Key Verse: 4:37
“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.”
In today's passage we will study another seductive idol; the idolatry of power. In the book of Genesis, we learn we were created in the image of God. We were given the imperative to rule over all creation (Gen 1:28). To rule means to be a steward or a shepherd of God's creation. But if God is not at the center of our hearts, thoughts and our lives, then this command degenerates into a desire for power and to rule over others. Through this message, may God replace this idol of power with a great godly affection for our Lord Jesus Christ.
First, the idol of power makes us think we are like God
Today we will study about King Nebuchadnezzar, a man seduced by the idol of power. In the sixth century before Christ, Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian Empire rose to displace Assyria and Egypt as the world super power. Soon Nebuchadnezzar’s armies invaded Judah exiling Israel's best and brightest people. Among those exiled was the prophet Daniel. In Daniel chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar had a terrible dream that greatly troubled him. In those days, dreams were considered divine revelations of future events. In the dream, he saw a large statue— made of precious metals such pure gold, silver, bronze and iron. However, the statue was smashed by a large rock and it came crashing down. He woke up in a cold sweat and great fear. Did this mean his empire would fail? Or that someone would come and exploit his weakness? Even though Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful man of the time, he was insecure and fearful.
The seduction of the idol of power began in the Garden of Eden. Reinhold Niebuhr, a prominent American theologian believed idols of power began with “resentment of dependency from a creator and denial of powerlessness”. When God created the world, there was inter-dependency with created things. Fish needed water, the birds needed the air, babies needed their mother and Adam and Eve needed God for their spiritual and personal development. However, in the Garden, the devil tempted Adam and Eve to resent this dependency for God (Gen. 3:4,5). He convinced them to believe they are not powerless. The devil told Eve that if she gives in to the idol of power, she will be like God, knowing good and evil. The temptation was too desirable to pass up for the first couple.
To this day, we have been infected by the “resentment of dependency from a creator and denial of powerlessness”. So we desperately seek ways to convince ourselves we have power over our own lives. In other words, we want to be little “gods”. We convince ourselves that we don't need God, we can do it on our own. We want to be as the British poet Henley says in his famous poem "Invictus", I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul. But life throws unexpected curve balls; the ships we steer sink like the titanic, our blueprints of life takes unexpected turns. So what happens when things don’t work out? We become disappointed, fearful, have a nervous breakdown and some tragically end their lives. We can see this in the life of life of King Nebuchadnezzar. He achieved “god-like” status by becoming the most powerful man in the world. No matter how he tried to control his situation, he was still very insecure and fearful. Dr. Ben had a patient who was a multi-millionaire. He was proud and confident. He had many plans to be more successful. But when he was told that he had an incurable form of cancer, his face lost color and he sobbed uncontrollably before his wife. We can never be the master and captains of our lives. We need to look outside of ourselves for guidance and security. Let us hear Jesus' words in John 14:1 "Trust in God, trust also in me." Let Christ be the master of your fate, the captain of your soul.
Second, the idols of power fall short of expectations
No one in his kingdom could interpret the dream, except for Daniel. Daniel explains to Nebuchadnezzar that the statue represents the kingdoms of the earth. It represents the idolization of human power and achievement. It was an idol of the culmination of man's achievement in commerce, politics, culture, knowledge and technology. The giant idol looked invincible. Suddenly, in his dream the giant idol was smashed by a rock. In contrast to the rest of the materials which were man-made, the stone was "not by human hands." Though the rock was less valuable than any of the metals in the statue, it was ultimately the most powerful component.
By default, we want a power idol we can touch and see. We like the idols that are bigger, stronger and in HD and 3-D. But like the idol in the dream, they will be smashed and crumble. 1 Samuel 8:4-9 tells a poignant story of how the Israelites reject God as their king. They became power hungry. They wanted to be like other super power nations who had a king and military strength. So God gave them the kings they desperately wanted. Instead of feeling safe, they were oppressed and smashed by a succession of violent and oppressive kings.
We are just like the Israelites. We have replace God who is our king with a power idol, thinking they will provide security and deep satisfaction. Some power idols are political ideologies and political Messiahs. An ideology is believed as the answer to society's problems. Communism was an ideology build on noble ideals: classless, stateless and oppression-free society. However, it had one major and glaring flaw: it rejected that all men are sinners. As a result, many people have been oppressed by communist regimes. Many thought capitalism is the best solution for dealing with poverty and injustice. But it just made the rich richer and the poor poorer. Hard working middle class go unrewarded and taxed heavily. Now we are in a great recession due to the greed of capitalist. Last year, many had great hope for Obama to become the political messiah to save people from global wars and the recession. After his state of union address, some interviewed at a town hall meeting have become disappointed by his slow progress and lack of results. On a more personal level, we have rejected God as our king and replaced him with power idols of education, higher positions, money and many others. Like the idol in Nebuchadnezzar's dream they will be smashed. During financial recession of 2008, there were a string of suicide by wealthly and well connected individuals. The chief financial officer of Freddie Mac hangs himself in his basement. Another executive of Bear Stearns jumps off his 29th floor office to his death. They have something in common. They lived for the power idols of education, money, success and fame. When the rock of the recession smashed their hopes, they had nothing to live for. So what is our true hope? What is our sure foundation? In the dream it is the rock of Christ destroys all the idols. In Daniel 2:44,45, the rock will be a kingdom that will endure forever. 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. In Matt 7:24 "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock." Jesus tells us to build our lives on the rock. As a famous hymn says "Crowns and thrones may perish, Kingdoms rise and fall, but the church of Jesus still remains."
Third, the idol of power makes you delusional.
In Daniel Chapter 4, he has another dream that is more terrifying. In the dream, he would be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; he will eat grass like cattle. It appears he has a mental breakdown and lives like an animal. In the dream, God reveals the solution to his problem. Look at verse 27 " Therefore, O king, 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." He would be restored, until he acknowledges that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes. Daniel tried to help Nebuchadnezzar realize his position as king was simply the grace from God. He was chosen not because of anything he has done. He was chosen simply because of the grace of God. If he knew that, he would be the most humble and just King.
After the dream, he does not repent. He becomes delusional. To be delusional means to have a "psychotic belief in something totally false." He stands on his roof and prides himself saying in Daniel 4:29-30, “…Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” Soon the dream comes true. Nebuchadnezzar falls into what apparently was a period of severe mental illness. He becomes too deranged to live inside the palace and lives on the palace grounds among the animals.
We can easily become like Nebuchadnezzar. When we have some small success, we don't thank God, but stand on our roof and boast how great we are! When Jesus is not at the center of our hearts, then pride rules our hearts. We accept the delusion that we are better than others because of our position, age, education, money, beauty, even righteousness behavior etc. Soon Pride makes us go crazy and leads us to do many detestable things. We see these "power trips" all around us. We read the horrors of wars being fought throughout the globe because one tribe, religious group or country thinks they are better than the other. We see "power trips" in the playground, where the bully intimidates other children because he can push harder and yell the loudest. We see "power trips" our workplace where bosses exert their power because of their position. Even in church, there are some Christians who have "power trips", because of seniority and moral living. How do we overcome this seduction of power that is so prevalent in our daily life?
Fourth, God displayed his power by coming down.
Daniel Chapter 4:34-37 gives us the solution to overcome the seduction of power. Nebuchadnezzar repents of his pride and acknowledges the God of heaven. To repent means to have a "change of heart and mind." Nebuchadnezzar says "Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever" He adds in verse 37, "everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble." Nebuchadnezzar overcomes the idol of power, by replacing it will a greater godly affection. He praises, honors and glorifies the eternal God. He thanks God who made him go through unbearable mental anguish in order to save him from his dangerous pride. When he honors God, his sanity is restored and he became greater king than before.
A pastor said, real power is “not by going up, but going down.” God is the all mighty powerful God. But what does he do with his power? He goes down. Phil 2:7 says of Jesus, "but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant..." Jesus gave up all the power and glory of heaven and came down to this sinful world as a man. This would be like us giving up our privilege as human being and becoming a cockroach in order to help cockroaches. Two weeks ago, we learn how Jesus "came down" and went to a house of Zacchaeus, public sinner. He could have condemned him, but became his friend. Jesus’ love was the power that melted his hardened heart. He was ready to give all his possessions to the poor and pay back all he cheated. God could have used his power to crush us because of our pride and selfishness. Instead, Jesus went "further down." Jesus was crushed and condemned on the cross. He gave up his power so that we may have power over sin and death.
Jesus is our savior from the idolatry of power. When Jesus becomes our true affection, then we solve our insecurity. We become secure in His love, therefore we are empowered in a way that does not lead us to oppress others. The insecurity is gone, the lust for power is cut at the root. Our power as Christians come from what Christ has done for us, not from anything we had done. If we think we did something, then we can easily become proud. But if we remember that Christ did everything, then we are thankful and humble. We have power and joy to serve many needy people with the gospel.
In this passage, we learn the idol of power means we want to be like “god” we want to be the masters of our lives and destiny. This idol of power causes us to dominate and rule over others. This idol of power makes us proud and destructive. The only way to overcome this idol is to remember what Christ has done for us. May Christ become our true affection in our hearts.