Sunday, September 08, 2013

Sermon: Daniel 2: 1-49 The King's Dream

Have you ever had a really bad night’s sleep? For some, every night might be like that - no matter how you toss and turn you just can’t get over, or stay asleep. For others, you’re disturbed by crying children, or sleeptalking, or your spouse’s snoring. What about bad dreams or nightmares? It all seems so vivid; you’re caught up in the panic of whatever is seemingly happening; it’s hard to understand, even though it’s unforgettable. Ever woken in a cold sweat because of something you’ve dreamed?

If you have, you’re in good company. As Daniel 2 opens, we’re re-introduced to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. He’s had a bad night; a bad dream, and he wants to get to the bottom of it. Now we might not know where to turn if we had a bad dream, but Neb had the right people on staff. He brings in the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and Chaldeans (a special breed of priests), and asks them to tell him what it all means.

The magicians are quick to point out a slight problem - if the king would just tell them the dream, they will give the meaning of it (4). But Neb isn’t playing ball. He wants them to tell the dream, and then give the interpretation. After all, if they’re as clever as they’re made out to be, it’ll be no problem to them. They keep stalling. They realise they’re caught. They just want some details.

Neb isn’t so slow. He knows they could string him along with any old story if he told them what he had dreamed. Imagine how it would go: ‘You say you dreamed about a bridge over a river, but the bridge collapsed as you were walking over it? Well, don’t be pushing out and invading any more countries or you’ll perish...’

Look at verse 10. They admit defeat: ‘There is no one on earth who can reveal what the king demands! ... and no one can reveal it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with mortals.’

This is the elite of the Babylonian religious system; they claim to be priests and powerful religious types. Yet they can’t do anything; their gods might, but won’t. The problem becomes even more intense. Neb isn’t going to keep them on the payroll - if they can’t do the job, then why pay them? But rather than ‘you’re fired’, they’re going to hear ‘off with their heads.’ It’s not just them - Daniel and his three friends (from Judah) were to be killed as well.

So what do you do when you find yourself in Daniel’s position? These other guys are useless; their religious system is a fraud; and your life is on the line. Would you try to think up what the king might have dreamt about? Consulted the big book of nightmares?

Daniel turns to God, and calls a prayer meeting. Verse 17, he gets his friends to pray, to seek mercy from the God of heaven. His first reaction is to pray. I wonder if that’s how you respond, or if prayer is further down the list (or even on the list at all). Daniel knows this is beyond him - no one can reveal it - and so he turns to the throne room, to ask for God’s mercy.

Now if you were writing the chapter, what would you put next? I think I would write about the dream in great detail, explaining everything as I went along, but that’s not how the author tells the story. Look at verse 19. ‘Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night, and Daniel blessed the God of heaven.’ Daniel now knows what the dream is and what it means, but we’re left waiting to hear. The suspense is rising, but the story is suspended until Daniel praises God for revealing the mystery.

Who is this God? He is the one to whom belongs wisdom and power; Power, because he changes times and seasons, he deposes kings and sets up kings. Wisdom, because he gives wisdom to the wise; he reveals deep and hidden things. This is the God who rules on high. This is the God of mercy.

So Daniel goes to the king. He’s asked if he is able to tell him the dream (26). You can almost see the king’s face fall as he begins his answer: ‘No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or diviners can show to the king the mystery that the king is asking...’ (27) That’s the very issue. In case Neb is getting worried, Daniel continues: ‘But there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries...’ This true God is able to reveal mysteries, to show what the future will hold, because he holds the future.

And so eventually, after 30 verses, we get to discover what the king saw. He dreamt of a great statue, huge, shiny, and frightening. It was of various parts - the top of gold, chest and arms of silver, middle and thighs bronze, legs of iron and feet or iron and clay. Yet this impressive statue is shattered into pieces by ‘a stone was cut out, not by human hands... (which) became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.’

Now what is that all about? What could it possibly mean? Daniel gives God’s interpretation. The head of gold - this is Nebuchadnezzar. He is the ruler of the entire world - the superpower of his day. But his kingdom will not remain forever - another one will follow, of silver. Just think of the former glory of the British Empire, when (as the Last Night of the Proms reminded us last night) Britannia ruled the waves. Think of the old maps coloured red to show the extent of the kingdom (reminds me of the schoolboy asked why it was said that the sun never set on the British Empire - he answered that the BE was in the east, whereas the sun set in the west...). This silver kingdom is the Medes and Persians. Next, comes bronze - the Greeks. And finally, the iron and clay, the Romans.

God is telling Neb about the future, and in the time of the Roman empire, something new and different will happen. These are all earthly kingdoms, but in those days, will come a kingdom not of human hands - this stone which shatters all power and rule, and which grows to fill the whole earth.

‘And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall this kingdom be left to another people. It shall crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand for ever.’ (44) For Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, these things were all in the future. They looked ahead to see what God had promised to fulfil.

But from our viewpoint, we look back, to see what God has done. We can see much clearer than Daniel ever could, just how it would all turn out. In the days of the Romans, this new heavenly kingdom was established, as the king came to declare the good news. The Romans are long gone - a history project for school children. But this kingdom, Jesus’ kingdom, has continued for two thousand years - the promise is true, that is shall never be destroyed.

When you apply for a loan, the bank checks your ‘credit rating’ - what you have done in the past helps them decide how reliable you’ll be in the future. Check out God’s credit rating. Not one of his promises have fallen to the ground. As we look to the future, it can seem so uncertain. We don’t know what it holds. But Daniel calls us to trust in the God who holds the future. There is a God in heaven who is faithful and true. He reveals mysteries, and he has revealed himself to us, especially in the person of his Son, the Lord Jesus, the King. Will you trust in him today?

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 8th September 2013.

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