MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN A WACKY WORLD
(Message I gave at Mountainview International Church Madrid from the book of Daniel)
I was in Barcelona this past week to meet with Christian Associate’s staffers Justin and Jen Powell and to look at some property for a friend of mine who is thinking of a business venture in that city. While driving along the waterfront I was surprised to see a man walking without any clothes. He was a “nude dude.” I couldn’t help thinking what a wacky world we live in. Does anyone else feel that way? The Middle East is on fire, oil prices are skyrocketing, the global economy is struggling, the Western world has become more and more “post-Christian.” So often our entire world seems to be irrational, crazy, and wacky.
Maybe life’s wackiness is closer to home for you. You may be without a job, or troubled by the job you are in. You may be a relationship that is wacky or your finances are upside down. Can we make a difference in such a world?
DANIEL’S WACKY WORLD
Daniel found himself in that kind of world. Daniel’s home country Judah was conquered by the Babylonians in 605 B.C.—and Daniel was among those taken captive. He was young, perhaps twelve, thirteen or fourteen years of age. He was forced live in another culture, learn another language, and serve the very people who conquered his country and took him captive. Could Daniel make a difference in such a situation? One way to find out is to ask the question, “Will Nebuchadnezzar be in heaven?” And, “If so, why so?”
Nebuchadnezzar was an autocratic, fierce, brutal and egoistic ruler. 2King 24-25 tells of Nebuchadnezzar installation of Zedekiah as a puppet king of Judah. In the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, he rebelled against Babylonian rule, so Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, re-conquered the city and captured Zedekiah and his family. Zedekiah’s sons were executed before Zedekiah, before his own eyes were put out and he was carried back to Babylon.
NEBUCHADNEZZAR THE NON-BELIEVER
Nebuchadnezzar was a pagan who believed in the Babylonia pantheon of gods. His name meant: “O god Nebu, preserve my firstborn.” Nebu was the Babylonian deity of wisdom, son of the god Marduk, the head of the Babylonian pantheon of gods. Thus, Nebuchadnezzar did not believe in the God of Israel. As a ruthless, autocratic ruler who believed in the Babylonian gods, he was the least likely person to expect Daniel could influence for the God of Israel. Do you know anyone like that? Perhaps you’ve thought, “That person would never be interested in knowing Jesus.” That person is the least likely person I know to ever come to follow Jesus.
In Daniel chapter one we read that Daniel is forced to serve in Nebuchadnezzar’s service. Could he make a difference in that world? Could he make a difference in Nebuchadnezzar’s life? The next few chapters tell the amazing story of the transformation of Nebuchadnezzar.
NEBUCHADNEZZAR THE “NOTIONAL” BELIEVER
In Daniel chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream. He demanded that his wise men, magicians, sorcerers and astrologers not only interpret the dream, but also tell him what the dream was. The penalty for failing to do so was death. The response of those Nebuchadnezzar demanded this of was,
“What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among men” (Daniel 2:11).
Daniel received word of the king’s demand and asked his friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, to plead to God for mercy. During the night God revealed the dream to Daniel. Upon presenting the dream and the interpretation to Nebuchadnezzar, the king replied, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery’” (Daniel 2:47). Nebuchadnezzar was impressed that “God reveals.” Thus, he became a kind of “notional believer.” He had a notion of God. He added Daniel’s god to his pantheon of gods in some vague cognitive way. But to Nebuchadnezzar, God was just one of many gods, however amazing He might be. He could reveal but He was distant.
NEBUCHADNEZZAR THE “NOMINAL” BELIEVER
Daniel chapter three tells the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s effort to unify his nation around a common integrating point—him. He erected a 90×9 foot (30×3 meter) gold statue of himself and demanded that his subjects fall down and worship it. Daniel doesn’t appear in this chapter, likely because he is on some official mission and isn’t present. Daniel’s three Jewish friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, however, are there and they refuse to bow down to the statue as commanded. When confronted and threatened by Nebuchadnezzar, they reply,
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18)
Furious, Nebuchadnezzar orders that they be bound and thrown into a fiery furnace. Expecting them to be incinerated, he sees them walking in the midst of the fire unbound, unharmed and unsinged. He also sees a fourth man walking around in the fire with them. This fourth man appears “like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25). Nebuchadnezzar calls them forth and exclaims,
“Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God” (Daniel 3:28).
Thus, Nebuchadnezzar moves another step toward belief in the God of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. He goes from a notional belief in God (vague, one of many, distant) to a nominal belief in God (part of his cognitive belief but not the integrating point of his life). Nebuchadnezzar is not only impressed that God reveals, but that he also rescues. Nebuchadnezzar’s advisers had earlier expressed the Babylonian belief that the gods “do not live among men.” Nebuchadnezzar conceded that the God of Daniel was a revealer of mysteries. Now he perceives that the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came among them to rescue and save them. Their God was not distant. Their God was not indifferent. Their God was not impersonal. But this was still a cognitive belief for Nebuchadnezzar and did not influence the way he lived and treated other people. Like many people today who consider themselves Christians, Nebuchadnezzar had a nominal belief that did not really influence the way he lived.
NEBUCHADNEZZAR THE GENUINE BELIEVER
Daniel chapter four opens with a declaration by King Nebuchadnezzar himself:
“ To the peoples, nations and men of every language, who live in all the world: May you prosper greatly! It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me. How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation” (Daniel 3:1-3).
This expresses a profound shift in Nebuchadnezzar’s perspective. In the previous chapter he built a statue to himself and demanded that people worship him. Now he praises the “Most High God,” the God that Daniel called “the God of heaven” (2:28, 37, 44) and the “great God” (2:45), and the God that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego served who they declared was “able to save” (3:17).
Incredibly, Nebuchadnezzar’s view not only shifted about God, it also shifted about his role as King. Instead of his subjects existing to serve him, he sees his role existing for his subjects to “prosper greatly” (4:1b). Instead of seeking his own aggrandizement, he seeks the well being of his people. Instead of seeing his role to benefit himself and his own ethnic tribe, he sees his role to seek the prosperity of “the peoples, nations, and men of every language, who live in all the world” (4:1a).
Ken Eldred captures Nebuchadnezzar’s change in perspective in his book (Ken Eldred’s), The Integrated Life, declaring that the purpose of business (and any position of power or influence) is “to serve others for the glory of God.” What a difference this perspective would make if businesses, governments, leaders of nations held this view.
WHAT HAPPENED TO CHANGE NEBUCHADNEZZAR?
Nebuchadnezzar had another dream that made him afraid. The dream was of an enormous beautiful tree that was visible to the ends of the earth. A messenger from heaven cut the tree down, leaving only the stump (4:4-15). The image of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream shifts from a tree to a person whose mind is changed from that of a man into that of an animal in order that “the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men” (4:17).
Daniel interprets the dream, telling Nebuchadnezzar that he, Nebuchadnezzar, is the tree and that he would be driven away and live like a wild animal for seven times [years]. This would last until he acknowledged God’s sovereign reign. Daniel appealed to Nebuchadnezzar to accept his advice, renounce his sins by doing what is right and his wickedness by being kind to the oppressed (4:24-27). A year later Nebuchadnezzar was admiring his royal palace and his mighty power, glory and majesty when he heard a voice from heaven that his authority was taken from him. He became insane and foraged in the fields like an animal. His body was drenched, his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle, and his nails grew like the claws of a bird.
“GOD HUMBLES;” “GOD REIGNS”
At the end of seven years of madness, Nebuchadnezzar raised his eyes to heaven and praised the Most High (the name Daniel used for God in 4:24, 25). Nebuchadnezzar confesses:
“I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’” (4:34-35).
He goes on the declare, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” Nebuchadnezzar has been humbled and has come to see that it is God who reigns and that Nebuchadnezzar is under His rule and responsible to act justly and use his power to for the well being of others. He has gone from a “non-believer” (chapter one), to a “notional believer” (chapter two), to a “nominal believer” (chapter three), to a “genuine believer” (chapter four). He has gone from believing “God reveals” (chapter two), to “God rescues” (chapter three), to “God reigns” (chapter four).
IF SO, WHY SO?
So the question again is, “Will Nebuchadnezzar be in heaven? And, “If so why so?” Surely, it will be because of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. It will be because of their uncompromising faith, their conscientious service, and their courageous witness. Their Hebrew names reveal their underlying faith. “Daniel” means “God is my Judge.” “Hananiah” (Shadrach in the Babylonian language) means, “Yahweh is gracious.” “Mishael” (Meschach) means, “Who is like God?” Azariah (Abednego) means, “Yahweh is my helper.” These four men uncompromisingly lived out the meaning of their names, they conscientiously served the Babylonians as Jeremiah had admonished (Jeremiah 29:7), and they courageously took risks and spoke honestly about the Most High God who reveals, rescues, and reigns.
In closing, will your boss be in heaven? If so, why so? Will your spouse be in heaven? If so, why so? Will your parents, children, friends, neighbors, coworkers be in heaven? If so, why so? We can make a difference in our wacky world!