one matched him,no one challenged him,he was secure,popular,respected and feared. The worshipper of the gods Marduk and Nabu.” So Nebuchadnezzar you see is an unstoppable,successful pagan. How is the God of Israel possibly going to interest him? How is the God of Israel possibly going to compete with somebody so powerful? Chapter 2 verse 1 “Nebuchadnezzar had dreams.” Now I love this,reverently you know,you can imagine God saying ‘How will I reach this guy? Will I get him to trip over a log? Will I change a cell in his body? Will I take away his breath for a minute?’ It is the easiest thing in the world for God to arrest the attention of anyone He wants to,isn’t it? And the Lord God,you see,used this excellent,and brilliant,and effortless way to get Nebuchadnezzar’s attention. To disturb him. And he disturbed him in order that He would teach him,and he taught him in order that He would help him to see that there is one God and that Nebuchadnezzar would respond appropriately. The dream world in Babylon was very significant and Nebuchadnezzar’s gurus were paid to interpret things like dreams. Dream stuff was big stuff in Babylon,and of all the ways to communicate this seems to be one that God occasionally used in scripture to unsettle somebody or to warn somebody,and then provide the explanation of what it was all about. And He did this to open the door so that the person would have as it were a humble spirit,a humble heart to the truth. And you can imagine what it would be like to be Nebuchadnezzar and to be,can you imagine it,to be so powerful and to be so great and so successful and then to go to bed at night and in the middle of the night this huge statue appears in your dream and it crashes to the ground,and you wake up and you say to yourself with your heart pumping ‘what was that about?’,and you can’t go back to sleep. And you just forget it and then the next night you go to sleep and there is this huge statue and it totally topples,and you wake up again in a sweat and you say ‘what is this all about?’
Now I think the insecurity of Nebuchadnezzar is what made him say,chapter 2 verse 5,he calls in his four groups of fortune tellers and he says “this is what I have firmly decided,if you don’t tell me what my dream was,and interpret it,I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble.” It is absolute tyrant talk isn’t it? It is the sort of thing that a sort of madman says,even Daniel is shocked at the sort of haste and the violence of what Nebuchadnezzar orders. But I think it is the insecurity for Nebuchadnezzar which causes him to say this. Commentators debate whether Nebuchadnezzar forgot his dream and was bringing them in and was saying ‘come on,I can’t get it,will you tell me what it was?’ Or was he testing their powers? And I am absolutely sure that he was testing their powers. I am absolutely sure that Nebuchadnezzar could remember the gist of the dream and he wanted to get some real help. He wanted somebody who spoke sense and truth and fact,so he wanted somebody who could not just make something up,anybody can do that,he wanted somebody who,this is so clever,would tell him the dream and then he would be able to interpret.
I don’t know if you have ever had the misfortune of listening to one of the psychics on late night radio but sometimes when you are driving home flip round the dial and you’ll hear that there is the occasional psychic you know telling the person that they will find their dog and they will get married and everything will be well. You know it is in their interests to keep on saying good things,they are certainly going to lose their job if they are negative with every caller. Nebuchadnezzar is fed up with that sort of paid stuff,he is fed up with his fortune tellers his gurus telling him,every time he has a dream,that it means there is going to be endless blessing and that he is going to have international success. Nebuchadnezzar has got to the point where he wants someone who’ll tell him the facts,and that is why verse 5 you see only makes sense if he remembered enough of the dream so that when they told him the dream he could say ‘yes that was the dream and you are worth listening to,and you are somebody I will take seriously. But you see how frightened he was,the dream made him totally insecure,everything that mattered to him seemed to crash down in the night. Because everything that mattered to Nebuchadnezzar was matter. He was a material man,and if he lost his matter then he would lose everything. No wonder he was so hostile,no wonder he was so insecure. ‘Touch my empire’,Nebuchadnezzar says,’and I am finished. Touch my empire and I am angry. You tell me what’s happening or I’ll kill you.’
Contrast this with the spirit of the apostle Paul in the New Testament when he says “to live is Christ,to die is gain.” To know Christ,says the apostle Paul,is to know the person who outweighs the world. To have Christ and lose the world,to have Christ and lose your life,and lose your family,and lose your home,and lose everything you have ever bought,difficult as that is,is gain. You move from what you think is so important and you’ll move,says Paul,into something which is infinitely more important. Or think of how Peter in his letter says ‘there is an inheritance for the believer which will never perish,spoil or fade,kept in heaven for you.’ There you see is the man in the New Testament who can cope with things being taken away. But Nebuchadnezzar can not and he set a test that will get him the real facts of the matter,because in Nebuchadnezzar’s mind there comes a time when there is no time for religious games.
We are in a world aren’t we,where people stand on one leg and talk about the effects of their guru,their yoga,their manmade faith,and you can afford to do that can’t you when all is well. I never have those conversations when I am at a sick bed or a death bed,suddenly we are just straight through to the real issues. There is a great God,there is gracious God,there is a good God. Let’s talk about His promises,let’s talk about His proofs. And if a person wants that kind of information at a serious moment,why not want that information at a normal moment? Why wait until the building on which you’ve built,or the sand on which you’ve built your building is being swept away,and then start asking desperate questions about whether there is a rock to put your house on? Why not build your house on a rock today in order that you might be secure forever?
Nebuchadnezzar’s advisors are terrified. They have been totally exposed,verse 10,”there
is not a man on earth who can do what the king asks,they say. No king however great,however mighty,has ever asked such a thing of any magician,enchanter or astrologer. What the king asks is too difficult,no one can reveal it except the gods and they don’t live among men.” They’ve worked out you see that they have been exposed,their talk is a sham,and all the stuff they have ever come up with in the past has been from their own imagination,ultimately possibly from some demonic background and they are now as good as dead. Because you see to talk religion is easy,to talk religion is easy when you are on the luxury liner but when you are on the titanic and you know time is short,and everybody should know time is short,there is no time to play religious games is there? We need truth from God,and without God there is no truth. Without God there is nothing for the darkness,without God there is nothing for the death. And into this hopeless situation God wonderfully,beautifully,brings the crucial information which is that there is a kingdom which will never fall. How kind He is you see,how consistent He is to bring this message. He wants Nebuchadnezzar to know,He is the one God,He is the only God,He is the only one who will last,He is the only one who speaks. So what has God done for Nebuchadnezzar? This is one of the things that really shocked me as I thought about this,it really moved me as I thought about this chapter – is that God is interested in a powerful pagan. And He communicates in order that this man Nebuchadnezzar would come to be humble,and He gives him enough information to humble him,and now He is going to give him enough information to save him.
The world is in exactly the same situation as Nebuchadnezzar,God has given all the world enough information for people to be humble. There isn’t anybody walking in this city who hasn’t been given by God enough information to be humble. God has told us that He is great and we are small. God has told us that He is eternal and we are temporary,and He tells us every day and He tells us in so many ways,He is great,we are small,He is eternal and we are temporary. He has given us enough information to make everyone humble. And He has also given to the world enough information for people to be saved. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. God has given precious promises through which,says the bible,you may escape. Jesus said the kingdom is at hand,in other words it is a step away – repent,turn around,believe the gospel,put your trust in me. Put your trust in the king,says Jesus,you’ll be in the kingdom,you’ll be in the kingdom forever.
Well the man that God uses to communicate to Nebuchadnezzar is Daniel. Daniel knows that the information that he needs about the dream,and its interpretation,is totally beyond him. In chapter 2 verse 18 he goes to his friends and he says,’let’s beg for mercy. We don’t deserve to know,we need mercy.’ And they beg for mercy and in verse 19,during the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel and Daniel praised the God of heaven. It is the kindness of God,isn’t it,to give the information that we need to be saved. It’s not a matter of our deserts,it’s His mercy. It is crucial that we get the information,because unless God tells us,and communicates verbally,we just don’t know.
I remember hearing John Stott many years ago in the middle of a sermon suddenly stop and he said ‘You know if I stop speaking…’ and he stopped for a very long time. And he said ‘You don’t know what’s going on inside my head,and I don’t know what’s going on inside your head,and how much more difficult,’ he said,’is it to get into the head of God?’ You know His thoughts are way above ours,higher than the heavens. How are we going to work out what God thinks? Well the answer of course is that God has kindly,and crucially,and accurately,and demandingly,communicated to us exactly what we need to know. Not only that we would be humble,but also that we might be saved. It’s His kindness.
When Peter worked out who Jesus was,Jesus turned to Peter and said,’You didn’t work this out. God revealed it.’ Paul says to the Corinthians,in 1 Corinthians 1,”No eye has seen,no ear has heard,no mind conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him and He has revealed it.” And with God you see,sharing this information which is totally outside their powers,and totally outside their deserts,Daniel gets down onto his knees and he bursts into praise,in verse 20,and he says,”Praise be to the name of god for ever and ever. Wisdom and power are His.” And look at verse 23,”I thank and praise you,O God.” It wasn’t just general praise. You know I know how easy it is to praise generally,the hymn is a hymn of praise,but I’m not praising,but there is Daniel you see,’Praise to God and I thank you.’ I hope that your praise is personal because God you see is the only God that speaks. How thankful we are.
The second point this morning: The only God who stays.
This is where God reveals the dream of the statue which will collapse and the kingdom which will grow and increase,and this is the message of kingdoms perishing and God’s kingdom staying. And Daniel explains at the very beginning to Nebuchadnezzar that he has not worked this out. In verse 27 it is God who revealed it,it has nothing to do with Daniel’s own powers. But he says to the king,’this is your dream,it was of a statue wasn’t it?’ Nebuchadnezzar must have said to himself,’Yes it was!’ And Daniel said,’let me describe the statue: gold head,silver chest,bronze belly,iron legs,feet of iron and clay. And Nebuchadnezzar must have said in his head,’Exactly!’ Suddenly Daniel,you see,with the authority of God is in a totally different category from every other religious leader. ‘And then’,says Daniel,’I will tell you what happened. A rock,not made with hands suddenly hit the statue and everything fell. And all that statue turned to chaff,and the wind came and blew it away and there wasn’t a trace.’ What a terrifying dream for a person whose whole life is bound up with that statue. ‘And then’,says Daniel,’I will tell you what happened to that little rock. It suddenly turned into a mountain.’ Nebuchadnezzar absolutely astonished. Must have seemed ridiculous when Daniel even suggested that Babylon was the gold,and Persia the silver,Greece the bronze,Rome the iron,and then the iron and the clay. He doesn’t use the words,but historically we work out of course that these are the kingdoms that are following. Must have seemed of course ridiculous to Nebuchadnezzar that Babylon could ever fall,it was absolutely unassailable. But of course if you go home today and ask your neighbour where Babylon is,or where Babylon was,or how powerful Babylon is,it’s a non issue isn’t it? It is pretty well a non issue.
The four metals,as I say,gold,silver,bronze and iron,are four kingdoms,they are not four Babylonian kings,they are four kingdoms. The traditional interpretation which fits in with the rest of Daniel and also history is that Babylon gave way to Persia,which gave way to Greece,which gave way to Rome. And it was in the time of Rome that this rock appeared,this rock who is identified in the New Testament as Jesus,unmade with human hands,who announced Himself to be the king and the king of the kingdom that would be forever and see every other kingdom that ever was turn to dust. And so you have this double shift taking place in the dream,what seems so strong disappears and what seems so little turns into a mountain. And the accuracy of this dream 600BC is astonishing,astonishing. Nebuchadnezzar is overwhelmed and he falls on his knees but look at the tragedy in the last 2 verses,all this is 46-47,”He fell before Daniel,paid him honour and ordered that an offering of incense be presented. And the king said to Daniel surely your God is the God of gods.” There is the tragedy. It is almost understandable that Nebuchadnezzar would fall down in front of Daniel,Daniel appears to be astonishing,but Nebuchadnezzar’s message is so sad isn’t it,because he has not under the influence of this become a monotheist. He sees God,the God of Israel,to be just great among the gods. Even though God has revealed himself as the only one who speaks,the only one who rules,therefore the only one who saves,and the only one who exists,Nebuchadnezzar is still a polytheist. He is,as one writer says,”Impressed,but not changed. He is awed,but he is not converted.” So many are exactly the same aren’t they? ‘Ah that was great! Ah that was great!’ Ah yes but are you changed? ‘Ah that was a great Christianity explored!’ But are you converted? ‘Well that was really interesting.’ Yes,but has Christ taken residence in your life? That’s the question. Here in Daniel chapter 2 we see God communicate so personally and so powerfully even to a very powerful pagan like Nebuchadnezzar. How thankful we should be today that God is interested in the outsider,how thankful we should be that God has communicated to us so clearly,so clearly,coming into the very world in the person of the Lord Jesus and bringing us to see Jesus as He really is. How thankful we should be for that. John 3:16,”God so loved the world that He gave His only Son,” we have come to realise that,”that whoever believes in Him,” we’ve come to realise that. What a gift that is,what a gift that is! And we also see in Daniel 2 that God’s kingdom is so dominant,and so secure,everything else blows away. But when you belong to the king,Jesus Christ,when you belong to kingdom,you just watch everything else blow away. You can watch your health blow away,you can watch your family blow away,you can watch your home blow away,you can watch your country blow away,and you’ll find yourself safe and secure with the king of kings forever,and all His people. How thankful,how thankful we should be that we have been brought to understand the king Jesus Christ and His incredible work on the cross of opening the door so that a person might step in at His expense and belong,and live forever.
Now friends let me close by saying we live as God’s people with these two extraordinary gifts given to us,I know we get a little sort of bored with them,but the fact of the matter is that God has brought to us miraculously,undeservedly,the truth,the promises and He has brought to us the kingdom which will never perish. And we just happen to live in a world that couldn’t give two hoots about either of them,couldn’t really care about the promises,and couldn’t really care about the kingdom and it is difficult for us isn’t it,because we then begin to wonder if we have received anything at all. I want to give you an idea which I was reading this week that may help you to expose some of the sand that people live on,and help them to stand on the rock which you have been brought to stand on,and it comes from a book that is called ‘Questioning Evangelism’ which suggests that we should be asking more questions than we do. It is based on the premise that Jesus would answer a question,with a question more often than he answered a question with an answer. And the writer says that when you are faced with one of those confident categoric statements which we hear every now and again,which says something like this “Do whatever works. All religions are the same. Why should anybody be right?” And we are suddenly dumbstruck. The writer says,’ask a question.’ And he says here is a good question: “Really?” Just say to the person who says something so confident,so categoric,so unlikely,”Really?” He says that is a good question,stalls,then he says here is another question you could ask: “Can you explain that?” Because often that shows up the inadequacy of people’s thinking behind something so bold. And then he says you may have the right to ask a question: “Does that mean Jesus should be tolerated? Does that mean Jesus may be right?” That’ll open up a whole new can of worms for you,but you see the principle is that we are helping perhaps to disturb a person so that we might help them think again,just as God did for Nebuchadnezzar,and used Daniel as a servant in His purposes. Well we who give praise to heaven,let us not fail to say something in this world. And if we can say something in this world that helps a person be just a little unsettled,and then come to be settled on the only God,the only rock,the only saviour,the only speaker,the only one who is,we’ve made a real contribution.
Let’s pray,let’s ask God to help us:
Our gracious God we thank you for the two things in this chapter – of your speaking that we might be clear,and your kingdom that we might be safe. We’re so thankful that in the world,where people are not clear and not safe,you’ve given this message and this foundation in the Lord Jesus. And we ask,our gracious God,as you have helped us to move from sand to rock,that you would help us to help others so that their praise would go up to you and that they would be marked by the assurance and the joy and the peace which you bring,and we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.