January 7, 2018
Dreams and Prophecies
Pastor Dennis Elhard
Have you ever had a dream or an impression that has suddenly come to you, and you obeyed it, and it ended up saving you from some very unpleasant or even dangerous circumstance? You could probably relate to some instance in your life where that occurred. Matthew’s account of the birth of Christ is centered more on Joseph (Luke: Mary), and we see from the narrative that Joseph had a number of dreams (4) in which the angel of the Lord appeared to him. Joseph, we are told, was a righteous man, and he obeyed every command he was given in these dreams – and it’s good he did!
This morning we are considering a text which reveals some of the events that took place after Jesus' birth, and these events are centered on these dreams and prophecies. They were included by Matthew (and only by him) for a very specific purpose - to reveal Jesus as the Messiah - through the divine interventions surrounding this child and as the fulfillment of the prophets. The book of Matthew was written to the Jews, with the purpose of persuading them that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. More than any other gospel writer, Matthew uses the Old Testament as proof for his case. We see that clearly in this passage. We also see God's providential care for this child and his plan that has been unfolding from ages past. Through the events of Jesus' early life, Matthew is showing us God's protection of him and the prophesies he fulfilled, so that we can be assured he is the Son of God. The text divides into three main events:
First: An angel; a dream – escape in the nick of time. (vs. 13-15) The Magi have just paid their worshipful visit and have left without returning to Herod. An angel comes again to Joseph in a dream with a very specific command, “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt.” Stay there until you hear from me again because Herod is out to kill the child. It's kind of an interesting situation we have here - think of it - God on the run - the God who created all things having to escape to spare his life! You'd think a legion of angels could make short work of Herod's soldiers! But God did not come to earth the first time in power and glory; he came in humility and as a servant – and he willingly accepted the vulnerability of humanity. But while he made himself vulnerable, he still controlled the events, and God would protect his Son – the Messiah.
Notice again Joseph's response. He didn't question the angel nor complain. He got up in the night and obeyed, taking his family to the safety of Egypt. The border lay approximately 80 miles from Bethlehem, and it would not have been an easy trip. But what if Joseph had not obeyed the angel's message? What if he had decided to wait until morning to leave? The angel had not given much time for error, it was in the nick of time – the message demanded complete and immediate obedience.
Matthew ends each of these events with the claim that they are a fulfillment of prophecy. Here he quotes from Hosea 11:1, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” If you look up that passage, it is clear that Hosea is actually referring to the nation of Israel – the Exodus. Jesus is the fulfillment of what Israel was supposed to be – events of his life correspond (echo) to Israel's history (40 days). To Matthew, Jesus coming out of Egypt signals a new exodus and a new covenant of God with his people.
Second: In a fit of rage, a brutal massacre. (vs. 16-18) Herod was a murderous king known for acts of massacre He loved power and lived in paranoia regarding any possible challenges to his throne. He killed his favorite wife and three sons, as well as any others he perceived a threat. It is said that even the Roman emperor Augustus said of him, “I'd rather be Herod's pig than his son.” When the Magi did not return to Herod as had been arranged, he knew that they had purposely avoided him because the easiest route for their return home would have been back through Jerusalem. He had planned his own reception for the child and was infuriated at being deceived, and in a fit of sickening rage ordered the massacre of all infant boys under the age of two. Since Bethlehem was a small town in those days, the death toll probably ranged anywhere from 20 to 30 – however it was still a tragic night for many parents and relatives that night in Bethlehem. We cannot imagine the horror of that event! This story does not fit at all the tranquil Christmas scene we all love, and it is rarely talked about. But there it is, along with the stable, the shepherds, the star, the wise men and the gifts – the bold and ugly reality of this evil world.
Again, Matthew sees this awful event as a type of prophecy fulfillment. He quotes from the prophet Jeremiah (Read). Rachel, of course, was Jacobs’s wife and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. She died young while giving birth and was buried in the vicinity of Bethlehem. She is mourning and weeping for her children (descendants) and cannot be comforted because they are no more. But in the context of Jeremiah, the mourning has to do with the exile of Jews to Babylon. Rachel is weeping for her descendants who have been driven off their land. Matthew sees here another type of fulfillment as Rachel (Israelite mothers) weeps for her massacred children. In both cases a foreign power has attempted to destroy the God's plan of salvation. Some consider these children the first Christian martyrs who gave of their lives so Christ could escape. One commentator (1800’s) suggests this: “They were martyrs in deed, though not in will. They died for Christ, unconsciously indeed, but yet for him, to ensure his safety that he might live to die for them, to save them, with all his people, through his most precious blood. We may be sure that their death was blessed; they died for Christ.”
Third: An angel; a dream – the message to return home (vs. 19-23). Herod is dead. Now there comes another dream, the second of three in this passage. Notice the repetition, “Get up, take the child and his mother,” and return to the land of Israel because the child will now be safe. Again, the obedience of Joseph is immediate. He returns to Israel, but when he hears that Herod's son is king of Judah, he is warned in another dream not to go there, so they return to Galilee and their hometown of Nazareth.
Now again, Matthew sees this event in Jesus' life as a fulfillment of prophecy. They settle in Nazareth because this is fulfillment of what was said through the prophets, “He will be called a Nazarene.” The problem with this is that nowhere in the Old Testament can you actually find that statement. So this is not an actual quote – in fact it is probably a kind of summary statement based on messages of a number of prophets. It seems there may be a double meaning here. The word “Nazareth” is related to the Hebrew word “neser” which means “branch” and is used in Isaiah 11:1 in reference to the Messiah who is rooted in the lineage of David. But being from Nazareth had another meaning. The town of Nazareth was a despised place by the Jews; it housed a hated Roman garrison and had a bad reputation. Even the disciple Nathanael when first told about Jesus asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” To be called a “Nazarene” was a nickname of ridicule and reproach. But this was also true of what the prophets had foretold about the Christ – that he would be despised and held in contempt. So referring to Jesus as a Nazarene revealed two things: Jesus was the Messianic branch from the stump of Jesse, but that he would also come as a lowly, despised servant.
Matthew wants his readers to see the hand of God behind these events and to recognize they were spoken about many years before. He wants us to be assured that the historical events and the fulfilled prophecies reveal the true nature of this child - he is no ordinary child. Seeing these links and connections throughout scripture continues to build my confidence in its inspiration. Many authors over hundreds of years wrote these words, and yet the interconnections, the repeated themes and echoes, the fulfilled prophecies all point to the inspiration of the divine Spirit in the Bible.
What are some of the other principles we can find in this passage? It clearly reveals to us God's providential care and plan. (Providence: God's ability in directing the course of events to fulfill his purposes – in the world and in our lives) God's plan to send a Savior was from ages past – and that is revealed to us through the prophets. Today's text also is a good example to us of God's providential care for his Son. He can orchestrate the events to serve his purposes. God's providential care for us means he is interested in each of our personal lives and is sovereign over all the events that we experience – whether they are good or bad. His will to accomplish his purposes can never be thwarted. Even when our circumstances seem to suggest otherwise, we must come to believe that God's purposes are always for our ultimate good.
Another principle this passage reveals is that even in beauty, joy, and peace of the Christmas story, evil raises its ugly head. Have you ever wondered how God could have possibly allowed the massacre of infants – so near to the greatest event in history? I wish I had an answer – because I wonder that. All I know is that God is good, even when I don't understand things. Somehow it served a purpose. One of the things we can learn from this event is that evil is still very much alive in this world. And Jesus did not destroy evil at his first coming – while he won the final victory at the cross, he did not destroy sin. That is pretty evident in our world today. We have our own massacre of the innocents in abortion. And while we sing of peace - the world is of full of strife (Quote carol: I Heard the Bells). It reminds us that we need to continually be aware of the sin that resides in our own lives, and that we must be diligent to deal with it.
A final principle we can gain from this passage is the example of obedience that Joseph provides for us all, but especially to men as husbands and fathers. Joseph shows tremendous love to his wife and child during the whirlwind of events surrounding Christ's birth, and this is even more incredible when we remember that this child was not his biological child. But even more importantly he also reveals a heart of love for God by his willing obedience to the commands of the angel – he was an obedient father of an adoptive son. But he understood that all children really belonged to God – and that is a lesson we all need to remember of our children as well, especially during the difficult times. Ultimately they belong to God – we all are in some sense adoptive parents.
Through the events of Jesus' early life, Matthew is showing us God's protection of him and the prophesies he fulfilled, so that we can be assured he is the Son of God. Dreams and prophecies reveal the true identity of the child – they bring us assurances of that can build our faith. They also show God's hand of care for his Son, and they speak of his hand of care for you and me. While evil continues to exist and raise its ugly head, it will never overcome the good. And God is calling each of us to the obedience of Joseph, who after this time in the limelight of scripture, disappears entirely from the screen.
January 14, 2018
The Covenant of Baptism
Pastor Dennis Elhard
How well do you remember your baptism? For some of you it has been a long time ago, but for some of you here this morning, it’s been pretty recent. For those of you were baptized as infants, as was I, you don’t remember anything about it – unless your parents shared something with you. However, I do remember well the opportunity that I had to be immersed in the Jordan River while we were in Israel!
Did you experience anything and how did the experience affect you? Did it bring about any changes to your life – in what ways? Did you understand the meaning of the event? Or was it just a ritual that you felt you were expected to submit to? I’m sure I could get different responses to these questions from every baptized person in the room. There is no one-size-fits-all to our baptismal experience. But baptism is important and it is necessary for the Christian.
So why would I be talking about this subject this morning? In the church year, the church has historically celebrated the baptism of Jesus the first Sunday after Epiphany – which marks the end of the Christmas Season. But baptism is also a theme related to the New Year. The beginning of a New Year is an appropriate link to the baptism of Jesus because it marked the beginning of his ministry. So as we contemplate the baptism of Jesus today, I would like to remind you about the meaning of baptism in His’ life and in our own. And I would like to give some consideration to three principles about baptism that we can see from these verses:
1. Baptism is linked with repentance (vs.4-5). In order to be a candidate for John's baptism the people had to confess (acknowledge, agree) and repent (turn from) of their sins. The baptism was then the outward sign of a repentant heart. Although John's baptism was different from Christian baptism, I believe scripture clearly teaches that the link remains with repentance. Peter said on the Day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” In the covenant of baptism, there must be the evidence of true repentance, and as one commentator states: Repentance involved “much more than sorrow or remorse. It included the reorientation of one’s total life.” In John the Baptist’s preaching, the reward for repentance was the promise of forgiveness of sins.
Was repentance an attitude that you remember you brought to your baptism? I wonder that maybe too often the church offers baptism without repentance. Most churches do require a profession of faith and it is fair to say that a genuine faith does assume or imply confession and repentance.
2. Baptism involves the work of the Spirit. Christian baptism is different that John's baptism in that it involves the work of the Holy Spirit. John said, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” At Jesus' baptism the Spirit descended from heaven as a dove, anointing and empowering him for his earthly ministry. Jesus affirmed this event in the synagogue in Nazareth when he proclaimed, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” I personally believe that Christian baptism is more than a symbol; I believe it involves an actual work of grace by the Holy Spirit. Much of that work is mystery; I don't fully understand how, but let's say that in general it involves cleansing and empowerment to live for Christ. The symbolism of water is that of a cleansing agent. There was a large basin of water that stood before the entrance of the OT temple, where the priests were required to ritually wash themselves (purification) before they could enter the temple and perform their duties before the Lord. Even in John's baptism of repentance there was the offer of forgiveness and cleansing of sins – sins that were washed away in the Jordon River.
Sam Houston was the first president of the republic of Texas. It is said he was a rather nasty fellow with a very checkered past. Later in life Houston made a commitment to Christ and was baptized in a river. The preacher said to him, “Sam, your sins are washed away.” Houston replied, “God help the fish!”
The work of the Spirit also seals and empowers us to walk the Christian life. He enables us to die to self and to rise into the new life of Christ. How has your baptism been instrumental in helping your faith to grow? Did you recognize the work of the Spirit in your life?
3. Baptism is God's mark of son-ship. When the voice came from heaven after Jesus was baptized, it declared that Jesus was God's divine Son. The voice stated: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Baptism was his mark that identified his Son-ship with the Father. I believe that baptism does that for us as well. Jesus is his only divine Son, the Father's only true Son, but we have the opportunity to become his adopted sons and daughters – and even joint heirs with Christ. Isn't that amazing news? (gospel?) Through our baptism we are identified and marked as God's adopted children; his marvelous grace is extended to us. That is God's part of the covenant – he claims us - as he did Israel. But in covenants, both parties have the responsibility to keep up their part to make the covenant effective. To keep our part we must repent, commit our lives to him, and walk with obedience in our new life. Baptism, in and of itself, is not your ticket to heaven. It is the sign/mark of the new covenant.
In his baptism, Jesus also identified himself with sinful humanity. He did not need to be baptized for repentance nor did he need forgiveness of sin. But he came to us as the Son of Man and in that sense humbled himself to John’s baptism in order to identify with those for which he would give His life. As an aside, this narrative is also a wonderful expression of the Trinity – God in three persons: the voice of the Father, the Son in the water, and the descent of the Holy Spirit manifested in the dove – and all three appearing at the same time.
So here we have three principles associated with Jesus’ baptism and with baptism as it is practiced today: baptism is linked with repentance; baptism involves the work of the Holy Spirit; and baptism is God’s mark of son-ship. How do those principles line up with your experience of baptism? I hope that it was a very memorable event in your life.
So this morning, I’m going to do something new and something different. Actually it’s something that I have wanted to do for quite a while – especially since we returned from Israel. Today I want to give you an opportunity to re-affirm your baptism – and to state your desire anew to remain faithful to the covenant of that baptism. It’s a New Year, and a great time to reaffirm and re-commit to the vows of your baptism, and for living in 2018 fully surrendered to Jesus Christ.
But there are a couple of things I want you to understand beforehand. First, this is entirely optional. This is not commanded in scripture, and so you do not feel you need to participate. While I would encourage you to participate for your own edification – it needs to be voluntary. Secondly, this is not a baptism “booster” – something necessary to recharge your baptism, or to ensure that your baptism remains effective. Baptism stands alone, and is complete in and of itself. However, think of it in the same sense as a re-affirmation of marriage vows. Many people do this – voluntarily, and publicly to re-commit themselves to the vows they originally made. It does not mean that the marriage covenant has become ineffective and needs a re-start; it means that they want to publicly re-affirm what they vowed at the beginning. In that they are strengthened and encouraged to continue in faithfulness into the future.
In the same way, the re-affirmation of baptism is a public expression that you desire to remain identified with Jesus Christ, and that you are united with him in his death and his resurrection. It is a confirmation that you will continue to live out your responsibilities to the covenant – of living a life of repentance, faithfulness, and obedience through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. This can be a very meaningful experience for you – as your re-affirm your baptismal covenant.
So I would like to lead you in a short service that will re-affirm your baptism. And after that I’m going to offer you what could be an opportunity of a lifetime! In order to provide something that is tangible to this service, I have some water we brought back from the Jordan River. It has been sitting in our cold room for a number of years already, and it is still as clear as the day it was bottled. I will pour the water into this bowl and I want to invite you to come and experience this water – put your fingers in it, put some water on your forehead or your arms – however you would like to re-affirm and remember your baptism! So come, and re-affirm your baptism with actual water from the Jordan River, the river in which our Saviour was baptized.
Re-affirmation of Baptism service.
January 21, 2018
Malachi & 2Corinthians
Things To Remember When The Plate Is Passed
Pastor Dennis Elhard
A little boy wanted to help himself when the wine and wafers of Communion were passed out. His mother leaned over and told him that he was not old enough to take Communion. Later, when the collection plate came by, his mother again leaned over and tried to coax a nickel out of the boy’s clenched fist. He held on and shouted, “If I can’t eat, I won’t pay!” While that story is hilarious, it begs the question: How often do we have clenched fists when God is asking us to be generous? How often do hold back our giving to the Lord because he has withheld something from us we were convinced we needed/wanted? How often do we give to the Lord generously and cheerfully?
In my time here as your pastor, I have actually preached very few sermons on giving. The reason for that is because for the most part we have been blessed with ample funds – so I didn’t think it all that necessary. However, I been realizing that preaching about giving shouldn’t only be motivated by the church’s bank balance; it is a principle to be lived as a key component of the Christian life. So my purpose here this morning is not to build up the church’s coffers, but to remind you of the discipline of giving that is foundational throughout the scriptures. And it truly needs to become a discipline in our lives, and not the Helter-Skelter approach that so many use - or even worse, the idea that, “If I have any money left over at the end of the month, I will give that to God.” Giving to the Lord should be a consistent part of your Christian walk whether the church has plenty or little. So this morning I want to give you some principles from scripture as “Things to remember when the plate is passed.”
First: Honor the One who owns it all (Mal. 1: 6 - Read). Verse 6 begins by stating a truism – a common proverb – a son honors his father and a servant his master. God through the prophet Malachi is wondering, if I am your Father and your master where is the honor, where is the respect (fear) that is due me? Israel, including the priests, were showing blatant disrespect for their God. How could the priests even become guilty of this contempt? God, the Mighty One of Israel, creator of everything, was the one who owned it all. In Psalm 24:1 it states, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” Elsewhere, it says that, “He (God) owns the cattle on a thousand hills.” He owns it all; it all belongs to him.
One of the first principles of giving that we need to learn is that God owns it all. Every possession we have ultimately belongs to him. And we show our honour of him when we give back to him a portion of what he has so generously given to us. Honouring involves treating someone with respect, lifting them up, and showing that they have worth. One of the ways we do that for God is by giving of our resources, and by remembering that he owns it all anyway.
Second: Always give your best (Mal. 1: 7-8 - Read). These verses answer the “how” question of Israel’s disrespect – and they brazenly ask, “How have we shown contempt?” They were defiling the altar of God by offering animals that were imperfect – the blind, diseased and crippled. These priests were offering sacrifices that were strictly forbidden by law. One commentator provided 10 OT references that specifically prohibited the offering of animals with any defects. Deuteronomy 15:21 is one: “If an animal has a defect, is lame or blind, or has any serious flaw, you must not sacrifice it to the Lord your God.” Because the sacrifices pointed forward to the perfect Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, they were to have no imperfections. (best)
So what was wrong with these offerings? First, they clearly violated the law of God. The scriptures were clear, and so this was a blatant disregard of God’s regulations. Second, these offerings showed a lack of respect for the greatness of God. There was no longer fear of the God of the universe. Malachi suggests, try offering these animals to your governor (political leader), and see how he responds. You wouldn’t dare do that to him, and yet you dishonor me, the Almighty God. As no governor accepts second-rate gifts, how much more will not God. Third, these offerings cost the one who offered them virtually nothing. These animals had little to no market value – a gift or an offering that doesn’t cost us anything is equally worthless to the recipient. How much more insidious when offered to God!
When you give to God, always give your best – whether you are giving money, time or material possessions. Don’t try and slough off second-rate things or your undesirables. We dishonor God when we only give to him what we don’t want anymore. We disrespect him when we only give what is left over of our money. We dishonor God when we give him the time in our day when we’re fighting to stay awake. Give to him your first and your best.
Third: Give according to what you have (2 Cor. 8:11-12 – Read). What Paul seems to be suggesting here is that the willingness to give is more important even than the amount. Or in other words, “God is concerned first with the attitude of the individual (willingness) not the precise amount he gives.” The gift was acceptable because of their willing attitudes and on the basis of what they had. But Paul was also concerned that the initial eagerness of the Corinthians to give would now be matched by the follow through of that willingness.
But what Paul is also suggesting here is proportional giving – they were to give according to what they had. Jesus observed the widow in the temple who gave everything she had and she was commended for it. But what is taught here is that we need give only according to what we possess – and what is most easily expressed as a percentage. In this way, everyone can participate in giving, because it is based on a percentage of what you possess. On the other hand, no one can claim to be exempt from giving because we all have something to give – no matter how small the gift.
Fourth: Giving should come from a transformed heart (2 Cor. 9:7). Paul teaches us that each person should give what he has decided in his heart to give – not reluctantly or begrudgingly – because God loves cheerful givers. We should never give merely under obligation – that’s not pleasing to God nor will there be any blessing.
A church member stopped the pastor and angrily complained that the church had purchased five new brooms — an expenditure that he thought was completely unnecessary. The pastor was surprised at the man’s reaction and mentioned it to the church treasurer, who said, “It’s understandable. How would you feel if you saw everything you gave in the past year tied up in five brooms?”
This member’s tight-fisted giving came from reluctant heart, not a transformed heart. There is no divine approval for giving that is merely out of duty. “We are to give out of our joy – made possible by a transformed heart. The manner of one’s giving reflects the character of one’s heart.” A transformed heart gives cheerfully, freely and generously.
Notice that Paul gives no minimum quote or percentage, but that each person “should give what he has decided in his heart.” This suggests a predetermined amount – it also suggests that giving comes from making a choice – a purposeful and deliberate decision. “The only NT rule is to give freely and generously as an expression of our trust in God’s grace.” It is interesting to note that the word “tithe”, which literally means “a tenth”, does not even occur in the NT. So for me to tell you that God requires a tenth of your income goes beyond NT teaching. However, since God required 10% from Israel, I think that if we’re looking for some direction in our giving – that is a good place to aim for – but it’s not commanded. God is more interested in the generosity that flows freely out of your transformed heart – and that may translate into even more than 10%. However, we also need to understand this; while giving is to be done freely, it is not optional for the Christian. In a number of places, I’ve read that the average Christian today only contributes between 3 and 3.5% of their annual income to the work of the Lord.
Fifth: Giving to God first is an opportunity to trust him for all you need (Mal. 3:8-10 -Read). The Israelites were required to give to God the first portion of their crops – first-fruits. We honor God when we give to him the first part of our income. To wait and see what is left over at the end of the month disrespects God and doesn’t work. We should “decide in our heart” what percentage we should give and then take that off of the top of our monthly income – and I’m referring to the gross income. That way God is getting the first-fruits of your income.
In Malachi’s day, to not give the tithe (10%) was tantamount to robbing God – and this is what Israel was doing. So God says, bring in the tithe and test me in this. If Israel would obey, God would throw open the floodgates of heaven and the land would produce so much they wouldn’t know where to store it all. Blessing comes from obedience in this matter of giving.
When we were on the farm, we listened to a Christian radio station out of Havre, Montana. A guy by the name of Larry Burkett had a daily program dealing with finances. May times I heard people, mostly women, phone in and say that they would like to begin to give more, but their spouse wasn’t onside. This is the advice Larry would give to them. Ask your spouse if they would be willing to tithe for one year in order to test the Lord in this area. If they were worse off financially they would stop after the year. Invariably, the spouse would phone in after the year was up to give testimony of God’s faithfulness to them and that they were better off financially after a year of purposeful giving. See, I believe that God rewards regular and generous giving. This decision would produce two results – the couple were now better off financially and the unwilling spouse had just witnessed firsthand a year of God’s faithfulness to their family.
This is God’s economy in the area of giving and he’s even willing to allow us to put him to the test. Here is the biblical principle of giving in a nutshell: Sow generously, reap generously; sow sparingly, reap sparingly (2 Cor. 9:6). And how about Jesus’ words from Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Also Proverbs 11: 24-25)
Many times we hear – “we should not give to get” and if selfishness and greed are your motives for giving – that is poverty of character. On the other hand, these verses seem to suggest that very thing – that generosity brings generosity in return – that what goes around comes around! In these verses, one of the motives to stimulate us to give is that we will receive back in abundance even more that we give. If our motives to give are to please and honor God, we can expect a handsome return on our investment. Think about that when the plate is passed.
Do you have a plan concerning your giving to the Lord? Do you give faithfully and regularly to him? Are you giving to him from the first of your income? Or is your faith not strong enough to step out in this area? We’re in a New Year – step out and accept God’s offer to put him to the test – and see the results yourself. He is faithful to his Word and his promises.
Giving to the Lord should be a consistent part of your Christian walk whether the church has plenty or little. Remember these principles: Honor the One who owns it all; Always give your best; give according to what you have; your giving should come from a transformed heart; and giving to God first is an opportunity to trust him for all you need. Think about these when the plate is passed.
Remember this also: “Giving is not a way of showing God how much we can do for him, but a way of illustrating how much God has done for us.
January 28, 2018
Nezzar's Nightmare, Part 2: The Interpretation
Pastor Bryan Watson
Our scripture passage for this morning is from Daniel 2:24-49. But rather than reading it now, we will be going through it bit by bit as we move throughout the message.
So, last month, on Christmas Eve, I delivered part 1 of this message, and I called it “Mr. Nezzar’s Nightmare Before Christmas. That message was the lead-up to the interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s mysterious dream.
In that message, I explained how, for chapter 2, we had to go back in time by a year. In reality, it is the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. Daniel and his friends are only part way through the required training, and therefore, Daniel was relatively unknown to the king when this dream took place. That is why Nebuchadnezzar didn’t consult Daniel after having his dream, but he consulted his other wise men instead.
We heard that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was so powerful that he required the wise men to not just interpret the dream, but to tell him what he actually dreamed, so that he could trust that their interpretation was true. Of course, they couldn’t do that, so Nebuchadnezzar ordered them all to be put to death.
After learning of the king’s order to execute all of the wise men, including him, Daniel was miraculously granted an audience with the king, and just as miraculously, was granted more time to seek the answer from God.
We saw that Daniel and his friends prayed fervently, and were given both the dream and the interpretation by God.
And that brings us to today. I’ve titled this message, “Nezzar’s Nightmare, Part 2: The Interpretation.” I suppose I could have been consistent and still called it Mr. Nezzar’s Nightmare Before Christmas, because technically, Christmas is only 11 months away, but who’s counting? But no, that felt more wrong than changing the title slightly!
Picking up where we left off, Daniel and his friends have just been given both the dream and the interpretation by God. The fact that God gave Daniel the same dream as he had given Pharaoh is obviously supernatural. And this isn’t the first time that God gave a foreign servant the opportunity to interpret a dream for the reigning king. He did the same thing with Joseph in Egypt in Genesis 41.
But turning to Daniel, chapter 2, verses 24-30, we read:
24 Therefore Daniel went to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon. He went and said thus to him: “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon; take me before the king, and I will tell the king the interpretation.”
25 Then Arioch quickly brought Daniel before the king, and said thus to him, “I have found a man of the captives of Judah, who will make known to the king the interpretation.”
26 The king answered and said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, “Are you able to make known to me the dream which I have seen, and its interpretation?”
27 Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, “The secret which the king has demanded, the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, and the soothsayers cannot declare to the king.
28 But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream, and the visions of your head upon your bed, were these:
29 As for you, O king, thoughts came to your mind while on your bed, about what would come to pass after this; and He who reveals secrets has made known to you what will be.
30 But as for me, this secret has not been revealed to me because I have more wisdom than anyone living, but for our sakes who make known the interpretation to the king, and that you may know the thoughts of your heart.
So, we see here that Daniel exhibited the character trait of humility. Daniel has something that every other wise man in the kingdom would give their right arm for: the true answer to the king’s impossible question. What an opportunity for Daniel to take advantage of the situation!
The king is so desperate for the answer that Daniel could almost name his own reward. He certainly could show the king how much better HE was than any of the OTHER wise men. Yes, Daniel has the perfect opportunity to climb the corporate ladder on the backs of his peers! But he doesn’t.
No, the first thing Daniel does is plead for the lives of the pagan wise men. “Do not destroy them,” he appeals to the king’s guard. “Take me before the king and I will tell the king the interpretation.” At that moment, every wise man in the kingdom owes his life to Daniel.
The second thing Daniel does, when he finally stands before Nebuchadnezzar, is to point to the true source of his success: God. Daniel says in verse 28, “There is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.”
Do you realize the risk that Daniel took in making that statement to Nebuchadnezzar? Nebuchadnezzar had just, in his own mind, scored a decisive victory over the God of the Hebrews by taking Jerusalem. He emphasized that victory by taking the temple treasures and placing them in the temple of the Babylonian god, Marduk.
For Daniel to declare that that same Hebrew God has some sort of power or influence over the king is almost like committing suicide by dictator! To his credit, Nebuchadnezzar listened. Probably because nobody else was willing to give an explanation. So, he allowed Daniel continue.
Daniel, then, does his fellow wise men yet another good turn, when he says, “this secret has not been revealed to me because I have more wisdom than anyone living.” More humility.
I’m pretty sure Nebuchadnezzar had never before met anybody like this young man.
And so, in verses 31-35, Daniel tells the king what he had dreamed.
31 “You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great image! This great image, whose splendor was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome.
32 This image’s head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze,
33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.
34 You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces.
35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
Imagine what the king must be thinking at this point. This young Hebrew student just told him what he had dreamed, without being given any tips in advance. I’m sure Nebuchadnezzar was speechless.
He may have even trembled slightly as Daniel delivered the interpretation. As we are about to see, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream represents the future of Gentile world empires, which all eventually collapse, until they are finally replaced forever when God sets up His kingdom.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Head of Gold
Continuing in verse 36:
36 “This is the dream. Now we will tell the interpretation of it before the king.
37 You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory;
38 and wherever the children of men dwell, or the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven, He has given them into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all—you are this head of gold.
Wisely, Daniel strokes the king’s giant ego. You are a king of kings. (But not THE king of kings.) You are this head of gold.
Yet, even in his flattery of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel proclaims the sovereignty of God over Nebuchadnezzar. “God has given you a kingdom.” “He has given them into your hand.” This is dangerous stuff, for the very reason I mentioned before.
As an aside, you should know that Chapter 2 and Chapter 7 are parallel chapters. They are the same prophecy, using different illustrations. In chapter 2, it is revealed through the different materials that make up the statue. In chapter 7, it is revealed through the description of different creatures. Although Chapter 7 gives more detail, you will see that ultimately, both Chapter 2 and Chapter 7 are really talking about the same thing.
As for the image in chapter 2, Daniel explains that the head of gold is Babylon.
Why was Babylon described as gold?
Because Marduk, the chief Babylonian god, was the god of gold.
Isaiah referred to Babylon as the “golden city” in Isaiah 14:4. There is some debate among scholars regarding how this is translated, and not every translation uses that term. But the KJV and NKJV do use it, so I am comfortable referring to it.
As I was doing research for this message, I found multiple references indicating that Babylon had a golden image of Bel or Baal, and a Golden Table, each weighing over 50,000 lbs of solid gold.
Gold was a fitting description for this most important of empires.
Chest and Arms of Silver
Daniel continues on in verse 39a,
39 But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours;
This is Medo-Persia, the chest and arms of silver.
Silver does not have the same value as gold. Hence, Daniel’s reference to this kingdom being inferior to Babylon.
Babylon was conquered by Persia under King Cyrus (Cyrus the Great) in 539 BC.
Daniel was so accurate, that many people think Daniel wrote it as history (or, after the fact) instead of prophecy (written before the events actually happened). We talked about that in my first sermon in this series, where I spent some time defending Daniel. You can go back and listen to online if you missed it. It is fascinating stuff.
Now, how do we actually know that this second kingdom is Medo-Persia? Well, first of all, we have the gift of history. We know for a fact that Medo-Persia conquered Babylon in 539 BC. But, amazingly, we have a very detailed prophecy that names this kingdom by name written decades before it happened. We know that it is Medo-Persia because it is named in Daniel Chapter 8, when Daniel is given the interpretation of the vision in Chapter 7.
So the Medes and the Persians teamed up in order to knock off the Babylonians. They were together, yet they were still divided. “Together, we are stronger than THEY are, but never forget that I am stronger than YOU are.”
Belly and Thighs of Bronze
Yet again, Daniel continues in verse 39b:
then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth.
So who is this third kingdom? Greece.
How do we know it is Greece? Well, again, we have the gift of history available to us. We know that a series of wars between the Greeks and Persians took place over a series of decades, until finally, Alexander the Great conquered the Persians around 330 BC, and the silver portion of Nebuchadnezzar’s image gave way to the bronze portion of the image.
Furthermore, we know that the Greek Empire was prophesied, because, like Persia, Greece is also named in Chapter 8, hundreds of years before it actually happened.
Lastly, we can be confident in the prophecy because it accurately describes Greece, considering the Greeks used bronze extensively in things like art and armor.
Legs of Iron
Next, Daniel gives us Verse 40:
40 And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others.
We know that this fourth kingdom was Rome.
Rome is not mentioned by name in the prophecy either in chapter 2 or chapter 7, but it is obvious in the time-line of world history: Babylon gave way to Medo-Persia. Medo-Persia gave way to Greece. Greece gave way to who? Rome.
This Roman empire is described as being in 2 stages. The first stage was described as the legs of solid iron. We recognize the Ancient Roman Empire in this description due to its hardness and brutality.
Feet of Iron and Clay
Finally, Daniel interprets the rest of the vision. Verses 41-43
41 Whereas you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; yet the strength of the iron shall be in it, just as you saw the iron mixed with ceramic clay.
42 And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile.
43 As you saw iron mixed with ceramic clay, they will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay.
Most Bible scholars believe that the Roman Empire that is represented by the legs of iron is transformed into a second stage that is represented by the feet and 10 toes of iron mixed with clay. They refer to it as the Revived Roman Empire.
This appears to be some future empire: 10 kingdoms joined together for mutual benefit, yet maintaining their own national identities. “We’re together, but you have your passport, and I’ll keep mine, thank you very much.”
The description of the dream mentions that clay is mixed with iron to form the toes. Imagine mixing iron with clay, and then allowing it harden. Now drop it. What happens? The clay shatters and the iron is separated. According to the late Tim LaHaye, “Many scholars think this ‘iron and clay’ section of the image represents a very unstable form of government comparable to the social democracies that exist throughout the world today.” We see various examples of unions like this today: The European Union, various free trade agreements, alliances like NATO; these are nations brought together in a common interest to fulfill a common purpose, yet they are still independent and are easily fractured and separated over the most insignificant issues.
The image is destroyed in the period of the 10 toes.
Take the dream and turn it into a time-line, and you can see where we are in world history. The red arrow indicates an approximation of where we are today in the grand scheme of things. This illustration is from the Late Tim LaHaye’s ministry.
Now because the 10 toes represent a future event, there are assumptions that are made about how this will all come to pass. We don’t have the luxury of looking back at the facts of history. We are trying to look forward. Even in this church, we are not all going to agree on these events, but that’s OK. We don’t have to agree on every detail. What we CAN all agree on is that time is running out, and Christ is coming again, very soon, and we need to be ready! Amen???
Finally, Daniel concludes the interpretation:
44 And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.
45 Inasmuch as you saw that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold—the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure.”
A stone cut without human hands. That tells us that this stone is of divine origin.
This stone, is the stone the builders rejected. This is Jesus Christ, coming back at some future time, not at the first Christmas, because not all of these prophesied kingdoms have been destroyed. This is Christ re-establishing His kingship over the earth, and relegating all the earthly man-made kingdoms to the dust of history, like chaff. They are gone. All of them. Only one kingdom remains: Christ’s!
What about the mountain? Well, “mountains” are often used in the Bible as a symbol for God’s kingdom (Isa 2:2, Ezek 20:40, Zech 8:3). I won’t take the time to go over those here this morning.
In this vision, “the stone and mountain represent the kingdom of God that will eventually replace all human kingdoms through Jesus (Rev 16:13-16; 19:17).”
Through this prophecy, it is evident that Jesus Christ will establish Himself as the ruler of the world, and that nothing else: no man-made kingdom; no false religion; no little personal empire of doubt or pride, will stand before Him.
That’s the truth of the Gospel. When history ends, and all the vanity of the world is reduced to dust and blown away, where do you want to stand in relation to this “stone cut without hands?” Will you be crushed by it, and blown away as dust, or will you stand with it, as part of God’s kingdom?
We don’t need to add anything fancy to this. This is how God told it. This is how it is.
Maybe this truth makes you uncomfortable. People don’t need to come to church to feel comfortable. They need to come to church to hear the Word of God.
The King’s Response
So how did Nebuchadnezzar take all this? Nebuchadnezzar’s response to this prophecy is fascinating. Reading from verse 46 to the end:
46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face, prostrate before Daniel, and commanded that they should present an offering and incense to him. 47 The king answered Daniel, and said, “Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, since you could reveal this secret.”
48 Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon. 49 Also Daniel petitioned the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego over the affairs of the province of Babylon; but Daniel sat in the gate[e] of the king.
King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face before Daniel, an unknown 16-year-old foreign student. How defining is that? Is it any wonder then, that Nebuchadnezzar found these 4 young men to be 10 times better than their peers when they actually completed their training?
The King began to acknowledge the power and sovereignty of the God of Israel (the One he thought he had defeated.) He accepted that Daniel’s God is above his own gods. Stay tuned for Chapter 4 to see this theme carried through to its conclusion.
The King promoted Daniel and his friends, even before they completed their training. Remember, in the time-line of events, Chapter 2 actually happens before the end of Chapter 1.
So what does all this matter to us today?
These prophecies are so accurate, they must have come from God.
The same God who gave us Daniel also gave us the rest of the Bible, so we should believe and obey everything He says in the rest of the Bible.
According to Pastor Meno Kalisher, “When you don’t believe in the in-errancy of scripture, it controls the volume of the prophets and it empties the pews.” – Meno Kalisher
Let’s read that again: “When you don’t believe in the in-errancy of scripture, it controls the volume of the prophets and it empties the pews.”
What does that mean? If we don’t believe that the Bible is true, then we will be deaf to the prophecies it contains. We won’t hear or understand God’s message to us. The Bible will become just another book, and without a true God to worship, our churches will be empty. Why bother???
But churches who believe in the authority of scripture, like this church, will put aside the worldly thoughts of those who disregard the authority of the Bible, and run around saying, “Well, I think… I think…”. Who cares what they think? Instead, the church that focuses on what God thinks will experience God’s blessing.
You wonder why this church has gone from 20 people to over 100 on average? Because this church has stood unwaveringly on the authority of Scripture, and God has blessed that. We’re not perfect, but I can say with all honesty that we seek after the Truth with all our hearts.
But back to Daniel… And so the seeds of faith are laid with Nebuchadnezzar.
Daniel’s power in the kingdom continues to grow as he is promoted into important positions, where he can make sure that the Hebrews are preserved in Babylon
And we… we are given the revelation that the God we worship here every Sunday is the same God who controlled these events thousands of years ago… and into the future.
* Chart is copyrighted, so if anybody wishes to see it, contact Pastor Bryan Watson, and he can bring a copy of it to church for viewing.