Is this just an ancient story of a megalomaniac king? In the late 1930’s at the height of Joseph Stalin’s reign in the Soviet Union during a standing ovation no one dared to be the first to sit down. Finally an old man, no longer able to stand, sat down. The next day he was arrested. His crime, not worshiping the idol long enough. On April 20, 1938, the 49th birthday of Hitler, the prisoners of Buchenwald concentration camp were ordered to pay tribute and take off their hats. Rev. Paul Schneider refused and was beaten. He also refused to raise his hand and say, “Heil, Hitler” and refused to salute the swastika flag. Three months later he became the first protestant pastor to be martyred by the Nazis. And this is not just a thing of the past. Today in North Korea everyone is required to reverence and applaud Kim Jong-un. Everyone. No one dares show any lack of reverence or adoration. North Korean’s must show totally loyalty and absolute obedience. To refuse is to be sent to hard labor camps or killed. An American visitor to North Korea in 2009 writes: “The first stop on our itinerary was the obligatory visit to the Mansudae Grand Monument, a 65 foot bronze statue of the “Great Leader” Kim Il-Sung. This is one of the holiest sites in Pyongyang, with thousands of North Koreans paying their respects to the Great Leader each day. “Every tour group is expected to purchase bouquets of flowers, lay them at the feet of Kim Il-Sung, and then bow in accordance with local customs. “Obviously, bowing to a statue of a ruthless dictator is not something you want to do, but if you are set on visiting North Korea, this bizarre gesture is a requirement that many simply accept as the price of admission”(blog). Millions today are bowing to gold Buddha’s. Nearly two million a year make pilgrimage to Mecca. Every Muslim is expected once in their lifetime to walk seven times around the Grand Kaaba, bowing and kissing and praying. This year it is set for September 12.
Our congregation here at First CRC is made up of a pretty diverse group of people, but the majority of us are in three generational groups. Many here are part of what has been coined the “Greatest Generation,” those who were born during or grew up through the great depression and the second world war. They experienced times of suffering, sacrifice and doing without. They knew about rationing, working hard for a greater good, sacrificing for the sake of family and church. They weren’t seeking fame or fortune, but strove to do what was right and best. Then we have a bunch of baby boomers born after WWII between 1946 and 1964. They didn’t suffer the way their parents did, they had a much better life, more privileges and advantages, more money, more financial success. They started throwing off their parent’s more traditional values. The third group we have here are the Millennials or Generation Y. Millennials were born after 1980 and were becoming adults after the turn of the millennium. They are the first digital technology generation. They are even better off than their baby boomers parents and so have a stronger sense of entitlement. They are known to change jobs more frequently and have high expectations of a job that is fulfilling, rewarding, empowering, in other words a job that isn’t like work. They don’t get their grandparents at all who stayed in the same job for 45 years doing the same thing. They gave us Facebook and the like button. They like to like things and they like to be liked. They are positive bunch that doesn’t like negativity at school or work or home or church. I know I have made a lot of generalizations and have left out a lot and have painted with a large brush. I did this just to give a bit of background to why in this day and age in this country we generally have a hard time with suffering or pain or hardship.
There is an old fable that goes like this: A farmer had only one horse. One day, his horse ran away. His neighbors said, “I'm so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.” The man just said, “We'll see.” A few days later, his horse came back with twenty wild horses following. The man and his son corralled all 21 horses. His neighbors said, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!” The man just said, “We'll see.” One of the wild horses kicked the man's only son, breaking both his legs. His neighbors said, “I'm so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.” The man just said, “We'll see.” The country went to war, and every able-bodied young man was drafted to fight. The war was terrible and killed every young man, but the farmer's son was spared, since his broken legs prevented him from being drafted. His neighbors said, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!” The man just said, “We'll see.” There is wisdom and humility in this man. I could rewrite the fable using Daniel’s life: Daniel and his friends are exiled to Babylon. That’s bad news right? Daniel and his friends are selected to live in the king’s palace. That’s good news right? Daniel and his friends refuse to eat the king’s food. That’s bad. Daniel and his friends prosper and receive favor from the king. That’s good. Daniel and his friends are ordered to be killed with all the other wise men. That’s bad. Daniel is given the interpretation to the king’s dream and promoted. That’s good. Daniel’s friends are ordered to bow to the golden image. That’s bad. Blessings and curses sometimes wear the same mask. A blessing to one may be a curse to another. Sometimes good comes out of bad and sometimes bad comes out of good.
I am sure you have seen them. Those cartoons of a guy in a robe standing on a street corner holding a sign, “The end is near.” Or “The end is at hand.” I have never actually seen anyone carrying such a sign. And if we ever did I suspect we would laugh or at least smile that kind of smile that says we pity the poor diluted soul. No one would believe him. But it is true. The sands of our time run out quickly. How near is the end of time for each of us? Why do Peter and so many NT writers refer to the end as near? Here we are two thousand years later and that doesn’t sound very near by our way of keeping time. Did Peter make a wrong prediction or did Peter know something we don’t? In terms of human history two thousand years has been a long time. A lot of kings and kingdoms have come and gone in that time. But that’s where we are off. Peter and the NT authors aren’t thinking of human history. They are thinking of God’s history, of redemptive history. In God’s eternal perspective there has been the creation, the fall, the covenant with Abraham, Moses’ exodus out of Egypt, the nation of Israel in the Promised Land, the exile to Babylon and the return, Christ’s birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the church. There is only one event left in redemptive history, the return of Christ at the end of time, and it could happen at any time. Everything is ready. Spiritually, redemptively the end is very near in the grand scheme of things. There is nothing else for us to expect or look forward to, except the coming of Christ. We really are literally living in the last days. Peter’s statement reflects the radically different way he views the world and time. Christians who have his perspective and understanding of time, who realize Christ’s return is eminent will live and act different than those who don’t give it any thought. “The end of all things is at hand, therefore …” Last week Peter said how not to live, don’t live like the Gentiles do. Gentiles live as if there is no tomorrow, as if there is no moral authority in the universe, as if there is no soon coming king to whom they must give an account. So how ought we to live? They give themselves to drunkenness, Peter calls us to sober-mindedness. They give themselves to lawless activity, Peter calls us to earnest love. They give themselves to orgies, Peter calls us to show hospitality. They give themselves to maligning others, Peter calls us to serve one another. Jesus Christ and his imminent return changes everything or it ought.
The mystery of the king’s dream. The king called in all this cabinet, all his special appointed experts, all the intellectuals, the scientists, the pseudo-psychologists and religious scholars. But all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t tell the king his dream. So the first revelation is the bankruptcy and futility of all pagan religions. Mediums, occultist, palm readers, astrologers, it’s all worthless. Any power or knowledge from them is demonic, however disguised in light and truth. The one true living God is the God of all mysteries and the one who reveals mysteries as He pleases. We may be in the dark but God never is. How like God is it that He reveals His plans and purposes to a pagan king? God shows that He will do what He does in His way, by whatever means He pleases, according to the counsel of His own will. With the first revelation of the futility and bankruptcy of pagan religions there is a second. God also reveals all human political systems are fragile and short and doomed. Like dominoes, one after the other will fall.
Introduction. Time. What is the value of time? What do you think of time? To realize the value of one year, ask a student who failed a grade. To realize the value of one month, ask a mother who gave birth to a premature baby. To realize the value of one week, ask the editor of a weekly newspaper. To realize the value of one hour, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet. To realize the value of one minute, ask a person who missed the train. To realize the value of one second, ask a person who just avoided an accident. To realize the value of one millisecond, ask a person who won a silver medal in the Olympics. Churches have very different perspectives and values on time. I once preached at Apache Reformed Church in Apache, OK about an hour south of OKC. They informed me of a thing called Indian time but I wasn’t prepared for how different it was. At 11 there were just a few people there and no pianist. At 11:10 a few more and still no pianist. At 11:15 the elders told me to go ahead, just as I was announcing the opening hymn the pianist walked in and so we waited until she was ready. We think that everyone being in their pew before 10:30 is normal and right, but not every church is like this. Different cultures have completely different views of time. You graduates have just completed a major chapter in your life. If you live to 72 you are already a quarter of the way through your life. What are you going to do with the rest before the sands of your time run out? How much time do we have left on earth? What remains of our allotted span of days? How do you want to use the days that remain for you? Does the reality of eternity have any impact on how you think about your days and the years that remain? How will we live the rest of our days in the flesh? That’s the question Peter asks.
This morning we recognized our three high school seniors who are graduating this week. Daniel and his three friends have just graduated with highest honors from Babylon University and are now ready to serve God in the world where He has called them. Little did they know how soon they would be used of God and how great there service would be in glorifying God and benefiting their pagan captors.