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Facing the Future without Fear

Notes & Transcripts

Facing the Future without Fear

June 27, 1999               Daniel 2

 

Introduction:

Title:  Terrified by the Unknown

   An Arab chief tells a story of a spy who was captured and then sentenced to death by a general in the Persian army. This general had the strange custom of giving condemned criminals a choice between the firing squad and the big, black door. As the moment for execution drew near, the spy was brought to the Persian general, who asked the question, "What will it be: the firing squad or the big, black door?"

   The spy hesitated for a long time. It was a difficult decision. He chose the firing squad.

   Moments later shots rang out confirming his execution. The general turned to his aide and said, "They always prefer the known way to the unknown. It is characteristic of people to be afraid of the undefined. Yet, we gave him a choice."

   The aide said, "What lies beyond the big door?"

   "Freedom," replied the general. "I've known only a few brave enough to take it."

   -- Don McCullough, "Reasons to Fear Easter," Preaching Today, Tape No. 116.

          How many of you would like to know the future? We want to know what the future holds for us, our families, our church, our nation, the world. Are you able to face it without fear? If you have failing health, you want to know if and when it will improve. If we have a wayward child, we want to know if and when they will obey. If we have a separated spouse, we want to know if and when they will return. If we have a difficult job, we want to know if and when we should leave. We want to know if our nation is on the brink of economic and moral collapse and when this might occur. Will our church endure in a pure and faithful condition until Jesus comes? What is the danger from global environmental disaster? Will World War III soon engulf us all?

It is natural for us to want to know the future. Some people go to great lengths to know future events in ways that are outright sinful in God’s eyes (Deut. 18:14). They go to diviners, soothsayers, card readers, star gazers and other false methods of underground darkness in search of light. There is an increasing proliferation of these businesses all about us in the city that Satan puts there to draw people astray from God. And God presently allows it to give people a choice of which master they desire. We say “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”. Rarely do we want to trust God for those two birds in the bush even when he says they are there. Many people would rather go for assurance to a fallible human source steeped in evil spiritism than to God. Many people would rather choose a firing squad death at their own hands than to trust God’s big black door with their lives.

But why do we want to know the future? Is it because we are afraid of it? Should we be afraid of it? As sinners, do we have a fatalistic desire to know what will happen to us as if we could escape it by our own means? Has not God given us light through his Word and what prophecy it contains? We seem to want more. In a sense, we get greedy and covetous of future knowledge. It is a human sin condition that we want to be in control of our lives and even in control of the lives of others. You see, there is power, influence, and control in this kind of knowledge. If we can convince others that we know what they don’t, it is marketable and can even be misused to try and sway present events in light of supposed future events.

There is a spiritual and mystical quality to future events. Admittedly it is out of the realm of most human understanding. The problem is that humans want to play God. We want to be out from under God’s thumb. We want to be in control of our own future. Is it that we don’t want to obey God? But God wants us to know mainly this: that it is enough to believe that he is in control of the future. If we truly believe this and trust him for it, we need never be afraid of the future. We will agree to let him have his way, which he is going to have anyway. This is called living by faith. The real question we might ask is whether we would really live our lives any differently if we did know the future. First of all, we would have to believe it. If not, what would really make a difference for us? Daniel has the answer for us (it is in knowing God). That is the important application that we will talk about in Daniel chapter two this morning. All of us can come to better grips with the truth that he will reveal to us. You see, Daniel didn’t take the firing squad of execution at the king’s order. He took the big black door of trusting God. God – the big black door – the unknown commodity except by faith. And faith is a relationship.

Now, a word of caution. Does this mean that we should not try to ever influence the future? Should we be fatalistic about life, that whatever is going to happen is going to happen regardless of whatever we do? That is a wrong view. For those of us who believe in the power of prayer, we know that we can have a very real influence with God. He chooses to place certain future events in partnership with us. But even here, God knows the future about what we will pray and when. When we pray in order to effect future events, we are actually carrying out future events. Something will either happen or not happen depending upon our obedience in prayer at any given moment. We see that Daniel sought God in prayer for the knowledge that God revealed to him. But even beyond our involvement, God still has a plan.

I. Daniel’s Peril (2:1-13)

          We have come from “Veggie Tales” (Success without Compromise) in Dan. 1 to “Dream Tales” here in Dan. 2. Daniel has introduced a new standard of comparison into the king’s court. The foreknowledge of the dream becomes the litmus test for its interpretation (v. 9). Having been put on the spot three times by the king, the wise men answer wisely (v. 11) that God must be involved. So these men who have made themselves out to be gods are to be eliminated for impersonation.

When Nebuchadnezzar first came to Jerusalem to conquer, he was not yet king; he was acting for his father, Nabopolassar, back in Babylon. This accounts for the seeming contradiction between the three years of training for Daniel in 1:5 and the “second year” of the king’s reign in 2:1. Once again archaeology has proved the Bible true. The king was concerned about his future (see v. 29) and whether or not his kingdom would last. God gave him a dream describing the future, but he could not understand it. In fact, he forgot it! Christians have the Holy Spirit to teach and remind them (John 14:26). The “fake” magicians and wise men were really on the spot, for the king wanted not only an interpretation of the dream, but also a description of it! Any man could “invent” an interpretation, but it was impossible for them to describe a dream they had never seen. They tried to “stall for time” (v. 8), hoping the king would “change his mind” (v. 9). Instead, the king ordered all the wise men to be slain, and that included Daniel and his three friends. Satan is a murderer (John 8:44); he would certainly have been happy to see Daniel killed.

II. Daniel’s Prayer and Praise (2:14-23)

          The wisdom and tact of Daniel in v. 14 was his calm assurance in God. When we are right with God, we can act boldly and confidently. God gives what is asked in faith in v. 23. The dream and its interpretation did not come from the world’s knowledge, it came from the result of a relationship with God through faith and prayer. Wisdom is not primarily a concept to be learned, it is a relationship to be enjoyed. True wisdom is of divine origin. It begins with a fear of the Lord (Job 28:28), not a fear of the future. But then again, you have reason to fear your future if you do not fear the Lord.

We must admire the courage of Daniel, for he faced the chief executioner boldly, and even went right in to see the king. “The righteous are bold as a lion” (Prov. 28:1). God overruled in these conversations (Prov. 21:1), and the king gave Daniel time, even though he had refused to give the other wise men time. Daniel and his three friends knew what to do; they spent the next hours in fervent prayer to God. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5). “Ask, and it shall be given you” (Matt. 7:7). And God revealed the dream and its meaning to Daniel in the hours of the night. Read Prov. 3:32 and Ps. 25:14 to see why Daniel was given this privilege. Instead of rushing to the king, or boasting of his new wisdom, Daniel paused to praise the Lord. And you will note in vv. 25-30 that Daniel gave all the glory to God; he took none of it for himself. There is no limit to what God will do for the believer who will let God have all the glory.

 

III. Daniel’s Prophecy (2:24-45)

          Here is Daniel’s chance to eliminate the competition (v. 24), but he chooses to redeem them. Daniel continues his ethic of success without compromise (vv. 27-28) in turning the king toward God and not himself. Our task and opportunity in life is to reveal God, and his purpose (v. 30) is then exalted.

The prophet went to the chief executioner and told him not to slay the other wise men. They deserved death, of course, and it would have exalted Daniel’s position had they been removed, but Daniel was not a man with hatred for his enemies. Only eternity will reveal how many lost people have been saved from physical harm by the presence and intercession of a believer. Then Daniel told the king the contents of his forgotten dream. The king had been worried about the future of his kingdom (v. 29), so God gave him a vision of the kingdoms to come. He saw a huge statue of a man: the head was of gold, the breast and arms of silver, the belly and thigh of copper or bronze (but not brass, which was not known at that time), the legs of iron, and the feet of iron and clay. He also saw a stone come down upon the feet and crush the entire image into powder. Then the stone grew and filled the whole earth like a great mountain.

Verse 28 tells us that the full meaning is for the “latter days.” Each metal represented a different kingdom: Babylon was the head of gold (v. 38); it would be followed by the Medo-Persian kingdom, the breast and arms of silver; then would come Greece, the belly and thigh of bronze; Rome would follow as the two legs of iron (and the Roman Empire did divide into Eastern and Western parts). The feet of iron and clay (a brittle mixture) represented the kingdoms at the end times, a continuation of the Roman Empire divided into ten kingdoms (the ten toes). Of course, the final “human kingdom” on earth will be that of the Antichrist during the last part of the Tribulation. How will it all end? Christ, the Stone (Matt. 21:44), will suddenly appear and smite the nations of the world, setting up His own worldwide kingdom of power and glory.

This image, then, is a picture of world history. You can see that the materials in it decrease in weight (from gold to clay) so that the statue is top-heavy and easily pushed over. Men and women think that human civilization is so strong and enduring; really it is resting on brittle feet of clay. Note too that the value decreases: from gold to silver to bronze to iron to clay. Is mankind getting “better and better” as time goes on? No! Human civilization is actually getting cheaper and weaker. There is also a decrease in beauty and glory (gold is certainly more beautiful than iron mixed with clay); and there is a decrease in strength (from gold to clay) as we approach the end of human history. Each of the successive kingdoms had its own strengths, of course, and Rome exercised a tremendous military power, but through history civilization will become weaker and weaker. This explains why the Antichrist will be able to organize a worldwide dictatorship: nations will be so weak they will demand a dictator just to be able to survive.

Each of these kingdoms had a different form of government. Babylon was ruled by an absolute monarch, a dictator (see 5:19). The Medo-Persian empire had a king, but he worked through princes and established laws (see 6:1-3—and remember the “law of the Medes and the Persians” in Esther 1:19). Greece operated through a king and an army, and Rome was supposed to be a republic, but it was actually a rule of the military through laws. When you come to the iron and clay, you have our present governments: the iron represents law and justice, the clay represents mankind, and together they make up democracy. What is the strength of democracy? Law. What is its weakness? Human nature. We are seeing today that lawlessness comes when human nature refuses to be bound by God’s order and laws.

This entire picture is not a very optimistic one. Nebuchadnezzar saw that his own kingdom would fall one day and be replaced by the Medes and Persians. This happened in 538 B.C. (Dan. 5:30-31). The Medes and Persians would be conquered by the Greeks about 330 B.C.; and Greece would give way to Rome. The Roman Empire outwardly would disappear, but its laws, philosophies, and institutions would continue until this very day, taking us down to the “feet of clay.” The only hope for this world is the return of Christ. When He comes to the earth, it will be to conquer the nations (Rev. 19:11ff) and to establish His own glorious kingdom.

 

IV. Daniel’s Promotion (2:46-49)

The power of the servant heart is amazing. The king may make the decisions but the servant influences those decisions. The dream was given to the king so that Daniel might interpret it and reveal God to the king. The king recognizes the hand of God and honors God by honoring Daniel, his servant (vv. 46-47). Like Joseph, God reveals himself to those who seek him and his honor (Jn. 14:21). Now Daniel is placed in charge of those he redeemed (v 48). The concluding scene gives us a powerful picture that reinforces the truth of God’s eternal kingdom – the most powerful pagan in the world lies prostrate before an exiled Jew.

The king kept his promise (v. 6) and gave honors and gifts to Daniel, who did not want to receive them since he was anxious that God alone receive the glory. Daniel was honored and promoted because he was faithful to God, and not because he compromised his convictions. He sat in the gate, which was the place of authority. Lot also sat in the gate (Gen. 19:1), but this was because he had compromised and moved out of God’s will—and he lost everything! Note that Daniel did not keep the honors for himself, but asked that his three friends also share the promotion (v. 49). The more we see of this man, the more we love him for his unselfishness and humility.

We shall meet these same kingdoms again in chapter 7. There they will be pictured as wild beasts, because that is what God sees when he looks at human history. God is not impressed with gold, silver, and bronze. He sees the human heart, and he knows that the kingdoms of the world are full of violence and sin. From humanity’s point of view, earthly kingdoms are like metal—durable and strong; from God’s point of view, they are ferocious beasts that must be slain. Daniel had perfect confidence and peace because he knew God’s plan for the future. The Christian today who knows God’s Word and believes it will also have peace.

Conclusion:

         

What does the future hold? It holds the eternal plan of God. Why is God’s knowledge of the future important? When the uncertainty of our control of events presses upon us by life’s circumstances, we can be certain that God is in control. He wants us to have that kind of faith. Many of us spend great amounts of energy trying to control the events around us when we should leave that to God and spend that energy serving him instead, like Daniel.

          Keep in mind that the important thing was not so much what the dream meant, or even that Daniel was given the content and interpretation of the dream, but the fact that God was the one who gave the dream to Nebuchadnezzar to reveal himself through Daniel. God reveals himself to us and through us as we seek him out in relationship. God wants to have a living, breathing, viable relationship with us. He wants us to trust him – to have faith. It was God who planted the dream in Nebuchadnezzar’s mind, rose up Daniel, and arranged the circumstances for him to interpret it. God gives prophecy in order to reveal himself in present and future time. It is not so much important that we know the future as much as we know the God that is in control of the future. One message to Nebuchadnezzar that his dream must surely have engendered is that the only kingdom that shall ever prevail is the kingdom of God. The logical deduction is that Nebuchadnezzar himself is not that god nor is his kingdom that kingdom. He is as much a puppet king as any of the rest of us, and there is one true God to which all of us are accountable. Daniel faced the future without fear because he had the wisdom that comes from knowing God. How much greater is our confidence of the future in knowing Christ Jesus, “in whom are hidden all the treaasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3)? Jesus is wisdom himself, and we have the mind of Christ.

 "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16 NIVUS)

You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." (Luke 1:31-33 NIVUS)

          Since his kingdom will absolutely prevail, let us trust him now as King and Lord of it. When we are right with Jesus, we are right with God, and we need never fear the future.

Jesus looked directly at them and asked, "Then what is the meaning of that which is written: "'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone'?  Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed." (Luke 20:17-18 NIVUS)  {rejecting it vs. being judged by it}

The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psalms 18:2 NIVUS)

 For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God? (Psalms 18:31 NIVUS)

 The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Savior! (Psalms 18:46 NIVUS)

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