God’s Eternal Kingdom (Daniel)

This morning, in our study through the Bible, we come to the book of Daniel, and I’m sure there are at least a few of you who are extremely happy to hear that, because after looking at Jeremiah, Lamentations and Ezekiel, you’re just relieved that we’re finally in a book that you are somewhat familiar with.

            Because most of us know the stories of Daniel in the lion’s den, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace.  You may even be familiar with the story about Daniel refusing to eat the king’s food, and the spooky handwriting on the wall.

            But I think that most of our studies from the book of Daniel have missed the mark.  My guess is that most of the sermons you have heard from Daniel have focused on Daniel and his friends’ great courage.  Daniel and his three friends refused to eat the kings’ food even though the king told them to.  And Daniel refused to stop praying, even if it meant being thrown into a den of lions.  And Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to a heathen idol even though it meant they would be thrown into a blazing hot furnace.  And so, the hero of the story is obviously Daniel and his friends. 

            And all of those things that I’ve mentioned are great lessons.  But it’s important for you to see that the book of Daniel isn’t about Daniel.  It’s about Daniel’s God.  And if all that you’ve taught or learned from this book is that you should “dare to be a Daniel,” then you’ve missed the point.  Because if all we focus on in this book is a collection of stories that inspire us to live a courageous life for God in the midst of difficult circumstances, then it’s easy for God to get swept off to the side.

            There may be others of you who have heard sermons from Daniel, chapter 2 where King Nebuchadnezzar had a vision of a huge statue, with a head of gold representing the Babylonian Empire, a chest of silver representing the Medo-Persian Empire, belly and thighs of brass representing the Greek Empire, and legs of iron representing the Roman Empire.  And then the whole statue is destroyed by a stone that became a great mountain and filled the earth.  And usually when we hear this story, the point is that the church would be established during the days of the Roman Empire.  Which is certainly true.  But, again, I think it misses the main point of the book of Daniel.

            Throughout the entire book of Daniel, we see a God who is “Most High”.  That phrase appears 13 times in the book of Daniel.  It describes a God who sovereignly rules over the kings and kingdoms of human history.  Over and over, we see a phrase in Daniel.  God’s kingdom is “an everlasting kingdom” (Daniel 4:34; 7:27).  God’s kingdom is “one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14).  God’s kingdom “endures from generation to generation” (Daniel 4:34).

            One thing that is absolutely clear throughout the book of Daniel is this – God reigns over his kingdom.  And, in the end, it will not be Babylonia or Persia or the United States or any other kingdom that stands.  It will be the kingdom of God. 

            And this is a message that we all need to hear.  Because we live with various earthly kingdoms, and there are times when we fall in love with some of those kingdoms.  And we need to learn to live with our eyes on our eternal king and his eternal kingdom.   

            Because human history will always be characterized by the rise and fall of kings and kingdoms, presidents and prime ministers, but there is one king who rules over them all, and his kingdom will last forever.  Which is good news for those of us who are God’s people as we live in a world that continually offers up inferior kings and kingdoms.

            Let’s watch this video that will give us an overview of the book of Daniel and then I’ll be back to talk some more about God’s kingdom.

            VIDEO (Daniel)

            This morning, I want us to focus on Daniel chapter 4, because I believe that it captures the essence of the entire book.  The chapter begins with King Nebuchadnezzar, who was the king of Babylonia.

            “I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and prospering in my palace. I saw a dream that made me afraid.  As I lay in bed the fancies and the visions of my head alarmed me. So I made a decree that all the wise men of Babylon should be brought before me, that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream. Then the magicians, the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers came in, and I told them the dream, but they could not make known to me its interpretation.”  (Daniel 4:4-7)

            So, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream.  We find out later that it’s a dream about a tree that grew to be big and strong, but then the tree was cut down.  The king called in his wise men to find out what his dream meant, but they weren’t able to tell him.  Now, the dream is actually pretty easy to figure out, so that makes me wonder if it wasn’t that the king’s counselors couldn’t tell the king what his dream meant, but that they didn’t want to tell him.  Because nobody likes to be the person who gives the king bad news.

            So, the king calls for Daniel.  He says, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you and that no mystery is too difficult for you, tell me the visions of my dream that I saw and their interpretation.” (Daniel 4:9).  Perhaps Nebuchadnezzar recognized that Daniel would tell him the truth, even if nobody else would.

            So the kingtells Daniel his dream which Daniel interprets for him beginning in verse 24, “This is the interpretation, O king: It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king, that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field.  You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.   And as it was commanded to leave the stump of the roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be confirmed for you from the time that you know that Heaven rules.  Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.” (Daniel 4:24-27)

            This was a very serious warning to King Nebuchadnezzar – Daniel tells him, you need to repent or your kingdom is going to be taken away from you and you are going be reduced to some sort of grass-grazing animal.   But as we see in the next few verses, Nebuchadnezzar did not repent, so here’s what happened:

            “All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar.  At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, ‘Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?’ (Daniel 4:28-30)

            “Everybody, look at this great kingdom that I have built.  It is greater than any other kingdom on the face of the earth.  It is greater than any kingdom that has ever been.  And this obviously shows that I am the greatest king of all time!  There is nobody greater than me!”

            But, “While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field.  And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.”(Daniel 4:31-32)

            God says to Nebuchadnezzar, “You may think that you’re the greatest king, but I need to help you to understand that you are not the greatest king of all time; I am.  And I’ll give you some time to think about that.”

            So “[King Nebuchadnezzar] was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.” (Daniel 4:33)

            Now, to his credit, Nebuchadnezzar finally came to his senses.

                “At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
    and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
    and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
    or say to him, “What have you done?”

            “At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me…Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (Daniel 4:34-37)

            There’s a lot going on in this passage.  Basically, we have an account of a man practically making himself out to be God.  And, in response, the one and only true God makes it clear that he will not share his glory with anyone else.  The king said, “Is this not the mighty Babylon I have built with my hands and for my honor?”

            And God’s response was, “You need to understand that the Most High God is ruler over every human kingdom and the only reason you have this kingdom is because I gave it to you.”  

            What is being described here is God’s everlasting dominion.  And that’s what King Nebuchadnezzar will eventually come to recognize.  That ultimately, all dominion belongs to God.  

Everything in creation is under God’s control, and that kingdom is everlasting; it has always been, and it always will be.

            Which raises the question — why does God get the dominion?  What gives God the right to have control over everybody and everything?  And I think the answer to that question is found in the very first verse of the Bible. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

            Genesis 1 goes on to say that God is responsible for the design and the creation of everything in the universe.  Why does God have everlasting dominion?  Here’s the answer as simple as I know how to put it — If you make it, you own it.  It’s as simple as that.

            Now, we may feel like we make stuff.  But really, all we do is mix and match things that God made from nothing.  If you build a piece of furniture by taking some boards, cutting them,  sanding them and putting them together into a table or whatever, you’re not really making that table.  You’re just rearranging things that God has already made.

            And so here in Daniel 4, we find the king saying, “Look at the palace I made. Look at this nation I’ve built.”  But what did he build it with?  He built it with stuff that God created.  He just rearranged some things that God had already made.  And what did he do with those things God had made?  He tried to get people to worship him for them, to glorify him instead of glorifying God, who is the true creator.

            Because God created us, we are accountable to him.  We are under his rule.  We’re withinhis dominion. And God intends that we give him glory for the great God that he is.  And, if we don’t do that, then God holds us accountable.  That was the king’s biggest problem.  He didn’t understand that God is the one who is worthy of all the glory.  And that’s sometimes our biggest problem, too.

            Now that we’ve looked at what dominion is and what it means for God to have everlasting dominion, I want us to make three final points.

1.         We Love Our Kingdoms

            Just like King Nebuchadnezzar, we all love our kingdoms.  Remember what the king said?  “Is this not the great Babylon I have built by my mighty strength and for my majestic honor?”

            You may be thinking, “Alan, I don’t have a kingdom.  I’m not a Saudi oil prince.  I’m not royalty.  I don’t rule over anything.”  But we all have our own mini-kingdoms that we try to make, a place where we are in control, a place where people can admire us and tell us how wonderful we are.

            Perhaps one of the most common characteristics of humanity is that we all have a tendency to build ourselves up, to take from others, to gain power, to exercise influence, to think more highly of ourselves and less of everyone else, and even to think less of God.  It’s a temptation for all of us, to practice our own little version of everlasting dominion.  

            And when we do that, we end up sounding a lot like Nebuchadnezzar – “Look at what I’ve done.  Look at what I’ve accomplished.  Everyone, take notice and be impressed.”  We love our kingdoms.

2.         God Will Not Share His Glory

            Our purpose here on this earth is to live to the praise of God’s glory.  That was why God blessed the Jews in the Old Testament.  It was so that people all around them would see the way the Jews behaved and give glory to their God.  It wasn’t so that people would say, “Look how great the Jews are!”  Rather, it was so that people would say, “Look how great their God is!”

            It’s the same for those of us who are Christians.  There are times when we’re tempted to say, “Look at what we’ve accomplished.”  And we take pride when people say, “What a great church this is.”  But folks, we haven’t succeeded unless people are saying, “What a great God they serve.”  And, “Look at what Jesus Christ is able to do through them.”

            Paul says in Ephesians 1, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.  In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:11-14)

            The first point is, we love our kingdoms.  The second point is, God will not share his glory. And there’s a tension between those two things.  They’re directly opposed to each another.  We may say, This is my kingdom, this is my glory.”  But God refuses to share his glory.  And God’s everlasting dominion coupled with our tendency to build ourselves up will never end well. 

            Here in Daniel, we see an example of how God dealt with someone who was trying to take away God’s glory.  He reduced King Nebuchadnezzar to a babbling grass-grazer.  He took the mighty king and made him nothing more than a field animal because God will not share his glory.

            Now, I don’t want to paint the wrong picture for you.  It’s not that God is all angry or all vindictive or anything like that.  It’s just that God is the only one who deserves the glory.  And God wouldn’t share his glory with King Nebuchadnezzar, and he won’t share it with anyone else (nor should he).  It would be like if I were to start claiming that I’m the one who created Microsoft and made it into the great corporation it is, and everybody should start paying me money for what I’ve accomplished.  If that were to happen, I might have a few law suits filed against me.  I can’t claim something that I don’t deserve.

            And King Nebuchadnezzar finally came to realize this after God humbled him. God brought him to the point where he could see clearly who God is.  God has never taken kindly to people taking away from his glory.  And he shouldn’t.  He won’t share his glory.  

            Now, he may tolerate our pride and our rebellion for a while.  You’ll notice, the first time King Nebuchadnezzar messed up, God didn’t go, “Bam! you’re a cow.”  It didn’t happen like that.  God tolerated his behavior for a while.  He gave Nebuchadnezzar a full year.  And he may tolerate our rebellion for a while, maybe even for our entire lives.  But make no mistake. God will have the last word, and we will be held accountable.

            So, we have these two tensions so far.  We tend to build ourselves up and create our own little mini-kingdoms, but God will not share his glory.  Which leads us to our third point.

3.         God Always Loves Us Enough to Try to Get Us Back

            God didn’t have to try to help King Nebuchadnezzar get his priorities straight.  He was under absolutely no obligation to bring the king to the point of recognizing his glory.  He could have just zapped the king and been done with it.  But here in Daniel 4, we get a small picture of the gospel.  While the king was hostile to God, building himself up, building his dominion, God reached down, changed his heart, and saved him even while he was in rebellion against God.

            Now, we don’t build empires and statues to ourselves, but we do practice our own little version of that.  And it’s helpful for us to understand that God showed his grace toward us when he saved us, in spite of our rebellion.  That’s exactly what Paul talks about in Romans 5. “God demonstrates his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

            God loved us before we even thought of loving him.  God took the first step.  He sent his son to die for us while we were still in our sin.  And as Paul says in Romans 5, there may be a few people we would sacrifice for, maybe our friends, maybe our family.  But nobody would be willing to die for someone who hates us and rebels against us.   But that’s what God did.

            God took steps to save us, even when we were sinners, like King Nebuchadnezzar. Jesus came to earth, took on flesh, lived and died for those who are willing to place their trust in him.  He made an effort to save us while we were in our prideful state, usurping God’s authority, building our own little kingdom.  Which, if it weren’t blasphemous, I think God would just find to be comical.  “Look what they think they’re doing. Look how important they think they are. Just like the king.”  “Is this not the mighty Babylon I have built by my hands for my mighty power?”

            And God could have just zapped us.  He could have left us to continue down the path to ruin.  But God saved us.  He saved us so that we will stop building our own kingdoms and start building his.   Instead of spending our lives building a kingdom that won’t outlast our deaths, we have the opportunity to help build a kingdom of the Most High God, whose dominion is eternal, whose kingdom is everlasting.

            Because we understand that God is the one to whom we should give glory, not ourselves. Because we understand that we are accountable to God for what we do with the life we’ve been given.   Because we understand that God’s kingdom is not of this world and neither is our citizenship as Christians, and we should not live like it is.

            Daniel 4 is a stark reminder of how God views those who compete with his glory.  He will not share his glory.  But he will extend grace to those who are willing to humble themselves and turn back to him.

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