I would like to take this opportunity to add another lesson to our current Sunday School theme. Last week I introduced the idea that we can learn about New Testament soul-winning by examining some of our evangelical ancestors from the Old Testament. So we considered the prophet Isaiah and Joshua, the son of Nun. I’m not pretending that Isaiah led Hezekiah to the Lord or that Joshua brought Rahab to the cross of Christ. But we can see characteristics in those men which could and should be seen in today’s evangelists – Christians of every degree of maturity who care about the spiritual needs of people around them.
Today, I’d like to consider some of the things about Daniel which should be found in us. But at the same time, I want this to be an evangelical message in and of itself.
With this in mind, before we get to Daniel, let’s start with Nebuchadnezzar.
How would you like to be king for a day? I’d like you to picture yourself in the extremely comfortable shoes of the King of Babylon. Babylon was the fabulous capital of the Chaldean Empire, and you are its chief officer, Nebuchadnezzar. By your orders, and by your armies, most of the Middle East is under your dominion. And now wealth is pouring into your capital, making Babylon the most spectacular city in the western world. The great Euphrates River runs under the north wall, through the city and out the other side, with parks and wide boulevards along its banks, and bridges crossing it at important points. The hanging gardens of Babylon are a world-renowned tourist attraction. It has zoos and art galleries. Babylon may be the busiest and most important city in the entire world.
And you are living on top of that world. The Chadean Empire has been built by your power, fulfilling the dreams you had as a child. You are king of Babylon, and you are the king of your life. You dictate every aspect of your day from when you get out of bed to whether or not there are flowers in your room. You choose your companions, but, of course, everyone wants to see you. Maybe you’ve been fortunate and hardly sick a day in your life. You’ve grown big and strong, even though you may be a little over-indulgent now. No one tells you what to do, despite having a host of counselors giving you their advice. You come and go as you please. You eat whatever you like. Your entertainment is what you choose. And as a result, your life is filled with pleasure, but also with sin. You have no thoughts of God, and no real consideration for others, except as they might benefit you. You believe that you’ve earned all this through your smarts, your daring and your hard work. You are proud of all that you have accomplished.
But all good things must come to an end. Daniel 4:28 – “All this came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon. The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of MY power, and for the honour of MY majesty? While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee.” Kingdoms fall; wealth evaporates; friends forsake; kings and British queens die.
And so will you. You are mortal, which means you are in the process of dying. You have an appointment with the judgment of God, even if you are king for a day or king for a lifetime. One night Nebuchadnezzar received a message from heaven. The great king of Babylon heard the voice of God. In his case it didn’t come from the pages of the Bible, but it was as true as the Bible. His ears – and his heart – heard the words of the Lord. Nebuchadnezzar will later testify that the speaker was “the true King, the King of Heaven.” Whether he fully understood, it was Jehovah, the Creator and Judge of all creation. It was the voice of Jehovah, who is also the Saviour, exactly the one who Nebuchadnezzar needed, although he didn’t know it at the time.
You may think that you are at the top of the world; the top of your game. You are both the coach and the quarterback of your life. You may believe you’re on your way to the Super Bowl and eventually the Football Hall of Fame. But this is only game one, and there is a God over all things, who may end your season before this next play is finished. Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.
Thankfully in many people’s lives there is someone like Daniel.
Daniel was not only an Israelite, a citizen of a so-called “Christian” nation, he was a true child of God. Daniel actually knew the Lord. He was a man of prayer, because he knew that only in the Lord are there things of any permanent value. And he encouraged his friends to trust God and to pray. He was an encourager. Perhaps Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were able to face the burning fiery furnace because of the strength and faith they learned from their friend Daniel.
In chapter 9 we are permitted to hear the man in his devotions. “I set my face unto the Lord God” – verse 9. “And I prayed unto Jehovah, my God… and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him and to them that keep his commandments… O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee…. To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgiveness…” Daniel knew the Lord personally and theologically. Verse 19 – “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God.” Daniel didn’t beg the Lord for things based on human works or his self-righteousness. He knew that Jehovah is sovereign, making greater decrees than Nebuchadnezar ever could – eternal decrees. So Daniel approached the Lord with that in mind. By chapter 9 Daniel was a seasoned servant of God.
But when we first meet him, Daniel he is a young man. Chapter 1 calls him one of Israel’s “children.” But we find that he will not let his youth hold him back or dictate what he might do for the service of God. Some might say it began with a small thing – food, but that small thing opened the door to greater and greater things. Our witness for the Lord isn’t confined to those few moments when we can sit down with another sinner and share with him our faith in Christ. Our testimony involves every aspect of our lives, especially what can be seen by others. Daniel and three of his friends refused to eat those foods which the Lord had forbidden. “Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defiled himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank.” This definitely got his overseer’s attention, but at the same time, through it God brought Daniel into favor with that man, the prince of the eunuchs.
There is only one thing which will limit what we might do for our Saviour – our sinfulness. But those things which are not sins – things like a lack of education, a deformed body, a menial job or government position – these things can not keep a true Christian from his service for Christ. And when a person’s heart is pure before God, Jehovah will bless. “As for these four children, GOD gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom.” Then when Daniel had an opportunity to present the truth to the King, Nebuchadnezzar was forced to say, “of a truth it is that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings…”
Daniel was a saint of God whose circumstances put him in a strange land. Like some saints today, he and his friends were called names they didn’t appreciate, and people refused to see them for who they really were. They were treated like second class citizens. But in fact they were first class. Like the readers of Peter’s letters, Daniel was a stranger, one of the diaspora, in Babylon. But he was also one of God’s chosen and peculiar people, a member of a special generation, part of a royal priesthood with the opportunity to represent the Lord to the lost and to represent the lost before the Lord. He had been called out of darkness into the Lord’s marvelous light to shine before this king and his servants.
The world had a problem and Daniel addressed it.
In chapter 2, God gave Nebuchadnezzar a dream about the future of the world and his part in that future. It involved a huge image, or statue, of a man with a head made of gold. As the king’s eyes moved down its torso, the image became cheaper and more corrupt until the feet were made of nothing but a mixture of iron and clay. And then came a stone, cut from a large mountain, which crushed the feet of the image, and the whole thing turned into fluff and was blown away by the wind. But the stone which destroyed the image became a great mountain, filling the whole earth.
Nebuchadnezzar’s image was God’s description of the world of men. With each succeeding generation and kingdom humanity has been becoming more corrupt and sinful. And eventually the Lord will come to destroy and judge every king, every kingdom and every citizen under those kings. Daniel said, “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.” You and I, today, are living in amidst iron and dirt – a kind of strength which is weakened by filth. We are living on the edge of the judgment of God.
This is not a fairytale; this is not religious fantasy. This is divine prophecy and a part of the gospel. And this isn’t something from a small, unimportant corner of the Bible. This theme is found throughout God’s word, and it is highlighted in the New Testament in such places as the Book of Romans. In some form, it should be a part of today’s gospel message. Our world, and all of its citizens, are sinful in the sight of God, and our societies are getting worse and worse. Jehovah is not pleased or content with this. In fact the word “wrath” is used to describe His anger. He will soon destroy all the kingdoms of men and judge everyone in those kingdoms. There is absolutely no escape from that judgment without coming to the Judge in repentance and faith.
Nebuchadnezar heard what God’s evangelist had to say. “And the king answered unto Daniel, and said, Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret.” Like tens of thousands of Americans, Nebuchadnezzar was presented with some Biblical truth. He had some religion and knew some stuff. But he didn’t understand. He needed more. He wasn’t ready. Daniel knew how to be patient and to take advantage of his opportunities. Nebuchadnezzar did not become a Christian with this first presentation of God’s truth, but at least he began to look with a bit more respect toward Daniel’s God.
Our evangelist was faithful to his commission throughout his life. And a few years later he was in the employ of another king. As do all people, Nebuchadnezzar had passed away, and he had been replaced. Belshazzar, his successor, was as ungodly, as secular, as sinful as his great power allowed him to be. One night he hosted a huge feast for all his minions, his many wives and his multitudes of girl friends. He ordered that the food and alcohol of the evening be served in the golden vessels which were once used by Jehovah’s priests in Israel’s temple. “They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone. In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.”
Here was another king who was confronted with the word of God, but of course he couldn’t understand it. It was in a language he didn’t read. There wasn’t anyone in the room who could understand it. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” As Philip said to the Ethiopian Eunuch – “Understandest what thou readest?” The answer was: “How can I except some man should guide me.”
What the king read, was “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.” The handwriting was on the wall. Once again, God brought his evangelist in to interpret His word. “Understandest what thou readest?” Daniel told the king that God had judged him to be a wicked rebel, and therefore his kingdom would be given to another, implying that he would die. Belshazzar slapped Daniel on the back, thanking him for his explanation. But that was apparently about it. All the soul-winner can do is try to lead that soul up to Lord. We have no guarantee of success. God has not commissioned any of His soul-winners to actually save souls. All we can do is faithfully share with others what the Lord has revealed. “In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Caldeans slain. And Darius the Median took the kingdom.”
In both cases, Nebuchadnezar and Belshazzar, Daniel was praised by the king, and both tried to offer rewards for the information. That does not happen very often, but in these cases it did. Belshazzar commanded that his servants honor Daniel with scarlet clothing and a gold chain. The man of God may have protested, but the king’s orders were carried out. In the case of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel was successful in avoiding the glory, choosing rather to simply sit the gate to the palace.
And by the way, Daniel also faithfully served the Lord before a third king, the man who replaced Belshazzar. And that king, Darius, also heard the witness of Daniel. He even saw the man of God suffer persecution from those who hated him. Daniel was condemned to die in the lion’s den, but he escaped by the grace and power of God. That third king was so impressed by the character and message of the man of God, it appears that was converted, actually trusting and worshipping Daniel’s God. “Then king Darius wrote unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and stedfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end. He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions. So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian” – the fourth powerful king to hear the testimony of this man of God.
Let’s return to Nebuchadnezzar.
During our announcements for the last couple of months we have been hearing people’s salvation testimonies. Despite the basic similarities: conviction for sin and eventual faith in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus… Despite the basic similarities, the details through which they were brought to Christ were different. Not only that, but the language which those people used described their salvation somewhat differently. Nebuchadnezar was no different.
I can’t be absolutely sure that the great king of Babylon is now in God’s heaven, but I think so, and I hope so. I can’t be certain Queen Elizabeth is in heaven, but I think so, and I hope so. Nebuchadnezzar was a man blessed by seeing the life and hearing the testimony of one of God’s servants. After Daniel explained God’s message about the colossal image, Nebuchadnezar said, “Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret.” I don’t believe that was a confession of saving faith in Jehovah. Nebuchadnezzar had been and still was at the time a polytheist, a worshiper of many gods. I think what he said was only a declaration that he was willing to put Daniel’s God among, or perhaps at the top, of all his other gods. I know that such a thought is foolish. There can only be one sovereign God. But until we are born again we are all fools, mentally, socially and theologically.
Let’s say that at that point Nebuchadnezzar was not a child of God or a true believer. But the Word of the Lord had been presented to him, and it remained in the back of his mind and at the back of his heart. Then the true sovereign God, brought personal disaster into the king’s life. He literally lost his mind. “The same hour” that Daniel told him what God was going to do “was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws.”
Daniel had even told him this was coming and even how long his mania would last: “Seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.” We don’t know if this was seven weeks, seven months, or seven years. But precisely at the end of the prescribed period, Nebuchadnezzar was restored to sanity by God’s grace. “And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me. Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.”
We can use Nebuchadnezzar as an illustration of millions of people today. Some of them have been raised in gospel-preaching churches, but many of them have not. Then they were given marijuana at an early age and they became addicted, unable to see where that addiction was going – until they were hooked on hard drugs and their lives were in ruins. Or they, as teenagers, began to drink a beer or two a week, until that habit became a life-destroying addiction to alcohol. Perhaps their insanity was immorality having begun with pornography, or perhaps it was an addiction to the sensitivity-numbing blood and gore of video games. They found that their lives were spiraling quicker and quicker into an earthly hell. But then, by God’s grace, and inexplicably otherwise, they were lifted out of that gutter. The words which God’s faithful evangelist had shared with them years before was empowered by divine grace. They were born again – born from above – they became new creatures. And they could sing, He lifted me. “From sinking sand, He lifted me. With tender hand, He lifted me. From chains of night to plains of life; O praise His name He lifted me.”
As much as I’d like to focus on Daniel this morning, I need to focus on you, Mr. Nebuchadnezzar. You’ve heard Daniel’s testimony and his explanation of the predicament you and the world is in. What will it take to bring you to your knees before the Lord? Belshazzar heard an explanation of the truth through the lips of Daniel, and he died that very night. Because he didn’t repent and respond when he first heard the truth he died without the truth. Belshazzar is in hell today. And Nebuchadnezzar was forced to loose his mind before he admitted that Jehovah is God. For him, it took a presentation of the truth and then a taste of God’s wrath and judgment.
What will it take for you? I beg of you to repent before God and acknowledge that you are an unworthy sinner. Don’t force the Lord to destroy your health or take some loved ones from you before you wake up. I plead with you to put your faith for eternity, for forgiveness, for salvation… in the Lord, today. Put your faith in the Christ who died on the cross. Won’t you do that this morning before it is too late?