Different is Good
Choose the Better Kingdom
Good morning Chapel family. Great to be with you today. Last week we started Common Ground 2020, and it has been so encouraging to see all the small groups that are starting up. They’re meeting in backyards; they’re meeting outdoors at the Chapel campus; some of them are meeting, very carefully, indoors. And a lot of them are meeting on Zoom. My men’s group re-started last week, and we’re still using Zoom for now. And I have to say: it was just a joy to re-connect with the guys. So it’s not too late—if you’re not yet in a group, hop on the web site and get connected.
We keep saying that things feel different, and that calls for different ways of doing things. So one of the decisions that Chapel leadership just made was that we will not re-open our Montclair Campus. This was an extremely hard decision, because we have seen so many good things happen at Montclair. Pastor Paul Klouse and his team really developed something special there—just a close-knit community; a high level of volunteerism; great involvement in serving the town of Montclair. But the pandemic has affected our attendance and giving, and we believe we need to focus on Lincoln Park and Wayne and our Online Campus. So here’s the good news: Pastor Paul will be remaining on staff, coordinating our welcome team ministry and our community service and our crisis relief team, and also working with our care ministry. Taylor Reinhard has already stepped into the role of interim worship leader. And we believe that almost everyone who was attending Montclair will be staying with the Chapel family. So I want to say this really clearly: Pastor Paul, and Taylor, and Tiffany Tilli, who directed Chapel Kids at Montclair, have poured so much into this campus. And I want to say a huge thank you to them (applse).
Alright—so we started the book of Daniel last week, and it began with a disaster: Jerusalem was conquered, and a bunch of Israelites were brought to Babylon as exiles. And the story focuses on four young Hebrew men: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Because they were healthy and strong and smart, they were chosen to be educated and trained and basically turned into good Babylonians, so they could serve Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. And so right from the start, they felt this tension of belonging to God, but living in this godless place. And we said last week that if we’re following Jesus in 2020, we will feel some of that same tension. As Jesus said, we are in the world, but not of it. So there are times when our faith means that we choose to live differently from the people around us. Which is hard, right? Because there’s a lot of social pressure to conform. But when we choose to be different, for the right reasons, good things happen. And that’s what this whole series is about: different is good.
So in chapter one, Daniel and his friends chose to be different by refusing to eat the special diet offered to them from the king’s table. It was gourmet food, but it was unclean for a Hebrew to eat. So, risky decision, but it worked out. In chapter two they get their second major challenge, and it comes in the form of a dream that the king has one night.
Now: Daniel chapter two is really long. So rather than reading every word, I’m going to summarize some parts and then we’ll really dig in toward the end.
So…King Nebuchadnezzar goes to sleep one night, and he has a strange dream. In ancient Near-Eastern culture, dreams were taken very seriously. And by the way—just a side note: when you hear the stories of Muslims who come to faith in Christ today, a large number of them talk about a dream they had, where they encountered Jesus. Isn’t that fascinating? So dreams are very mysterious, and God does use them. So Nebuchadnezzar has this dream, and it bothers him so much that he calls together his astrologers and advisers, and they say, “Okay—tell us what you dreamed, and we’ll interpret it for you.” The king says, “No, that’s not the way it’s going to work. You’re going to tell me what I dreamed, and then you’re going to tell me what it means. Oh—and if you can’t—I’m going to kill you.” This is the first glimpse we get into the character of Nebuchadnezzar. He was a hot-headed, narcissistic, impulsive leader. “You tell me what I dreamed; then interpret the dream, or you’re dead.”
Pick up the story in verse 10: 10 The astrologers answered the king, “There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. 11 What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans.” Interesting statement, isn’t it? So the king’s advisors are in full panic mode. And then the king says, “And you know what? Since I don’t like your attitude, I’m going to order the execution of every wise man in Babylon!” And this is where the story starts to include Daniel and his friends, because they were among the wise men of Babylon, which means they were now scheduled for execution.
So when Daniel finds out about all this, he goes home to his three buddies, and he says, “Guys, it’s time to pray.” Have you ever been so desperate, the only thing you can do is pray? I mean, sometimes we pray polite prayers, right? Sometimes we sort of phone in our prayers. But there are times when you pray through tears. Because there’s something that’s so beyond you. Or there’s someone you love so much, who’s struggling and hurting. And you just get on your face before God, and you just plead with him and cry out to him. That’s the kind of prayer Daniel and his friends prayed that night. They knew their very life was at stake. So they prayed.
So that night Daniel goes to bed, and he has a dream. And in the dream, God completely explains the dream that King Nebuchadnezzar had. God just lays it all out. So Daniel wakes up and he goes, “Yes!” And he praises God. And then he goes to the executioner, and he says, “Take me to the king; I can explain his dream.” So Daniel gets ushered into the presence of King Nebuchadnezzar. And that’s where I’m going to pause, because now we’re set up for todays’ message.
As we hear Daniel explain this dream, here’s what we’re going to see—three things: The Need for a Better Kingdom, The Promise of a Better Kingdom, and Choosing the Better Kingdom. So here was the leader of the most powerful kingdom on earth—the king of Babylon—and God had this message for him. Here we are—living in an extremely powerful nation—and God has this message for us. The need for a better kingdom; the promise of a better kingdom, and choosing the better kingdom.
So, first: The Need for a Better Kingdom. Let’s pick it up in verse 26: 26 The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?”
27 Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you were lying in bed are these:
Verse 31…31 “Your Majesty looked, and there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. 32 The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. 34 While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were all broken to pieces and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.
You have to picture this. As Daniel explains the dream, Nebuchadnezzar is sitting there in stunned silence. Because this was exactly what he had dreamed. I mean, Daniel nails it. I believe this is a turning point for Nebuchadnezzar: even before he hears the interpretation, he realizes that this guy has something special—something that none of his other advisors have.
Daniel continues in verse 36: 36 “This was the dream, and now we will interpret it to the king. 37 Your Majesty, you are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; 38 in your hands he has placed all mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds in the sky. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold. And King Nebuchadnezzar is thinking, “I knew I liked this guy!”
Verse 39: 39 “After you, another kingdom will arise, inferior to yours. Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth. 40 Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron—for iron breaks and smashes everything—and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others. 41 Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay. 42 As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle.
Okay, let’s stop there for a minute. There is very little debate about what this all means. The head of gold…of course that’s Babylon, led by King Nebuchadnezzar. And Babylon would last about 60 more years after this moment.
And then the chest and arms of silver—that’s the Persian Empire, which began with Cyrus the Great. So that was the next great superpower in the world. They lasted for about 200 years.
Then the belly and thighs of bronze—that’s Greece, which began with Alexander the Great. (Don’t you love how these leaders like to call themselves “great?” You never hear about a King who says, “I am Alexander the Average.” Or, “Call me Cyrus, the Fairly Decent” You just don’t hear that). So the Greek Empire lasted almost 300 years—till about 63BC—so now we’re getting closer to the time of Christ, right?
And finally, the legs of iron—that’s Rome. When Jesus walked the earth, the Roman Empire was in power—and they definitely ruled with an iron fist.
Honest question: how many of you find this historical stuff fascinating? Put up your hands. You like this stuff—you’re taking notes; you’re drawing statues. How many of you find this stuff really boring? You can be honest. You should be ashamed of yourself. No—I get it! It’s a lot of detail. And that’s why I’m not going to spend much time on it. But think about this: all the way back in about 600 BC, God gave this dream to the leader of the world’s biggest superpower that basically predicted the next 600 years of world history. It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?
Now—last thing: let’s get to the toes made of iron and clay. Because this is where Bible scholars start to disagree. Some believe that’s talking about something that happened already—in the first few centuries after Christ. Others believe it’s talking about something that hasn’t happened yet, and the theory is that sometime in the future there will be this revived Roman Empire, and they will build a coalition of nations, and try to rule the world. And that has led to all kinds of speculation—like trying to connect this with things in the book of Revelation, and match it up with current events, and current leaders. The ten toes are the ten nations of the European Union, etc. Listen: be careful. Don’t get obsessed with the details of future things. The church has a little bit of an embarrassing history of making wrong predictions. But the real danger is that we can miss the bigger message that God is teaching us here.
So what’s the bigger message? Well, here’s part of it: This prophetic dream teaches us that All human kingdoms are temporary. Are you with me? All human kingdoms are temporary! So all through history, kingdoms will rise up and they will look impressive. But they will run their course, and they will end. Every. Single. One.
I’ll never forget sitting in a college German class in the fall of 1988. And I remember someone in the class asking the professor, “Do you think East and West Germany will ever reunite?” And the professor, who was a German man, said, “Absolutely not. There’s just too much that divides them. Never going to happen.” One year later—in 1989—I turned on the news and I saw the wall coming down. Just like that, the kingdom of East Germany was done! I would have loved to talk to my German teacher—I never saw him after that. Unthinkable! But it happened. Because kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall.
It happened to the French Monarchy; it happened to the Soviet Union; you could give example after example. Even the ones that appear invincible are temporary! And therefore, here’s the lesson: don’t put too much hope in any human kingdom or human king.
And you know what? This is not just true of nations and kings. It’s true of all human institutions, and all human leaders. When the 9/11 attacks happened, besides the tragic loss of 2,800 lives, and besides being shaken by a terrorist attack on our soil, most of us were so disoriented by the absence of those two iconic buildings, right? It just seemed like they would always be there! But even great buildings rise and eventually fall. A few years ago they knocked down the IZOD Center in East Rutherford—remember? Which used to be Continental Airlines Arena, which used to be the Brendan Byrne Arena. I saw the NBA All-Star Game there when I was in 7th Grade! I saw my first concert there—Bryan Adams and Journey. What a great concert! I saw the Globetrotters and the Nets play there. And they just knocked it down. I felt sad that day. But earthly things are temporary.
And here’s a really hard thing: earthly leaders are temporary. Even ones that mean a lot to us. Sometimes they die and it leaves us feeling empty. But even harder, sometimes they fall when they’re still alive. Over the past few years the MeToo movement has exposed some pretty dark things about some people we thought we knew. And there have been some Christian leaders—some high-profile pastors, that I really admired—who’ve had things come to light about their lives, and suddenly this person you always looked up to loses all credibility. And I’ll just speak personally—that’s been really hard for me to hear. Psalm 146:3 says Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. That applies to Nebuchadnezzar and Alexander the Great; it applies to Donald Trump and Joe Biden; it applies to every human leader. It’s okay to admire them; just don’t put them on too high of a pedestal. Because eventually they fall.
So that’s the first thing this dream teaches: all human kings and all human kingdoms are temporary. And when you really absorb that message—when you really get that—something starts to build inside you. You start to long for a better kingdom. Does that make sense? Something in you knows there must something more lasting than this. In the book of Hebrews it says when Abraham walked this earth, he was “longing for a better country.” I’ve got to tell you: when I watched the presidential debate on Tuesday night, I’m not going to pick on either side, because we’re not being political, but I’m going to be honest: I was longing for something better. Weren’t you? Listen: if you feel disappointed with human kings and human kingdoms, let it build in you a longing for something better.
And that leads to point number 2: The Promise of a Better Kingdom. Continue in verse 44: 44 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. 45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.
“The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.”
So this is what God was revealing to Nebuchadnezzar: you have a role to play; you have a temporary season of influence. But there is a king coming who will not temporary. And there is a kingdom coming whose reign will never end. In other words, that longing we have, for something more enduring and more reliable, will be satisfied. That emptiness we feel when a place that we love or a building that we love is taken away, or when a leader that we respect falls from grace—that emptiness can be filled by this kingdom that the God of heaven will set up.
Now, I don’t know if Daniel was paying attention to how King Nebuchadnezzar was responding to all this. But I doubt that he expected this—verse 46: 46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. 47 The king said to Daniel, “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.”
48 Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. 49 Moreover, at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court.
Can you believe that? King Nebuchadnezzar—the most powerful leader in the world, falling on his face before God. I mean, kings didn’t do that! And yet he did. It’s a breathtaking scene. Maybe, deep inside, even King Nebuchadnezzar longed for a better kingdom. Now, did he really grasp this? Did the king turn to God and become a believer? When we look at chapter three next week, you’ll see that the answer is “no.” But I think he did realize that he was being confronted by something bigger than himself, and it overwhelmed him.
How do you think this affected Daniel? I mean, here he was, in this foreign country. It would have been so easy for him to be intimidated, and maybe even to lose his faith. But now here’s the King of Babylon, humbled by the greatness of God. It was as if God was whispering in Daniel’s ear, “Don’t worry. I’m here. And I’m still in control.”
Maybe that’s what you need to hear today. Because your world has been rocked, and your faith has been shaken. Maybe you’ve been so disillusioned, because you watched the debate. Or some other kingdom or some king that you thought you could rely on has fallen. Some person you thought you could trust has disappointed you. And today, through these Scriptures, God is whispering in your ear, “Don’t worry. I’m here. Don’t be so surprised when human leaders rise and fall. I’m still in control. I’ve got this. Trust me.”
Human kingdoms and kings will come and go, but there is one kingdom that will never end. So what’s the wise response to all this? Let’s talk about that:
Choosing the Better Kingdom. When you look at Daniel’s actions and words, you see him consistently choosing God’s kingdom. Even though he’s living in the Babylonian kingdom, he’s not of that kingdom. And this is so important: the fact that he’s not owned by any earthly kingdom or any earthly king is what enables him to have such influence on the people around him.
So remember when the king gathered all his astrologers and advisors? And they said, “What you’re asking is impossible! Only the gods could do what you’re asking, and everybody knows that…what?” “Everybody knows the gods don’t dwell with men.” And then Daniel shows up. And the king says, “Okay, can you explain my dream?” Verse 27—Daniels says “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.” In other words, “Maybe your gods don’t dwell with men, but there is one who does, and I know Him. And even though I’m living in your kingdom, and I honor you as king, there is one I honor way above you. He’s the one who can explain your dream.” So right there, in the presence of this devastatingly powerful human leader, where Daniel could have groveled and tried to appease the king, he’s not afraid to speak the name of God. How about you? Do you make it clear, by your words and your actions, that you belong to a better kingdom? What would that mean for you this week?
But here’s the thing: to really live this out, we have to look beyond Daniel. We have to zoom out, and think about this in light of the whole message of Scripture. Because 600 years after Daniel, Jesus showed up. And when he started teaching, the first words out of his mouth were, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” The same kingdom that Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed about—that rock that came and struck all those other kingdoms, and broke them to pieces, and grew to become a huge mountain—Jesus said, “I’m inviting you to be part of that kingdom!”
“It’s a place where people live differently. So in a world of anger and shouting and shaming and canceling, in my kingdom you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. In a world where people obsess about their rights, in my kingdom you give up your rights for the good of others. In a world where the wealthy and the beautiful get all the attention, in my kingdom we pay most attention to the least of these. So I’m inviting you to a kingdom where we live truly differently, because we know different is good.”
“And in a world where kings and leaders like to flex their muscles and brag about their accomplishments, this is a kingdom where greatness will be measured by humility and sacrifice. The greatest among you will actually lower themselves and become the servant of all.”
That’s the kind of strange, countercultural kingdom that Jesus came to offer. And he preached it for three years on this earth. And then here’s the best part: the leader of this kingdom—the king himself!—then paid the entry price for all who wanted to enter his kingdom. He went to the cross and satisfied God’s justice for all of the things that disqualify us from entering God’s kingdom.
Would you think for a minute of the difference between Nebuchadnezzar and Jesus? Nebuchadnezzar sat on his throne and intimidated people. Jesus got off his throne and gave his life for people. Which king are you following?
If you have been disappointed by human kings or kingdoms; if you have been disillusioned by human leaders or movements; if you’ve felt that emptiness of something you thought you could count on, but it’s come up short; maybe that’s God’s way of inviting you to the one kingdom that will never end.
This week, let’s have the wisdom to choose the better kingdom.
We’re living in a world where there’s tremendous pressure to fit in. What does it mean to follow Jesus in a culture of conformity? As an exile in Babylon, Daniel shows us that different is good. He demonstrates not only how to resist the influence of culture, but how to be an influencer of culture, bringing grace and truth to the relationships and communities where God has placed us.