The King Of Kings [Daniel 7]
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Let’s talk about dreams for a second. I never remember my dreams. I’m sure I have them, but I wake up - and it’s just a blank slate from when I turned off the light until the alarm goes off. Just empty. My wife Sara remembers her dreams, and apparently they get more vivid during pregnancy, but even my oldest Liam - he always remembers his dreams. I can’t tell you how many mornings I’ll be sitting, doing my devotions or enjoying my coffee and Liam comes bounding out of the bedroom, “Mom, Dad - I’ve GOT to tell you about this dream I just had.” And some people pay a lot of attention to dreams. There’s an only story about Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr, who was a doctor. This is a really long time ago, and Dr. Holmes was very interested in the use of ether. In order to know how his patients felt under its influence, he once had a dose administered to himself. As he was going under, in a dreamy state, a profound thought came to him. He believed that he had suddenly grasped the key to all the mysteries of the universe. When he regained consciousness, however, he was unable to remember what the insight was. He remembered that it was brilliant, that it was incredibly important, but he couldn’t remember what the thought was. Now because of the great importance this thought would be to mankind, Holmes arranged to have himself given enter again. But this time he had a stenographer present to take down the great thought. Whatever brilliant thought I come up with, make sure you write it down for me. The ether was administered again, and sure enough, just before passing out the insight reappeared. He mumbled the words, the stenographer took them down, and he went to sleep confident in the knowledge that he had succeeded. Upon awakening, he turned eagerly to the stenographer and asked her to read what he had uttered. She hesitated, and then read, “The entire universe is permeated with a strong odor of turpentine.” [laugh]. Sometimes dreams are significant, and sometimes dreams are just crazy. You ever have that thing, where you get in trouble with your spouse, not because of something that actually happened, but because you said or did something dumb IN THEIR DREAM? - yeah, me neither.
It’s funny, but that’s exactly the way dreams work in the Bible too. Sometimes dreams are really important, sort of seen on par with visions and message from God - if you think about Jacob’s ladder, or Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dream, those dreams are a big deal. But at the same time there are other passages, like Zechariah 10:2 or take Jeremiah chapter 23, verse 25, [read v.25-26]. Not all dreams were created equal - some dreams are important, and some are just a crazy man talking about turpentine. Now, today I want to dive into a BIZARRE dream, that seems like craziness - but it actually has a vital message for the people of God this morning.
Daniel chapter seven, verse 1 starts out, [read v.1] But before we dive into the bizarre dream - we need to zoom out a little bit to set the stage. If you’re just joining us at Aldersgate for the very first time - welcome! As a church, we are reading through the Chronological bible in a year. We’ve been traveling through the story of God’s people all year, and we’re over halfway done! Now, if you’re a first time visitor you might be thinking, “holy smokes, I’ll never catch up” - but don’t worry about it. One of the greatest things about the Bible is that you can jump in anywhere and still learn something amazing about God’s character. The more you study, the deeper you dive, the more you learn - like when you watch a movie for the second or third time and you pick up on stuff you never noticed the first time. The first time is still awesome - so welcome to our viewing party. Now I always find it really helpful every now and then to orient ourselves in the story, to remember where we’ve been, how we got here and where we’re going. The big highlights go like this; for a long time God’s people were slaves in Egypt. Then we had Moses, the ten plagues, parting the red sea and all that good stuff. The people wandered in the desert for a long time. Then we got to the period of the judges. It was kind of like the wild west - with a whole lot of chaos and disorder. Israel was always getting into trouble, and then a hero would rise up and save them, and then they’d get in trouble again. After Judges, there was this awesome story with David and Goliath. Little sheep-herder king goes up against the most powerful guy in the Philistine army, and beats him with a sling and a stone. King David had a kid named Solomon, who was seen as sort of the height of Israel’s power. BUT, Solomon’s kids were the WORST, and after Solomon died, the country sort of dissolved into civil war and we ended up with a divided Kingdom. The top part was Israel, and the bottom part was Judah.
Now, when God gave Israel a monarchy, when he anointed a king, he also gave them PROPHETS. Prophets are the mouthpiece of God. This is the guy who’s job it is to come up to the king and smack him upside the head when he starts getting off track. The problem is, Israel had a LOT of really terrible kings. They ignored the prophets, over and over - and eventually that led to Israel getting in trouble. After the monarchy, after the divided kingdom comes the Empires. Because the kings of Israel were terrible and they went against God over and over - along come the empires to punish them. First the assyrians, then the babylonians, and then finally the Persian. These empires come from the north, and so first they destroy the Northern Kingdom, and then later a different empire comes in and destroys the second kingdom. BUT, one of the amazing things about Israel’s story is that that is not the end. The empires come in, capture the people, uproot them from their homes and deport them into exile. So we did the time period with the kings, then we did the time period with the prophets warning the kings, and now we’re into exile - the people of Israel scattered in Babylon. Now eventually they all get to come home, but we’re not there yet. Daniel is an exile book. He’s a Jewish man from Exile, but he’s taken to Babylon. And the exile stories show us what it looks like to follow God - when the government is positioned against your religion. Huh, I wonder if that could apply to our lives today.
So we’ve got Daniel, and he’s in exile, King Belshazzar in Babylon, and Daniel’s having some weird dreams, we pick it up in verse 2. [read v.2-3]. Hang in there, this is a bit of a trip. [read v.4-8]. I take it back! I take it back, this is not a weird dream - this is an acid trip on steroids. You know what’s a weird dream - Pink Elephants on Parade! You remember that? In the 1941 classic Disney children’s movie Dumbo. You remember the scene right? Where the baby elephant has a hard day at work, so he and a buddy go out and get drunk and he dreams about this guy? [put up picture of pink elephants on parade]. Because Disney is a FAMILY company. Any time I hear people complain, “ah, Disney’s starting to make some really weird movies” and I’m like, “starting?” That’s a weird dream! Daniel - Daniel’s dream is a whole other level. Daniel puts “pink elephants on parade” to shame! He makes Dumbo look downright rational. We’ve got weirdo talking horns and animals with extra body parts glued on like my kid’s Sunday school craft. And we’re not even done! [read v.9-10]. So we’ve got the king with hair like wool, riding a flaming wheelchair throne on a river of lava with millions of angel. Sure, why not, [read v.11-14]. Okay, Okay - we settled down a little bit there at the end. I think verse 15 sums it up nicely. [read v.15]. Ya think? I was troubled and my visions terrified me - me too, Daniel. Me too. Now here’s the thing - I want to be very clear. I love the word of God. This book teaches us about the divine that is out there - and I want to know, in my heart of hearts, I want to soak up absolutely everything my tiny little human brain can know about that divine thing that is out there. I poke fun at the word of God and I make jokes, because it’s weird and I think we need to be honest about that. But I hope you understand how much I respect this text. In fact, I respect it too much to pretend like that’s normal. Because here’s what happens with so many of us. We want to be good Christians, we want to read and understand the word of God. And so when we come up against a weirdo passage - we do this: we read it, we think it’s weird, and then we shrug and move on. Because we don’t want the Bible to be weird. Somehow that feels like it’s disrespectful or wrong, and so we have a tendency to get distracted by the weirdness, and we focus on the wrong thing and we miss the point. This is actually really common with prophetic literature - it’s weird and full of symbols and so most of us shrug, move on and then we miss the good news the text has for us. For example, not to bring in any spoilers or whatever - but you guys have heard of the book of Revelation, right? It’s the very last book of the Bible, it’s the only prophetic text in the New Testament, and it reads a LOT like Daniel chapter 7. There’s beasts with too many heads and talking horns and all kinds of weirdness. And for two thousand years Christians have gotten so distracted by the weirdness that they have missed the actual message of that book in the Bible. We don’t have time to get into all that right - but it’s going to be awesome, I’m so excited to get there.
Thankfully, Daniel doesn’t stop there. He actually explains the dream to us in the second half of the chapter. It’s a lot like when we read the parables of Jesus. Do you remember this? There were moments when Jesus would share a parable with the disciples, and they would just kind of stare at him with that glazed expression, scratch their heads and go, what? And Jesus would have to sit them down and he would explain it to them like they were five, “the Farmer is God, the seed is the good news of the gospel, the soil is the different settings in life” or whatever. That’s what Daniel does here. It’s all one big metaphor - each of the pieces of the dream represent something. He explains in verse 16, [read v.16-18]. Okay, let’s break it down like this - the beasts are the empires, the kingdoms. The horns are the kings, the ancient one on the throne - that’s definitely God, and “son of Man” is definitely Jesus (although they don’t know that yet, they see it as a “king who will come from David’s line.” When you break it down like that - it’s not that crazy. It’s still weird, but at least it sort of makes sense now. Empires and Kings snarling like beasts, battling one another, rising and falling. That makes sense.
But let me ask the key question. What is the point of this dream? We’ve got the key - now we know what all the different pieces represent, but what is the message? Let’s go back to verse 9. [read it]. You’ve got all these kings - but they’re just horns. You’ve got all these beasts, these empires - but they’re just animals, put in their place and judged when the ancient one sits on the throne. The whole point of this picture is that even though these beasts SOUND terrifying and bizarre - the ancient one still sits in the place of judgment. Remember these beasts all rose out of a stormy sea - but no matter how crazy the storms of life become - the ancient one still sits on the throne. I want you to think about the phrase - the King OF Kings. The King is the highest level of authority in the world at this point. But even the king is just a part of the higher power - the EMPIRE, the Assyrian empire, the Babylonian Empire these things were bigger than any one man - and even the entire EMPIRE is beneath the one who is the King OF those Kings. We got so distracted by the lion with wings or the leopard with too many heads - the part that really freaked me out was the horn with eyes and a mouth - we got so distracted that we missed the point, which is that the ancient one still sits on the throne.
The good news for us this morning is that God is in control. Now you might hear that and think - THAT is the point of this bizarre dream? All these terrifying beasts rising out of the ocean, just to give us a sort of base level reassurance that God is still God? Like, did we need all the drama? Did we need all the weirdness? And the answer is YES. Yes we did need all the weirdness. Because the message for us is not just “God is in control” - but it goes further than that. Even when we are exiles in Babylon, even when the sea of life is a storm, and there are monsters in the water and and it feels like your ship is sinking and it feels like you are surrounded by terrifying and unknown enemies - God is in control. You don’t need to reassure someone when the sky is clear and it’s a beautiful sunny day. On good days, it’s a whole different struggle - where we take God for granted. But it is in these moments, when you are - what did it say about Daniel? Troubled and terrified - in those moments, when you feel like life is falling apart THAT is when we need to hear this beautiful good news. God is still in control.
And I don’t know if I need to connect the dots - it’s kind of obvious, but it’s just so beautiful that I at least need to point it out. In this crazy dream of Daniel’s the Ancient One sits on the throne and has complete control over the beasts - but there is another character. Hear verse 13 again, [read 13-15]. God is still in control. But there is one who looks like the “son of man” who will be given all authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world. Now - to our ears in the modern world, obviously that’s Jesus. But remember the setting. Daniel is in exile. The kingdom has fallen, the line of David has been broken. They are imagining someday God is going to set up a physical kingdom, and some descendent of David will wear a crown and rule over an empire. They are looking for a solution that looks like the power that they see in front of them - they want a king. But when Jesus shows up what we get is a king OF kings. Think back to the stories you heard about Jesus when you were growing up. Do you remember that time when Jesus and the disciples were on the boat, and Jesus is sleeping and there’s a great storm and the disciples are terrified. A king would be just as scared as the rest of them - but Jesus slept. Even the winds and the waves listen to Jesus - because he’s not a king. He’s the King OF kings. The only crown he ever needed, well - it wasn’t made of gold. Jesus Christ was not what anybody was expecting, he was more than anybody could ever have dreamed. Not just a leader to guide us through life, but a leader who would conquer sin and death to give a new life. Empires and kingdoms will rise and fall, leaders and politicians will come and go - but Jesus, the king of kings will reign forever.
So now is the time when we have to ask the question - how does this matter? Daniel’s dream is one of those weirdo bible passages that most people have no idea what to do with. So we have to ask, why does this matter in our lives today? Why do I care about a dream some dude had thousands of years ago in a place that doesn’t even exist anymore? Why would I care about the way Israel behaved when they were exiles in Babylon? Well the answer is very simple - we are still exiles in Babylon. The names of the kings and kingdoms change as the years go by, the specific obstacles we deal with are very different than what Daniel and his friends went through - the problems may change, but the presence of problems never changes. The need for a savior never changes.
Let me see if I can explain it like this. When we are in pain, our world shrinks. When we are scared or stressed or overwhelmed - we stop thinking about others and focus in on the problem in front of us. If you smack you hand on a wall or stub your toe on a table, you stop paying attention to the people around you. There’s just you and the pain. I think about when my wife was giving birth. There are times during labor, when the pain reaches a height, and the mom closes her eyes - I don’t think she’s aware there are other people on the planet. When we are in pain, our world shrinks. And sometimes that can be very paralyzing. If you get bad news at work, and then try to go into a meeting, or try to go teach a class - it’s almost impossible to focus on anything because your brain wants to zero in on the pain. Whatever the problem is, and it’s different for all of us - but pain shrinks our world down just a little bubble where there’s nothing but us and the pain. And we get stuck. And in that moment what we need is something else to break into the bubble. In that tiny world that’s just us and the pain we need something to hold onto. For the pregnant lady it’s usually her husband’s hand. I just need something to squeeze, something strong to hold onto. And that thing that you hold onto in a moment of pain - that is your source of hope. And so it has to be small, it has to be simple. It can’t be some complex theological truth about the sovereignty of God. It has to be something simple that you can grab onto when the world shrinks down to just you and the pain.
And so today I want to give you that something. I want to give you a simple truth, and I want you to commit it not to your memory, but commit it to your soul. Whether you are struggling today or not, whether you need this right now or not, I promise you will need it someday. I want you to ask yourself a simple question. Who is on the throne? And I want you to repeat it, over and over in moments of struggle, trials and tribulations - who is on the throne? I’m struggling at work, my marriage is on rocky ground, the politics of our country have me absolutely terrified and my kids or grandkids are driving me crazy - who is on the throne? I’m living paycheck to paycheck, my mental health is crumbling - who is on the throne? It doesn’t mean our problems are solved, it doesn’t mean our problems are gone - Daniel and his friends were still living in exile, conquered and controlled by the Babylonian empire. But even in our darkest moments, there is still hope. The world does not actually shrink. The world is not just us and our pain - that’s a lie. Sometimes zooming out, putting things in perspective can help us get unstuck. It can remind us that all pain is temporary, even death - it’s just a horn on leopard with too many heads. And Jesus has conquered every beast. Who is on the throne? And.. we know the answer, right? The answer is the king of Kings. Can we turn that into a call and response? I’ll ask, “Who is on the throne” and you say, “The king of Kings.” Who is on the throne? (The King of Kings) WHO is on the throne? (The king of Kings) Who is ON the throne? (The king of kings!).
That’s my challenge for you this week. In moments of pain, when you feel your world shrinking - I want you to remind yourself who exactly is on the throne. This is actually a shift you’re probably going to notice in our Chronological readings. We’re reading through the prophets, and we’re getting into the period of exile. And in the beginning, prophets are all doom and gloom, judgment and warnings. Prophets start out by screaming about all the sin of each kingdom - “stop doing evil, consequences are coming. Stop doing evil, consequences are coming.” But when those consequences hit, the prophets pivot. There is a shift from warning to empathy and hope. These dreams are terrifying, but they’re actually about HOPE. And we should make that prophetic shift in our lives. We warn each other when we see sin on the horizon. Warn, warn, warn - but when the consequences hit, we shift to empathy and hope, empathy and hope. We don’t need Christians who go around saying, “I told you so.” We need Christians who go around comforting people with empathy and hope. Remember who is on the throne. Let’s pray.