Notes on Sermon Preached at PCF on 5 February 2012
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Reference: Daniel 4
When we meet up with an old friend who has changed since our last meeting – maybe they have lost weight, or adopted a new dress style – we may well ask them “whatever’s happened to you?” Hopefully that is what we were asked shortly after we became a Christian. People who meet us again shortly after we become a new creature in Christ should be asking, or at least thinking, ”Whatever’s happened to you?”
The main human character in today’s passage is Nebuchadnezzar, the King of the Babylonian empire. The King was the Hitler or Stalin of his day. True, he could be magnanimous towards his conquered foes, but only because it was good politics. He was ruthless, egocentric and cruel. Yet here we have him saying:
“How great are his signs,
how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an eternal kingdom;
his dominion endures from generation to generation.”
“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just.”
Extraordinary! What on earth has happened?
The fact is that Nebuchadnezzar has had dealings with God. This should cause us great encouragement. There is no one, absolutely no one, who is beyond that reach of God. God can reach those who we think are unreachable. You may well say that the King doesn’t deserve to be saved. That is quite true – but neither do any of us!
Three Strikes and you’re out!
In baseball terminology the term “three strikes and you’re out” means that you get three chances to get it right. This is certainly true of the King here. In Daniel 2, he had the supernatural revelation of his dream by a young Daniel. Although the King responds by honouring Dnaiel and promoting him, and he acknowledges the existence of the God of Daniel, he does not bow the knee to him he remain proud and defiant. Strike One!
In Daniel three the amazing story of the three young men who defied the Kings command and were rather be thrown into the furnace rather than worship any God other than the God of Yahweh, touches Nebuchadnezzar – but not to the extent that he is prepared to worship him. Strike Two!
It is extraordinary the extent to which God is prepared to go to get his man. You might expect that having heard twice from God in the most remarkable and unmistakeable way, Nebuchadnezzar had had all the chances he was going to get. But God’s patience, it would seem, is far beyond that which any of us would expect. Nebuchadnezzar is about to get a third chance.
Last Chance Saloon
We read that Nubuchadnezzar was “contented and prosperous”. We can often imagine that those who are rejecting God must be miserable and unhappy. In fact the opposite may be true. Often the one who is standing defiantly against God is, as the King here, “contented and prosperous”. The enemy leaves them alone – they are no threat to him. But God is about to get to work. The dream the king has is terrifying and the king can have no rest until it is explained to him. In the middle of contentment, God speaks.
And we see the combination of the supernatural voice of God with the voice of his spokesman. Daniel, with compassion and courage, yet again is willing to put himself at great risk for the king to hear the word of God. It is worth pausing to consider this: Daniel had seen his nation destroyed by this man, yet he was ready to challenge the king to repent. So the king has yet another chance to repent and get his life in order. Will he take it?
Nebuchadnezzar has no less than one year to respond to the word of the Lord. It is reminiscent of the two years that David had to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit after his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah. Yet at the end of the year he remains unchanged, as he surveys the hanging gardens of Babylon and says: “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”
And God, effectively, says: “Strike three!”
God’s Merciful Judgement
God’s action in Nebuchadnezzar’s life follows immediately upon the heels of the King’s arrogant claims The contents of his dream are carried out to the letter. One can not accuse God of not warning him!
1. Motivated by Compassion
We must remember that all God’s dealings are motivated by compassion. God wishes to save this man and has given him oppornuity and opportunity to respond. When he has not done God moves from speaking to doing.
God’s action is severe, painful and humiliating. There is no limit to what God is prepared to do in order to have his way in our lives,
Notice how from the very beginning God knows that timescale that will be required for the king to respond to his discipline. God has measured every burden.
The action that God takes is not designed to punish the king – but to redeem him.
5. A Happy ending
…and God intends to bring the situation to an ending that will result in the king’s blessing and salvation. Historians believe that the king lived only a year or so after this event. What an end to his reign there must have been.
So what are we to learn from this story?
1. As Christians?
We can be encouraged that God is able to work in the lives of all those who we may regard as impossible. That includes our loved ones who are showing no sign at all of surrendering to God. When God works in the loves of those we love – don’t get in the way!
And we can also be challenged to be like Daniel – to be prepare to be used by God to speak to those who God is working in – including saying things that they don’t wish to hear
2. As Backsliders?
There really is no excuse for backsliding. It is a kind of insanity to know about God but to refuse to bow the knee to him. God will continue speaking, until the day it is imposisble for you to hear him. Then he will take whatever action is necessary to get you to serve him. Much better to respond to his voice than his discipline.
3. As Unbelievers?
CS Lewis described God as “the hound of heaven”. When God is on your case, you won’t get away.
Wherever we are , God will, speak to us to move us forward. Let’s respond to that voice. If we do not, God loves us far too much to allow us to get away with rebellion indefinitely. As Nebuchadnezzar concludes: “And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”
Let’s humble ourselves, before He humbles us.
This is the last we hear of the mighty tyrant from Babylon. We may assume that the rest of his reign was marked with submission to God. In the next chapter, we discover that, sadly, this example was not continued by his son.
But that’s another story