Faithful Living in an Unsympathetic World – Part 4 – Sermon – Rev. Alex Moir – 22 August 2021

WELCOME

Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. Be sure to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week as you pray for them, and as the Holy Spirit brings their faces to your mind. Be sure to also connect with them in the ways that are possible. And if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact the church through the church telephone and leave a message. (519-733-4144)

Call to Worship

“For consider your call, brothers and sisters … not many of you were wise according to worldly standards; not many were powerful; not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.” 

— 1 Corinthians 1:26

Prayer

As we begin our worship experience this day we are once again aware, gracious Father, of how indebted we are to You.  Paul suggests that we are chosen in spite of having done nothing to earn this honour.  We know that this is Your will for all.  So, we praise You this day, for Your love that covers all and provides for all.  In the strong name of the sent One we pray … amen.  

Song

Today's Message: Faithful Living in an Unsympathetic World – Part 4

Scripture Reading: Daniel 4:19-27

Daniel Interprets the Dream

19 Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.”

Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries! 20 The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, 21 with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the wild animals, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds— 22 Your Majesty, you are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.

23 “Your Majesty saw a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; let him live with the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.’

24 “This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: 25 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. 26 The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. 27 Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”

As we catch up with King Nebuchadnezzar in this week’s episode, it appears that he has made some headway in the area of faith development.  This is no doubt due in no small part to the presence of a few of the Hebrew exiles serving on his team of court advisors.  His progress is clear, as we see in a pretty impressive statement of faith recorded in the first few verses of Daniel chapter 4:

“It is my pleasure to tell you about
the miraculous signs and wonders
that the Most High God has performed for me.”  (v. 2)

This somewhat amazing development is a helpful reminder to all of us … the faithful and courageous living of Daniel and his friends has had an impact on those around them.  Henry Stanley said of the great explorer David Livingstone, “He made me a Christian and he never even knew he was doing it!”  We often have no idea the impact our faithful living can have on those around us … 

In spite of some degree of faith that this powerful man has attained he is still troubled by dreams.  It doesn’t matter how rich or powerful you are … or whether or not you are a person of faith “in the Most High God” … all of us have our sleep interrupted in this way.  Sometimes we are troubled because this whole process happens at night when things are the scariest and problems are the most unsolvable.  But there is often reality in our dreams as well.  The king states that this particular one makes him afraid (v. 5).  Such is often our experience too, since ours usually consist of situations we would like to avoid or people with whom we may have had conflict within the past.  It’s not so much what the details of a dream might mean that is important but rather how they reveal the things we hope will never happen …

As we might expect the Babylonian king moves quickly to address this latest interruption to what has become a rather peaceful and prosperous life.  After all, that’s what powerful people do … when there is a problem, they set about to solve it.  It may come as a surprise to us that, after his experience with Daniel and his friends, he calls in “the wise men of Babylon” first (v. 6).  “Blood is thicker than water” we might say, so he turns to the ones who share his culture and background.  But predictably, they fail to produce and so Daniel or Belteshazzar (his Babylonian name) is summoned.

  At first things start out rather pleasantly, due to the nature of the dream.  “Before me stood a tree …” (v. 10) is the way the king describes it.  We all like trees.  This one was “enormous” and “visible to the ends of the earth” (v. 10-11).  Inasmuch as this dream likely refers to the king, it fits with what kings and queens are supposed to be … influential, with a vision for his/her people that is communicated across the entire constituency.  Indeed, this was the context for King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the leading figure of the dominant nation of that time (6th century B.C.).  Other words in this description fit the picture as well … the tree is described as having “food for all” (v. 12), implying nourishment for the stomach as well as for mind and spirit.  Finally, the tree in the dream is providing “shelter” for the animals (v. 12) a very important part of the role of leadership, whether of the beasts of the field or of people.  It is as plain as day … the dream is not simply about a tree, but rather of some influential or special person.  We anticipate what this might mean … to the king, his empire and the special person who will interpret for him.

Whatever warm feelings we might feel about the tree theme are abruptly affected by the shattering words that come next … the tree is to be cut down, its branches trimmed, its fruit scattered.  The shelter it once provided for the “animals” (i.e. patrons, citizens) is now gone … and they run for cover.  We know ourselves how disappointed we are when a tree must be removed … and we see the environmental impact of large forests lost.  There is some remnant of hope as we read that the stump and roots will remain, hinting that the future may not be totally hopeless.   But the final word from the message must cause great concern … a mysterious “him” (v. 15b) is inserted into the messenger’s word:

“Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven,
and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth.”

No wonder Daniel was “terrified” when it comes to him to interpret.  “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries!” he says to Nebuchadnezzar (v. 19).  Indeed, Daniel declares that this is not just some garden variety nightmare … rather it is a “decree from the Most High (v. 24).”  And, as was feared, it is really about the king himself.  The basic meaning, as Daniel describes it, is that there will be an unfortunate change in the future of the empire and its king.  As much progress as he has made in acknowledging the truth of “the Most High God’’, the great and powerful king of the Babylonian empire is not as far as he needs to be.  There is more “pruning” necessary to become the right leader for his people.

Our friend Daniel identifies two things that will need to happen for Nebuchadnezzar to escape this decree.  First, he will have to make an even deeper acknowledgement about God … “… that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes (v. 25b).”  We saw from the early words of this scripture that the king had indeed come a long way in his understanding of who really is in charge of life … but apparently not far enough.  We shouldn’t be surprised at this … as followers of Jesus we are aware of the constant shaping (through the Spirit) to further equip us for life and service.  We have learned to accept such “pruning” … even if we sometimes feel there is not much more than a “stump” left!

But there is one more step in the transformation of this ancient ruler and it should have been familiar words in the ears the king’s Jewish advisors:

“Renounce your sins by doing what is right,
and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed.
It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”  (v. 27)

Such had been a recurring problem with the Hebrew nation … and is an issue in our contemporary cultures as well.  God “the Most High” had issues with His people, not only when it came to perfunctory worship, but in the way the powerful in society treated “the oppressed.”  Of course, our Lord picks up the theme during His ministry … “When you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me (Matthew 25).”  Our ministry to the souls of the ones we serve in ministry is perfectly complimented when we pay heed to their material needs as well.  We might call these justice issues … and they form a vital part of our ministry on our Lord’s behalf.

Sure enough … the dream becomes reality in the life of the Babylonian ruler.  A lot of significant developments mentioned across the pages of scripture have begun “up on the roof” as the song goes (see II Samuel 11, Acts 10).  In a moment of reflection, the great king reveals his true feelings … that the success of his kingdom is really the result of his own doing.  In that moment the dream is confirmed … and instantly (“the words were still on his lips”/v. 31) he enters into a time like no other.  Scripture tells us that he assumes the life of an animal … until, as he himself admits, he “raised his eyes toward heaven (v. 34).”  It was at that moment that his “sanity was restored.”  And so, it may be with us … we may have a “brain cramp” like the king, when we think we are pretty clever or powerful.  It is at those moments, when we realize that all significant things in life are gifted to us, that we reach a level of true maturity.  This is a state that only “the Most High” can bring.  It’s why we gather for worship, take time each week for prayer, open our lives to the presence of the Spirit.  Indeed, the old hymn is correct … “I need thee every hour.”

What good news, that God restores the king to his former position … and restoration is such an important part of the Father’s business and ours, on His behalf.  The words of scripture remind us of this great, but often forgotten, truth:

“As surely as I live”, declares the Sovereign Lord,
“I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked,
but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” 

— Ezekiel 33:11

Reflect

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise,
as some understand slowness.
He is patient with you,
not wanting anyone to perish,
but everyone to come to repentance.”

May our work for Him reflect this glorious part of his way … and the patience He has shown in our lives!

Prayer

As we have once again examined the lives of those living many years ago, we are reminded of Your grace to all persons.  We are thankful that You have not adopted a “zero-tolerance policy” for foul-ups, missteps, or shortcomings.  If You were intent on restoring an ancient despot like Nebuchadnezzar, we are convinced that You might be so inclined with us.  How we praise You for the forgiveness You extend to each of us, when we truly acknowledge our sin before You.

As we read this account of Your care and guidance, we are struck with how poorly we sometimes perform in this area.  May our lives and churches truly reflect Your grace.  In all that we do may we be found faithful in Your work … the proclamation of the good news, the assurance of Your pardon and the restoration of sinners.

As we close this prayer, we recall the events of this past week and how our memories are seared with the scenes of fleeing civilians in Kabul, Afghanistan.  This country follows in a long line of beautiful nations now in ruins … places like Lebanon, Yugoslavia and Rwanda.  We feel a need to make reparations to this once great nation … but You are the one Who’s holy will has been thwarted.  In the coming days, as the world community tries to mount a feeble effort to undo such terrible wrongs, may we remember Your initial creation and our calling to be stewards of Your careful work.  We pray because our Master said we should.  In His glorious name we pray … amen.

Song

Benediction

“Nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’  For behold … the Kingdom of God is within you.” 

— Luke 17:21