Chapter 4 of Daniel is the last chapter of Nebuchadnezzar. Chapter 5 will begin with a new king. So this is a crucial chapter, up to now the king has been surrounded by God’s people and God’s wisdom and good counsel but he doesn’t yet get it. His end is approaching, his opportunities to know the one true God and to love Him and worship Him are almost past. There is an end to God’s grace.
Introduction: The Story of David F. Wells. What a difference God makes through a broken and redeemed life. I was reminded of this again at Mindy Honcoop’s wedding reception. It turns out Ryan Harper’s aunt, his mother’s sister, is married to the son of one of my professors back at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. I meet Dave and Lynne Wells and we had a great talk about how Dr. Wells came to faith. This week I called her to clarify some details and she went one better and gave my her 75 year old father-in law’s phone number. I spoke with him on Friday, reconnecting after 33 years. Dr. Wells was born and raised in Southern Rhodesia which is now Zimbabwe. His parents were not Christians and lived in the bush where there were no churches. When we went off to the University of Cape Town to study architecture he fell in with some radical students and considered himself a liberal atheist leaning toward Marxism. One evening he was dragged most unwillingly by a Christian student to a lecture being given by John Stott, the famous pastor of All Souls in London and well known author. At the end Stott issued an invitation to pay the cost of following Jesus, Wells walked out writing them all off as religious fanatics. A week later his professor of architecture took a group of students camping and around the campfire one night, he shared his Christian faith which connected with what Stott had said a week earlier and later that night David Wells surrendered to the hound of heaven, to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. He dropped out of architecture and moved to London and sought out the man God used to change his life, John Stott, who immediately invited Wells to live in his home, which he did for five years. That mentoring relationship further shaped his pursuit of God’s call on his life. Dr. Wells, a God-denier and God-resister, became a great scholar and writer and professor and has influenced countless thousands of students preparing for the ministry. In Dr. Wells’ on words, “God gave me a willingness where there was none, where there was hardness and unwillingness; while doing my own thing, there was a silent invisible grace working.” A liberal, Marxist, God-hating, atheist, a broken sinner, becomes a God-believer. Last week we finished up Peter’s first letter. Before jumping into Peter’s second letter I want to think with you about the sort of person Peter was and why God used him and how He used him. To do that first remember the kind of people God has used in history.
King Nebuchadnezzar ruled over the great Babylonian Empire. Under his leadership he had conquered and subjugated all the surrounding nations from Egypt in the west to Turkey in the north to Iran in the east. He was a ruthless and cruel tyrant. And his religion reflected his nature. He had made a huge statue, a bronze image and in a vain attempt to unify his vast and diverse kingdom, commanded all peoples bow down and worship this idol. This is not some innocent religion, this is the tyranny of a despot king. No one had one ounce of interest in or love for this image. People had to be forced and threatened to bow down. Who would dare to defy such a king and such an order? Who had that kind of death wish?
This past week was the Republican National Convention. Some of you watched and listened to some of the numerous speeches. Donald Trump wrapped it all up in his hour long acceptance speech on Thursday evening. A number of analysts felt the tone was dark and pessimistic perhaps summed up with the words, “things are worse than ever and I’m going to make things better than ever.” He capitalized on the headlines of just the past month or so which are making Americans feel anxious, vulnerable, and powerless. Things really do seem to be spiraling out of control and worse than ever, there do seem to be forces out there over which we have no control. There is so much in the news about terrorism, racial tensions, senseless shootings, military coups, deadly viruses and on and on. It seems like we don’t even have time to finish grieving one tragedy and the next one is on us. On Thursday night Donald Trump offered a remedy. He promised to solve all our problems and make America safe and strong and prosperous again. Our text in I Peter is a timely challenge to what Donald Trump implied in his speech, that things are getting worse and that he is going to save us.
There is a war on out there. In fact it’s all around us. I saw a warrior on the sidewalk in front of our house last week. I saw some more on the big pier in White Rock Friday night. I hear church parking lots are especially popular places for this battle. The war I am referring to is Pokémon Go. Millions of people are playing, running all over the place using their smartphones to track down all the Pokémon characters they can catch. A lot of people think Pokémon characters are lot more real than any war with demons out there. And those demons aren’t waiting to be captured; they are out seeking us.
“We must obey God rather than men.” How those words must have rang out in the senate chamber of the Jerusalem council. They were the words of the man who only a short time before denied that he ever knew Jesus. What boldness now. How did those words ring in the ears of the chief priests and elders and scribes? Is there in Scripture a greater illustration of those words than in our text this evening? Christians all over the world through all the centuries have drawn great courage and strength from this text. I wonder if any other text in the Bible is more responsible for the martyrdom of many saints embolden to lay down their lives like these three men?
The chapter and verse divisions in the Bible are not inspired by the Holy Spirit. They were added many centuries later by men. The chapters were added by Stephen Langton in 1227. The verses were added by a man named Robert Stephanus in 1551. Paragraph divisions are even more recent and those can vary from translation to translation. Some of the breaks are rather arbitrary and unfortunate. And some of them if followed too strictly can lead to misinterpretations, which is why when you study your Bible you need to always look at the context before and after and sometimes ignore the chapter and verse numbers. Our text is an example. The second half of verse five should be a new verse and a new paragraph, it is a new thought. Peter is changing subjects here from pride and humility with regard to leaders, to pride and humility among all of us. Pride. Someone has said everyone has within them the soul of a king, that is the desire to be first, to rule or lord over others. This desire must be subdued. Pride is a disease that we must always be treating knowing that it is never cured in this life. We all have it and we all struggle with it and just when we think we have wrestled it to the ground it rears its ugly head yet again. Of all our sins pride might be the most resistant to treatment. It is resistant, first, because it’s often hidden, it’s not necessarily a public sin like anger or impatience. It is also tough to fight because the proud don’t see their pride. And if someone points it out, there will be a strong protest. “I’m not proud, I haven’t done anything wrong, and who are you to say? Why are you being so critical?” We have very strong defense mechanism to protect ourselves, our honor, our respect, our identity. It is human nature to be proud, to be the center of our universe, independent and self-reliant. It was the first sin, Satan started it. It was Adam’s first sin. The world we live in and the air we breathe in this culture is hostile to humility. To deal with this engrained besetting sin Peter gives three commands with three reasons, each reason being a divine word of encouragement.