December 10, 2017
Advent Conspiracy: Four Spiritual Practices
Pastor Dennis Elhard
You may recall the term “Advent Conspiracy.” A few years ago I even remember showing a video that was produced by this movement. It’s a captivating title, anything that has to do with conspiracy tends to grab our attention. Actually an unsolicited email arrived in my in-box last week that reminded me of this movement and inspired the content of this sermon today. So just what is an Advent Conspiracy?
A number of years ago, I think it actually began in 2006; three pastors became disillusioned after they came again to the end of the season of Advent exhausted and sensing that they had missed it once again: “the awe-inducing, soul-satisfying mystery of the incarnation.” Little wonder that there was a sense of dread every time the Advent/Christmas season came around. (Quote) “A creeping kind of idolatry was consuming them and their communities. It seemed as if all were drowning in a sea of financial debt and endless lists of gifts to buy. An overwhelming stress had overtaken any sense of worship. People now believed the marketing lie that spending money is the best way to express love. This, combined with the American mindset that ‘more must be better’ was now consuming pastors and congregations alike.” Somehow this had become the new normal.
So the three pastors got together and decided to try something different in their families and in their churches. They called it the “Advent Conspiracy” and they came up with four tenets to guide their priorities: Worship fully; Spend less; Give more; Love all. It started small – just the three churches and a few others, but it has become a large movement including many churches worldwide. The four tenets are also spiritual practices that can help us to enrich this season, and they form the outline of my sermon this morning.
First: “Worship Fully” – Because Christmas begins and ends with Jesus. The biblical story and celebration of the incarnation is first and foremost about worship. However we have tended to follow our culture and make gift giving or even family time the primary focus of the season. The Greek word for “worship” used in the account of the Wise Men is proskyneo which means to pay homage, to kneel down before – and to kiss the hand (dog licking the hand). Since the whole story is about God coming to be “with us” through his Son, worship should be our primary response – and this is certainly evident in the scriptures.
The worship begins with Mary – in her song recorded in Luke 1: 46-49. “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.” These are beautiful expressions of worship! Worship is also the response of the shepherds (read Lk. 2: 16-20 – “glorifying and praising God for the things they had heard and seen”). And finally, worship was the purpose of the Magi – “We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him – Matthew 2:2. And in verse 11 we read: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” So we see from these scriptures the very important and necessary aspect of worship in both the seasons of Advent and Christmas. Worship is the call of the season, so make worship your priority – Mary, the shepherds, the Wise Men all worshiped at the coming of Jesus – because it’s all about Him!
To worship fully in this Advent season involves the aspect of spiritual preparation. How can we do that? Make the effort to read your Bible daily - last week I had suggested reading through the book of Isaiah. (First 3 chapters of Matthew and Luke) Incorporate some element of study with your Bible reading. There are also specific Advent texts and devotionals available. Take time for prayer, maybe even fast – attend worship services. But whatever you may do, include aspects of worship – giving to God the glory he is due.
Something that I have observed and have found curious is that Christians will at times choose family time over worship. If we recognize the importance of worship surrounding the events of the birth of Christ and if we claim that Jesus is the reason for the season, how can we choose to miss the worship of the church? Family times and gift opening times can be adjusted around the worship services. “Come and worship, Come and worship, worship Christ the newborn King.”
Second: “Spend Less” – Feel less stress, and free up resources for things that matter to Jesus. The run-up to Christmas can be real hard on our pocketbooks. Many take on serious debt during this time of year. Here’s some hard numbers from the National Retail Federation (US). Americans spent $658 billion in retail stores in 2016, and the number continues to grow every year. Maybe we could justify all that spending if it truly made us happy, however, according to research conducted by a major credit reporting agency, among people surveyed:
* 56% said they spend too much during the holiday season.
* 55% feel stressed about their finances during the holidays.
* 43% said the extra expense make the holidays hard to enjoy.
* 31% have gone into debt from unexpected holiday purchases.
Would Jesus really want us to be spending this kind of money on his birthday – especially when there are so many in desperate need in our world? This onslaught of buying more and more comes ironically on the very day when we celebrate the impoverished birth of our God. (AC website) “The story has been hijacked. ‘Oh you have religious celebration? Where? We want to come and worship too’ and corporations use the holiday to make as much money as one possibly can (remember Herod?).”
This year we invite you ignore the signs and symbols of the commercial empire.
We invite you to not give into the advertisers and corporation that really don’t want to worship but will use the language of Christmas to lure us into spending more. We invite you to spend less on thoughtless gifts, to give more meaningful gifts, gifts of our time and presence. We believe that as we do this, as we celebrate Christmas we can be a part of God still changing the world.
May you recognize that having it all is not having it all. (end quote)
Wouldn’t you love to be free of some of the stress of finding “just the right gift?” Here’s a couple of ways. First, pare down the extent of your gift giving – this saves money, time and stress. Instead of the obligation to buy for every member of your family, draw names and be content with less. And for uncles and aunts and cousins, maybe we need to return to the days of being happy with a greeting card – and especially if it’s handmade.
Second, simplify. Giving gifts that are simpler and less expensive can be just as rewarding – and especially if you can give something that is handmade. And receiving a gift that is handmade can be much more meaningful that something made in a factory. Remember the cost and the size of a gift does not determine its ultimate worth. All too often, in our commercialized Christmas – as the Grinch says: ‘gifts become garbage.” We have way more than we need. And too many possessions become a burden and a danger to our spiritual life. Jesus reminds us that “a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” So take some stress out of your life and spend less this season.
Third: “Give More” – Give relationally to offer one another presence, rather than merely presents. I like the spin they put on this practice of “giving more” – here it’s not about money or gifts, but in giving of ourselves more intentionally in relationships. After all, the story we will celebrate at Christmas is about the coming of “Emmanuel” who is “God with us.” In the incarnation God came to us in the flesh so he could dwell with his people relationally. Instead of giving trinkets and useless gifts, would it not be better to give ourselves to God and each other?
(AC website) A pastor writes: “This week I woke up early and sat next to the fire and had my coffee. My 3 yr old son woke a bit after and he asked for some hot chocolate and then he came and sat in the chair next to me. We both just sat and drank our drinks and watched the fire. No shows, No netﬂix, just sat - maybe one of the most enjoyable moments of my year.
When you’re content to just be with another person, entering into their world, being with them, it touches something deep in our heart. It satisfies a deep longing. And so when it comes to the actual story of Christmas one of the best ways to celebrate is to simply give the gift of your presence. Be with someone.”
Specifically, during this season of Advent, it would be a great way to remember “God with us” by trying to be more intentionally present. Technology is making it easier and easier to be present but not be with. We’re halfway present, being present with our body but not with our whole relational selves. It’s not unusual to be in a crowd full of people and for everyone to be distracted, in their own world, on their phone. This technology is pulling us out of the moment, out of relationship and even away from our own thoughts, instead of being quiet with ourselves and thinking and working something out in thought and prayer, we just distract ourselves with a phone. So not to get all anti phone, but one of the ways it would be a great way to celebrate “God with us” is by trying to be more with ourselves and others by doing a phone fast.
So join the Advent Conspiracy and instead of giving expensive presents this year, give more of your presence in affirming relationships. It is undoubtedly the best gift we can give – ourselves to God and to one another. (adventconspiracy.org - 20 ideas for relational giving)
Fourth: “Love All” – Love the forgotten, the poor, the marginalized, and the sick in the ways Jesus asked us to. The final tenet is to spread the love of God around to those less fortunate – in tangible ways. Remember in the second tenet we were challenged to spend less so we could free up resources for the things that matter to Jesus. He told his followers in Luke 2: 32-33, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”
Remember that the story that we will retell and celebrate at Christmas is not a story about wealth and privilege. Mary recognized her humble estate in her song. Joseph and Mary were poor, common folk; Bethlehem a non-descript place; the birth took place in an animal manger; the shepherds were the lowest on the socio-economic pole. Only the magi represent wealth.
This Advent the invitation is to scratch beneath the surface and to see the glory in humility. God loves to work in the margins with those who have been overlooked. It is why we should choose to spend less on the flashiness of Christmas and decide to love those who have been neglected – to go to the places, for instance, that are in desperate need of clean water. Remember, over 650 billion spent in the US last Christmas! And it’s estimated that it would only take around 30 billion to provide clean water to every person on the planet – boy, do we have our priorities upside down!
“The story beckons us to not get drawn into hype. The story beckons us to remember that God works with “out of the way people” in “out of the way places”. Scratch beneath the story of consumerism and you’ll find a story worth celebrating, and a king worth following. I invite you to celebrate differently this year - worship more fully, spend less on gifts you don’t need, give more relational gifts, and love all by using the money you save for the organizations and ministries that support the poor and the disenfranchised. Be a part of this Advent Conspiracy.
December 17, 2017
Jolly Old Saint Nicholas
Pastor Dennis Elhard
Jolly old Saint Nicholas, Lean your ear this way! Don't you tell a single soul What I'm going to say: Christmas Eve is coming soon; Now, you dear old man Whisper what you'll bring to me; Tell me if you can.
This beloved song was written in the mid-eighteen hundreds at first as a poem. But who exactly is this “Saint Nicholas?” If you follow through the lyrics of the song, he is equated with who we have come to know as Santa Claus. And in fact, today and for many years the names have been used interchangeably to refer to the same person doing what we associate with Santa Claus. But is this fair to Saint Nicholas? One is a myth, while the other is a real person in history. While some aspects of the character of Santa Claus have clearly evolved from the stories that surround Saint Nicholas, there is also a world of difference between the two. So then who is this Saint Nicholas of history? That’s a question that I would like to look into today.
However, typically Protestants and particularly evangelicals don’t give much attention to saints. Throughout history there has been much to question the lifting up of those who have been given sainthood. The veneration of their bones and tombs, the miraculous claims and outright superstition that often accompanies their cult followings – all have little scriptural support. On the other hand, if the acknowledgement of a saint is primarily to offer up good role models and examples of Christ-likeness, and of lives given wholly in service to God, then they can offer something of value to us. Such is Saint Nicholas, and such is how we will consider him.
Nicholas was born in the third century in a village along the south coast of what is now Turkey. His parents were relatively well off and were also devout Christians. Nicholas showed great interest in spiritual things even as a boy. Unfortunately, both of his parents died during an epidemic while he was still relatively young - sometime probably in his teens. He was then raised by an uncle who was a priest and who continued his spiritual education. With the death of his parents, Nicholas was left with a substantial inheritance, which he gave away in its entirety to the needy, the sick and the suffering. He was in the same position as the rich, young man who came to Jesus wondering how he could attain eternal life. Jesus said, “go and sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” Nicholas, unlike the rich man, obeyed Jesus’ words and gave it all away. He eventually became the Bishop of Myra, and was actually imprisoned and persecuted for his faith under the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian, but was fortunate to have been released after the rise of Constantine.
Nicholas had a legendary reputation for secret gift-giving - particularly for putting coins in shoes. He became known for his generosity to those in need, his great love for children, and, interestingly, his concern for sailors. (Pastor quote) “Nicholas had deep love for those who could not fend for themselves. He was brave in standing up for justice, almost reckless in his generosity to the needy and deep in his love for the young and helpless. (The stories of his life are) worth hearing because they are qualities worth having.” And his motivation came out of his love for Christ.
There are many stories and miracles that are attributed to Saint Nicholas. However, what is incredible is that not one of them can be verified historically. Some involve miraculous deeds and some of the stories even border on the bizarre. Likely, most have an element of truth to them and then over time have become embellished, some to the almost unbelievable. But I do want to share with you two of the most well-known stories that are attributed to Nicholas.
First: There was a man, once rich, who had fallen on hard times. Now poor, he had three daughters of an age to be married. In those days a young woman's family had to have something of value, a dowry, to offer prospective bridegrooms. The larger the dowry, the better the chance a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were destined to be sold into slavery, or worse – probably prostitution.
Word of the family's misfortune reached Nicholas, who still had some of the wealth inherited from his parents. Coming in secret by night, he tossed a bag of gold into the house. It sailed in through an open window, landing in a stocking left before the fire to dry. What joy in the morning when the gold was discovered! The first daughter soon wed. Not long after, another bag of gold again appeared mysteriously. The second daughter was married. The father, now very anxious to know who the secret benefactor was, kept watch during the night.
A third bag of gold landed inside the house and the watchful father leaped up and caught the fleeing donor. "Ah, Nicholas, it is you!" cried the father, "You have saved my daughters from certain disaster." Nicholas, embarrassed, and not wishing to be known, begged the man to keep his identity secret. "You must thank God alone for providing these gifts in answer to your prayers for deliverance."
Second: Miracle of the grain. During a famine in Myra, Bishop Nicholas worked desperately hard to find grain to feed the people. He learned ships bound for Alexandria with cargo's of wheat had anchored in the harbor for Myra. The good Bishop asked the captain to sell some of the grain from each ship to relieve the people's suffering. The captain said he could not because the cargo was "meted and measured." He must deliver every bit and would have to answer for any shortage. Nicholas assured the captain there would be no problems when the grain was delivered. Finally, reluctantly, the captain agreed to take one hundred bushels of grain from each ship. The grain was unloaded and the ships continued on their way.
When they arrived and the grain was unloaded, it weighed exactly the same as when it was put on board. As the story was told, all the emperor's ministers worshiped and praised God with thanksgiving for God's faithful servant Nicholas. Back in Myra, Saint Nicholas distributed grain to everyone in Lycia and no one was hungry. The grain lasted for two years, until the famine ended. There was even enough grain to provide seed for a good harvest.
Nicholas was also apparently instrumental in securing the release of three soldiers who had been unjustly condemned for execution. He showed great bravery in confronting the authorities of the day. Again there are many stories and claimed miracles surrounding Nicholas, but not one are actually verifiable. However, he was a real person in history, and undoubtedly there is truth in his lasting reputation for being a very generous and giving man to children and to those in need.
So can we reconcile Santa Claus with St. Nicholas? I would say for the most part “no.” While the mythical Santa does exhibit some of the traits of Nicholas – giving gifts in secret, the stocking tradition – Saint Nicholas is a real person whose life is worth emulating. I found this little piece that offers an interesting comparison of Santa and Nicholas:
- Santa Claus belongs to childhood; St. Nicholas models for all of life.
- Santa Claus, as we know him, was developed to boost Christmas sales—the commercial Christmas message; - St. Nicholas told the story of Christ and peace, goodwill toward all—the hope-filled Christmas message.
- Santa Claus encourages consumption; St. Nicholas encourages compassion.
- Santa Claus flies through the air—from the North Pole;
St. Nicholas walked the earth—caring for those in need.
- Santa Claus, for some, replaces the Babe of Bethlehem; St. Nicholas, for all, points to the Babe of Bethlehem.
- Santa Claus isn't bad; St. Nicholas is just far better.
There is some interest in re-claiming the role of St. Nicholas in a culture fascinated with Santa Claus. For indeed, St. Nicholas, lover of the poor and the patron saint of children, is a model of how Christians are meant to live and love. Families and churches are embracing true St. Nicholas traditions as one way to claim the true center of Christmas – the birth of Jesus. Maybe instead of putting all that effort into trying to ignore Santa Claus (and really how can you), or worse demonize him, why not make use of him for a teaching moment? Tell your kids honestly that Santa Claus is a pretend and a very poor representative of a much-revered man who actually lived and loved Jesus and who spent himself and his substantial inheritance on the poor and the sick and those in prison. He was a man of great generosity and compassion – like Jesus.
The Advent reading this morning was from Isaiah 61 (read again). This passage was a messianic prophecy that was fulfilled in Jesus – and we know that for sure because Jesus clearly made the claim that this text was about him. In Luke 4: 16-21, Jesus reads this very passage in the synagogue, and then rolls up the scroll and says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, I am the one this scripture is referring to. I have been anointed by the Spirit to preach good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom and release for prisoners – to comfort all who mourn and provide for all who grieve. These are the wonderful promises that would accompany of the coming of the Messiah. They also, at least to a certain extent, define the life of Nicholas. He is an example and a model for us and our children of the Christ Spirit at work in a life given wholly to Jesus.
Jolly Old Saint Nicholas is a figment of human imagination – but let’s use him to teach our children and to remind ourselves of the real Spirit of Christmas captured in the real life of a man named Nicholas. “So this Christmas, give gifts if you like. We will in our family. Receive them all with thanksgiving. But do not forget what we need most—salvation through substitution. This is one gift the real St. Nicholas would not have overlooked.”
December 24, 2017
Mr. Nezzar's Night Before Christmas
Pastor Bryan Watson
Good morning. Let’s open with a word of prayer.
O Most High God, I thank You and praise You for the privilege of being here in Your house this morning. Lord, I pray that as I deliver this message, that the words of my mouth will remain true to Your Holy Word, and that only uncompromising truth will be heard from my lips on this day. In the name of Your Son, Jesus, whose birth we celebrate tonight, I pray, Amen.
OK, so last time when I speaking on Daniel, we covered Daniel, chapter 1. That was about The Food Test.
We learned that Nebuchadnezzar chose the best and the brightest of the Jewish nobles to be trained in service for his own kingdom. Upon their arrival in Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar attempted to give them everything they needed to succeed, because that was in his own best interest. It wasn’t for their benefit.
We learned about the Babylonian’s attempt to assimilate the Jews by changing their names, and by changing their diet.
We learned that God providentially gave Daniel favor with the chief of the eunuchs, so that Daniel could challenge the king’s commanded menu, and God honored Daniel by giving him success in this test.
We learned that Daniel purposed in his heart ahead of time that he would remain obedient to God, and that allowed him to be prepared when situations like this came up.
Finally, we learned that God used Nebuchadnezzar to establish Daniel and his friends in positions of leadership that would allow for the care of the Jewish captives, and prepare them for their ultimate return to Israel one day.
I want to move on now to Daniel, Chapter 2. How many of you read Daniel Chapter 2 this week?
If you would open your Bibles with me please to Daniel 2: 20-23.
20 Daniel answered and said:
“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
For wisdom and might are His.
21 And He changes the times and the seasons;
He removes kings and raises up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise
And knowledge to those who have understanding.
22 He reveals deep and secret things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
And light dwells with Him.
23 “I thank You and praise You,
O God of my fathers;
You have given me wisdom and might,
And have now made known to me what we asked of You,
For You have made known to us the king’s demand.”
I’ve titled this message, “Mr. Nezzar’s Nightmare Before Christmas”. I hope you will extend grace to me for the title and opening graphic of this message. Given the subject matter of the sermon, Nebuchadnezzar’s first dream, and the timing, Christmas Eve, I just couldn’t help myself with the pop culture reference, between Veggie Tales’ Mr. Nezzar and Tim Burton’s cartoon. I sat down with Power-point for a few minutes, and this was the result.
Also, my original intent was to deliver the entire message for chapter 2 in 1 sermon. But out of respect for your time on Christmas Eve, and considering the amount of information that I want to share, I have decided to break it up into 2 messages. So today, we will discuss the sequence of events surrounding the dream, and next time, we will discuss the interpretation of the dream.
For the sake of time, we’re not going to read through the chapter verse by verse here, so let me give you a brief synopsis and then we will dig into some teaching.
In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had a nightmare. It bothered him so much, that he called all his various types of wise men together in order to get the interpretation. But in order to make sure that they weren’t just feeding him a line of baloney, Nebuchadnezzar required them to tell him what the dream was, to prove that they also had the ability to interpret it.
Because they couldn’t do what he asked, Nebuchadnezzar ordered all of the wise men to be killed and their houses destroyed. When the news got to Daniel, he appealed for a bit of time, and miraculously, it was granted. Daniel and his friends had an urgent prayer meeting, and God provided both the dream and the interpretation to Daniel.
Daniel provided the interpretation, which is actually a prophetic message, to Nebuchadnezzar, who then acknowledged the power of Daniel’s God, and promoted Daniel and his friends to prominent positions in the Babylonian government.
OK, then let’s dig in.
The first thing we need to understand is Daniel’s status when all of this is going on. If you recall from last time, at the end of chapter 1, Daniel and his friends had completed their 3 year training and were found by the king to be 10 times better than anybody else who was presented to him. So, why weren’t Daniel and his friends some of the first ones consulted about Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2?
The answer in the first 8 words of chapter 2. “In the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign…” This is the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. We are actually going back in time by a year, and Daniel and his friends had not completed their training from the University of Babylon yet. The king had no reason to know who they were, and in fact, they would be considered nothing more than teen-aged students, as they were only about 16 years old at the time.
To fully understand the situation, I think it’s important that we stop seeing this text as just words on the page, and truly try to put ourselves in Daniel’s shoes for just a moment. Daniel and his friends are literally of no influence at the time that this powerful king had this dream. They were Jewish exiles who were marched to Babylon as captives. Sure, they are being treated OK now while in training. That is to the king’s benefit, and perhaps Nebuchadnezzar knew a little bit about Stockholm Syndrome, where you eventually identify with your captives.
But it probably wasn’t that way for Daniel and his friends on the trip to Babylon from Jerusalem. Ancient kingdoms were often brutal, especially in the process of conquering other nations. The march from Jerusalem to Babylon was probably a 4 month walk. And they weren’t riding on the back of an air-conditioned donkey with a plush leather saddle and satellite radio. They walked. Probably tied together like a chain gang. There was no great banquet. The Babylonians weren’t offering a buffet, or looking for a McDonald’s drive-through on the way. More likely, the captives WERE the buffet for the vultures and desert dogs if they got sick and lagged behind.
So how is Daniel feeling right about now? He’s 16 now. He’s probably lost his parents. He’s struggling to keep his identity and culture. He’s in exile.
And Daniel knows the Jewish laws, which are the first 5 books of the Old Testament. When the people are in exile, it is because they broke the covenant with God. Disobedience is a sign of a lack of faith. Exile was the ultimate punishment, and Daniel knew it.
How many nations return from exile in history? Besides Israel? You didn’t hear from the people who went into exile. They didn’t email or tweet. They were gone. The Israelites who went into exile in Assyria were never heard from again. Today, they are called the Lost Tribes of Israel.
But here’s a spoiler alert: the Jews who went into exile in Babylon returned. Do you know why? Because God’s promises of a coming Messiah meant that these Jews had to return from exile. God made a promise back in Genesis 3:15 that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head. God is the One who expanded on that promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 and said that all the world would be blessed through Abraham’s seed. God signed this, not humans! And that seed was destined to be from the Tribe of Judah, and it was Judah who went to Babylon. These Jews had to return to Israel in order to fulfill the promises of God about the Messiah, and tonight at our Christmas Eve service, we celebrate the birth of that Seed. GOD WAS IN CONTROL.
But back to Daniel’s desperate situation. This isn’t a democracy. You’ve heard it said that “if Momma’s not happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Well, this was a thousand times worse. If the king is not sleeping, no one sleeps. If the king is angry, everybody is afraid! The king could laugh with you one day and kill you the next. Why? Because he felt like it. The world is about what the king wants.
And right now, what the king wants is an answer. He has had a dream. He’s probably had many dreams before, but this one was powerful enough that scripture says it troubled his spirit so much that his sleep left him. Later on in the chapter, when Daniel is replaying the dream to the king, Daniel refers to the image in the dream as being “awesome.”
Now, when I was discussing this with an evangelical pastor from Israel, a Messianic Jew whose first language is Hebrew, he clarified for me that this isn’t “high-five” awesome! To paraphrase what he said, this was a most terrifying kind of “awesome.” Think, waking up screaming kind of awesome. No wonder Nebuchadnezzar demanded to know the interpretation of the dream and put his wise men through the paces. This wasn’t just any dream. This was probably the dream of his life!
So, consider that when Nebuchadnezzar calls his magicians, astrologers, sorcerers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers to tell him his dream. These were the most highly respected, and most feared, men in all of Babylon. They controlled the religious system and the culture. These were not a bunch of buffoons as we sometimes see in various movies. These men were highly trained and intelligent, and probably tied into the occult and demonic forces.
To test them, Nebuchadnezzar demands that they not only give him the interpretation of the dream, but also a description of the dream itself. Can you imagine what must have gone through their minds? Their lives and family homes were on the line here! In a moment of ultimate truth, they reply to the king in verses 10 and 11, “There is not a man on earth who can tell the king’s matter; therefore no king, lord, or ruler has ever asked such things of any magician, astrologer, or Chaldean. It is a difficult thing that the king requests, and there is no other who can tell it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” Ironic, isn’t it, when a 16-year-old foreign student gives the king exactly what he is looking for.
And so the king orders their destruction. In his mind, they are no longer of any use, and cannot be trusted. And Nebuchadnezzar’s order extends to the students in training over at Babylon University.
Now, do you remember back to chapter 1 when we are told that God divinely gave Daniel good standing with those over him? That is front and center again, because Daniel is able to ask Arioch, the captain of the king’s guard, who is under orders to kill all the wise men, what the big deal is. And rather than just follow his orders and kill Daniel and his friends, Arioch and Daniel have a conversation about this, with Daniel being permitted to go to the king and ask for time.
Why was Daniel allowed the privilege of seeing the king? He was a 16-year-old student that the king didn’t know.
Why did the king agree to Daniel’s request for more time? Is there any other answer to these two questions than that God was in control all along?
So, Daniel’s next step was to gather his friends together and pray. Prayer should be our FIRST responsibility – not our last resort. Is prayer increasing or diminishing in the church today? I cannot say it enough. If we, as a congregation, gathered regularly and earnestly in fervent prayer, what do you think would happen to this community?
Ultimately, the secret of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was revealed to Daniel, and this moved Daniel to praise, which was our scripture passage for today.
He praised the character of God. V20 - Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His.
He praised the Control of God. V21a - And He changes the times and the seasons;
He removes kings and raises up kings;
He praised the Comprehension of God. V21b-22 - He gives wisdom to the wise
And knowledge to those who have understanding.
He reveals deep and secret things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
And light dwells with Him.
He praised the concern of God. V23 - I thank You and praise You,
O God of my fathers;
You have given me wisdom and might,
And have now made known to me what we asked of You,
For You have made known to us the king’s demand.
Daniel was even gracious enough to plea for mercy for the pagan wise men. And in his explanation to the king, he made it clear to Nebuchadnezzar that the revelation would come from God alone. Daniel did not steal God’s glory, but essentially confirmed what the other wise men said about the fact that only God could provide this knowledge. But where they referred to inanimate, imaginary gods, Daniel referred to The Most High God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The One True God.
And that is where we are going to have to stop today, because I want to take the time to dig into the interpretation of the dream, which is a detailed prophetic vision.
2 Peter 1:19 says
And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
Through prophecy, we can have a pretty good idea what is going to happen, so that we don’t have to live life surprised by or afraid of the news. That way, we can focus on God’s will. The lesson for us is that instead of being surprised by God’s wrath when it is too late, we should understand the prophecies, and that He is in control. The wheels of justice may seem to move slowly, but they move surely. This is our opportunity to accept Jesus Christ, the Seed that was promised, as our Lord and Saviour right now, before it is too late. Today is the day of Salvation! Amen. Let’s pray.