Imagine you are an Israelite. Jerusalem has been besieged. The treasures from the temple have been taken. The city and its people have been broken. And now the king of Babylon has taken you from your homeland to work in his capital: Babylon.
As you approach Bablyon for the first time you are impressed. It is the greatest city of the known world. You see beautiful palaces, temples and gardens. All paid for out of the king's vast wealth. You enter the city by the Ishtar Gate which reaches up to 12 metres high. As you pass through the bronze and cedar gate you see an even larger gate that rises to 15 metres. All over the tiled blue walls are foreign Gods: lions, dragons and bulls. Up ahead lies a long avenue paved with red and yellow stones. At the end is a temple. Not to your God, but to Marduk – the God of the Babylonians. The God of Nebuchadnezzar. Your heart sinks. You think of your smashed up city. God's temple empty of its treasure. God's people now far from home. And you're tempted to think: what is God doing? You're tempted to think that perhaps the king of Babylon is surely the greatest sovereign. Perhaps the kingdom of Babylon really is supreme.
And sometimes as followers of Jesus we might feel the same way today as the exiled Israelites. We're told church attendances are falling. We see those around us living for anything but Jesus. And yet they seem to prosper. And we wonder what is God doing? It's tempting to think that God perhaps isn't sovereign. That perhaps his kingdom isn't supreme after all. And to feel discouraged.
But the book of Daniel told the Jewish exiles, and us today something else. Something that would blow away any temptation to doubt what God is doing. Something that would blow away any temptation to feel downhearted. What I want us to see in Daniel 2 tonight is this: The sovereign God is establishing a supreme kingdom. I've got two points. Firstly:God is sovereign. And secondly: God's kingdom is supreme.
So point one:
1. God Is Sovereign.
Chapter two starts with a very human observation of the king who appears so impressive:
In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep.
We're going to see that behind Nebuchadnezzar's glitz and glamour, he is far from an all powerful and all knowing king. Whether he could remember much of his dream or not, it clearly suggested some kind of danger. It worried him. Let's see what happens next in verse 2:
So the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed. When they came in and stood before the king, he said to them, "I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means. " Then the astrologers answered the king in Aramaic, "O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it." The king replied to the astrologers, "This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble. 6 But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honour. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.
Clearly if you got on the wrong side of the king life was not all rosy! As the magicians found out Nebuchadnezzar could be a cruel sovereign to serve. All the magicians can do is ask him again if he will tell them his dream. The Babylonian gods, for all the temples they boasted in Babylon, could not give them knowledge of the king's dream. The failure of their gods is clear in verse 10 when again the kings tells them to interpret the dream:
The astrologers answered the king, "There is not a man 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.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.
They just can't do it. It's embarrassing. They even go so far as to suggest the king is even a bit nuts to ask them. The pagan gods might have looked impressive but they were powerless. So Babylon might look impressive with its powerful king and mighty Gods. But actually it has a fearful king and powerless gods. And that's the same for us today. Human power looks impressive. We turn on the T.V. and we see glitz and glamour of our celebrities. And it's easy to believe that their lives are made complete by the gods of our age: health, wealth, beauty and entertainment. The pop singer Lily Allen sings about the life of celebrity. She mentions the money, the cars, the parties. But then she sings this:
I'll look at the sun and I'll look in the mirror
I'm on the right track, yeah I'm on to a winner.
I don't know what's right and what's real anymore
And I don't know how I'm meant to feel anymore
And when do you think it will all become clear?
'Cause I'm being taking over by The Fear
It's honest isn't it? Despite being on the 'right track' and being a 'winner,' there is a fear. A fear of not knowing what is right and what's real in the world. Only God can show us what is right, and show us reality and where life is heading. And that is what Nebuchadnezzar desperately wanted to know. So let's not be over impressed by the kings and Gods of this world. And very soon we'll see Babylon's king and gods contrasted Daniel's to sovereign God. The one whose power and wisdom should really impress us. Now the king mercilessly orders his men to kill all the wise men of the land – including Daniel. But Daniel asks the king if he can interpret the dream. But he needs a bit of time. Why? Because he's go to organise a prayer meeting first. Look with me at verse 17:
Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.
Daniel prays for mercy to understand the dream. And God answers his prayers. And so Daniel praises his sovereign God. And in his praise, Daniel shows us what a real sovereign God is like. Not fearful like Nebuchadnezzar. And not powerless like the Babylonian gods. Rather Daniel's God is the sovereign God. Look with me at verse 19:
During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven and said: "Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers: You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king."
Let's just dwell on what God is shown to be like here. In verse 18, Daniel urges his friends to pray for God's mercy. That is because God is merciful; he doesn't treat us as we deserve. It is mercy that God rescues himself a people in the midst of the judgment of exile. And for us, God shows us mercy by rescuing us through judging his son Jesus. The Victorian preacher, Charles Spurgeon, was telling a woman she could be rescued through Jesus when she burst out, "Oh Mr Spurgeon, if the Lord saves me, he shall never hear the end of it!" Daniel praised God for his mercy in intervening for him. How much more should we praise God for his mercy in intervening for us! God is not only merciful, but is also powerful. Daniel says he is the one that 'changes the times and seasons' and 'sets up kings and deposes them'. Nebuchadnezzar's power was only ever given by God. He was constrained by God. If you want to see Ishtar Gates, the entrance to Babylon, you will find them in the Berlin Ancient History Museum. Nebuchadnezzar is history now. And it will be the same for the leaders of today too. Even the despots of the world. Their rule is in God's hands.
But God also knows what 'lies in darkness.' God reveals to Daniel what was impossible for Daniel to know. God revealed to Daniel the vision of the future he gave to the king. God knows the future. As David says in Psalm 139:
All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
Daniel's God really is sovereign over all things. But so what? If you're a fan of 90s rom coms, like myself, you may have seen 'Sliding Doors'. The premise of the film is as Gwyneth Paltrow's character waits for a train the story splits into two parallel universes. One where she misses the train, and the other where she boards the train. From that point onwards, the parallel lives take very different twists. It's a film that's meant to make us think about how fate and coincidence rule over our lives. But the book of Daniel paints a very different picture to sliding doors. Chance and fate don't rule. The sovereign God does!
And that's got to be good news. And maybe for us who hold this view, it's easy to forget how sad life can be without the hope of a sovereign God. To wake up on a Monday morning facing strains of life, thinking life is just chance and cold fate. To face the tragedies of life, not knowing that there is a merciful God behind it who is directing history.
The truth that there is a merciful, all powerful and sovereign God directing the world should comfort us when the alarm goes off tomorrow morning, and we head out and face our lives. The start of a new year can feel daunting – we have a year of the unknown ahead. Challenges in the family, in the workplace and in our personal lives. And it's scary to not know the future. But we can take comfort that our merciful and sovereign God does, and you can walk into the future with a God like that. We can bring our prayers eagerly to a God like that, just as Daniel did all those years ago. It's not a promise we won't suffer. But he has mercifully provided us with rescue in Jesus, and he will provide us with what we need. And so we needn't be full of 'the fear' that Lily Allen sings about. There is a reality that we can know. It's this: History is heading in God's direction only. It's working to his purposes alone. Because the sovereign God is establishing a supreme kingdom. And that's my second point.
2. God's Kingdom Is Supreme.
Daniel is brought to the palace to see the king. And the kings asks him if he can interpret the dream. Daniel tells him in verse 28 that
there is a God who reveals mysteries.
God is going to reveal to Nebuchadnezzar, and us as we listen in, through Daniel the mystery of what the sovereign God is doing in history.
Daniel describes 'a dazzling enormous statue' made up of 4 different metals. An despite its awesome appearance it is destroyed by a small rock that becomes a mountain. Let's pick up the story in verse 32:
The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. 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. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time 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.
No wonder Nebuchadnezzar had the fear. He knew it had something to do with him, and he was right. But it also has something to do with us to. So let's consider Daniel's interpretation. Daniel reveals to Nebuchadnezzar that four earthly kingdoms will pass into history, to be followed by God's supreme kingdom that will last forever. The sovereign God is establishing a supreme kingdom. Look with me at verse 37:
This was the dream, and now we will interpret it to the king. You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; in your hands he has placed mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold. "After you, another kingdom will rise, inferior to yours. Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth. 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.
So the king is told of four earthly kingdoms that follow each other. It would seem that these are Babylonia, Persia, Greece and Rome. But the fourth kingdom makes way as the sovereign God establishes a supreme kingdom in verse 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. 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 the interpretation is trustworthy."
God has shown what will take place in the future: he will establish his supreme kingdom. But why is this kingdom so supreme? This kingdom will 'never be destroyed'. This kingdom is final – it will 'not be left to another people' This kingdom is overwhelming – it will 'crush' all the other kingdoms. This kingdom will 'endure forever. It's an eternal kingdom. And it's also a supernatural kingdom. The mighty statue is destroyed by a mere rock cut out of a mountain not by human hands. And the small rock becomes a mighty mountain. It might suggest the 'small' beginnings of Jesus' first coming and his final dominance of his second coming. God did come to 'live among men' in Jesus. And in Jesus God perfectly reveals his plan. The sovereign God is establishing his supreme kingdom through Jesus. Jesus will be the king of God's eternal kingdom.
If you walk round Saltwell Park and look at the plaques on the benches you pick up a theme. Often they're dedicated to family members who have passes away. The plaques often say things like 'We'll never forget you,' or sentiments such as, 'We know that you'll always be with us,' or 'Look down on us from on high.' Our culture longs for the eternal. But is has no access to heaven. It is cut off - apart from in Jesus. And so it's good news that God's supreme kingdom is eternal. But we need to enter that kingdom to receive eternal life. How do we do that? In Mark, Jesus simply says to us:
The time has come… The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!
We enter the kingdom by making Jesus our Lord, and by believing the good news that Jesus died for our sin.
And if you haven't yet believed in the good news, please do not be like Nebuchadnezzar. God showed him his plan for the future in the dream. And so he honours Daniel, and confesses Daniel's God 'is the God of gods.' But he goes no further. He asks no questions of how he can enter the kingdom. God has shown you his plans for the future in Jesus. So enter the kingdom by believing Jesus' promise.
And for those of us who have believed the good news. Daniel's job was to tell the king the sovereign God is establishing his supreme kingdom. And that is our job too. We see God at work in Daniel as he reveals himself through the dreams and through his rescue of Daniel and his friends. But today God is at work revealing himself through the gospel and by rescuing us through it. We might look around at decreasing church attendances in the North East and ask where is God? But the answer is that God is at work through you, his people, as you share the gospel with Gateshead and beyond. As people respond and accept, God shows that he is alive. The sovereign God is establishing his supreme kingdom.
Finally, it's worth considering this. It is totally worth living for the kingdom of God. We're told the dream is 'trustworthy'. The gospel is true. And if it's true, it's worth giving all we've got for it. Sometimes we wonder why on a Saturday night why we're prepping Sunday school and not putting up our feet. Sometimes we wonder why we're dashing out so soon after work to go to a prayer meeting. Sometimes we wonder why we bother putting our neck out to tell our mates about Jesus. But the sovereign God is establishing his supreme kingdom. And that is a kingdom worth serving.
God gave Nebuchadnezzar his dream so he would know the future. God has shown us his dream too so that we might know his plan. That the sovereign God is establishing his supreme kingdom. So let it steel you to live for the kingdom. And let's not forget it. Because this dream will become true.