Friday, 14 February 2014
Daniel 2 'Dare to be a religious fanatic'
How do you think people feel about fanatics? I suppose it depends on what type of fanatic you are. If you are a sports fanatic that is okay; unless it turns you into a hooligan. If you are fanatical about your country that is probably okay too; well at least to people who share your nationality, and if don't want to fight anyone about it. But if you are fanatical about religion it is not okay. No one likes a religious fanatic.
Religious fanatics are seen as unbalanced people. They are thought to be suffering from some sort of neurosis. They are believed to be self-righteous and judgemental. They are seen as prudish killjoys. Many believe that religious fanatics are an offensive threat to freedom. Maybe people in this country have had enough experiences of religion to justify some of their dislike of religious fanatics. But I still want to be a religious fanatic. In fact I don't think I am fanatical enough about God.
You see Daniel and his friends are fanatics. They are passionate lovers of God. They are ready to make a stand and happy to die for their faith. When they think of God, and see him work, they responded with spontaneous praise. He is the most important thing in their lives, he is central to their thoughts, and he arouses their passions.
I don't think that Christianity should make us judgemental; it should cause us to be humble and merciful. I don't think Christianity should make us awkward; it should make us tactful and wise. But our belief in God should stir our emotions. We haven't understood the gospel if we haven't heard Christ say that God must be the most important thing in our lives. We haven't truly encountered Christ if we are not growing in love for God and being drawing in love towards people.
As we look at Daniel 2 I want us to see why God is worth getting excited about.
1. Only God can save us (1-23)
God is worth getting excited about because only God can save us.
Nebuchadnezzar was an unstable man and his volatile nature was aggravated by some disturbing dreams. He couldn't sleep because of the anxiety these caused him. So he summoned all his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers. These were known by the collective term 'wise men'.
As happens elsewhere in this book, Nebuchadnezzar makes an unreasonable demand. 'I don't just want you to interpret the dreams, I demand that you tell me what I saw.' He promises great rewards if they can do this, but death if they cannot. Notice, in verse 9, his paranoia; he thinks that they are delaying because they are plotting against him.
The reply of the wise men is telling. 'There is not a man on earth who can do what the king asks ... No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among men' (10-11).
All through this book the silence of the Babylonian gods is deafening. That's because Marduk, Bel and Nebo were figments of the Babylonian imagination. Even if they had existed they would not have helped because the Babylonians believed that the gods don't live among men.
It is interesting that no major religion pictures a god like our God. Buddhism technically doesn't have a god. Hinduism has many impersonal gods. Allah would never be known as Abba, Father. Yet the Bible claims to reveal the one true God; a God who is different than all other perceptions of the divine; a God who is both transcendent and intimate. 'I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit' (Isaiah 57:15).
Daniel and his friends are sentenced to death along with all the wise men. When the commander of the king's guard approached Him Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact (14). Do we ask God to make us tactful when it comes to speaking as his people? Daniel responds to the crisis by calling his friends to prayer and urging them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven. God answers their prayers by revealing, that night, the mystery of Nebuchadnezzar's dream.
This story is such a great picture of the gospel. There is a tyrant, king Nebuchadnezzar, who has the power of death over the people. A death sentence has been passed and many people await in fearful expectation. But God's man, Daniel, intervenes. Because of his actions the lives of a multitude are spared. Sound familiar? Listen to Hebrews 2:14-15. 'he (Jesus) too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.'
The recurring theme of wisdom also points us to the gospel. Here God rescues people through the application of his wisdom. In 1 Corinthians the apostle Paul talks of the cross as being the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). People may think it foolish to talk of a dying saviour but the cross is brilliant. A mediator who is both God and man taking our guilt so that the holy and merciful God can be both just and the one who justifies the wicked.
The theme of mystery points to the gospel. God reveals the mystery of Nebuchadnezzar's dream to Daniel and so the people are saved from impending judgement. Daniel will soon sing about the God who reveals deep and hidden things. The apostle Paul tells the Colossians that God's plan of salvation was a mystery that is now revealed (Colossians 1:26-27).
Is our God the God of Daniel? Is he the God who is both transcendent yet personal? Do we know that he lives in us? Do we recognise that he alone is God? Do we realise that he is the only one who can save us from sin, the devil and the eternal death of hell? Does his rescue plan thrill our hearts so much that, like Daniel, we are prompted to praise?
Before we study Nebuchadnezzar's dream let us listen to Daniel's praise!
“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
He changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.
He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him.
I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
you have made known to us the dream of the king" (20-23).
2. God is building the only kingdom that will last for ever (24-49)
God is worth getting excited about because he alone can save us from sin and death. God is also worth getting excited about because we live in his eternal kingdom.
'God deposes kings and sets others up'. This truth is demonstrated as Daniel reveals Nebuchadnezzar's dream and interprets it. The dream centres on a dazzling edifice and a rock. The statue is made of mixed materials. It is glorious yet unstable. The rock eventually smashes it. What's it all about?
Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar that he is the head of gold. But his empire would not last for ever. History tells us that he was followed by his son and grandson but then the Medo-Persians took over as the superpower (they have traditionally been identified as the chest and arms of silver). The Medo-Persians don't last for ever, they are replaced by the Greeks (the middle and thigh of bronze). Then along came the Roman Empire with its mixture of cultures (strong as iron but unstable with feet of iron and clay).
Of course there have been empires that have come and gone since. At one stage the British Empire was so vast that the sun never set on it. Hitler declared that his third Reich would last a thousand years, but its brutality was short lived. The Soviet Union has broken up. Some say that America is the only superpower, but its days too are numbered. Maybe China will be the next superpower. It will fall like every other empire. God 'deposes kings and raises up others' (21).
But what about the rock? What about the kingdom, established by God, that will never be destroyed? A rock seems unimpressive compared with a dazzling statue. The kingdom of Jesus begins in the time of the Roman Empire. It had an inauspicious and unpromising start - a poor Jewish carpenter dying on a cross in a provincial backwater. But this kingdom has has outlived the Roman Empire. His kingdom has grown and continues to expand. His kingdom is not one of tyranny or rampant materialism but of love and kindness. His kingdom has been established but will one day be seen in all its glory. Our king is going to return and bring an end to every other kingdom. For his people this is worth getting excited about.
At the beginning of this chapter Nebuchadnezzar had been unrestrained in his threats, now his is effusive in his thanks. He acknowledges God yet he has not come to see God as the only God. He has not yet come into a real relationship with him. Daniel is further promoted and he ensures that his friends are also given positions of influence. But the lesson here is not simply that if we are faithful we will rise up the career ladder. The lesson is that God places his faithful children where he plans to use them. God has prepared works in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). He has placed you in a church, a home, a school, a neighbourhood, amongst a family, and in a workplace for a purpose. Remember that this book is more about God's faithfulness to his people than their faithfulness to him. God will enable us to remain faithful where he has placed us.
So are you a religious fanatic? Are you a passionate fan of God? Does he stir your heart and make you excited? I believe that this chapter gives us reasons to praise God.
Our God saves people from the fear of death. He sends a Daniel to rescue the 'wise men' and he sends his Son to rescue the world. Our God holds the future in his hands. He deposes and sets up superpowers. One day they will all be gone and his kingdom will be seen in all its glory. Other perceptions of God are distant and remote. The living God knows the heavens and wants us to know him as Father. God alone can read our thoughts. Indeed the psalmist tells us that he knows our thoughts before we think them. He is a God of mercy, who listens to his people's prayers. He rescues with wisdom, and his wisdom is demonstrated on the cross. He is the God who reveals mysteries, and he has revealed to us the good news concerning Jesus.
Let faith in Thee and in Thy might
My every motive move,
Be Thou alone my soul's delight,
My passion and my love.