How do you get someone’s attention? In 1923, John Reith, the BBC’s first director-general launched a new initiative – broadcasting personal messages directly to individuals to let them know of next of kin who were “dangerously ill” They were very short and clinical messages, containing just a few simple facts like names, towns, car registrations or telephone numbers. “Will Mr and Mrs Smoth, last heard of eight months ago in the Birmingham area, go to Leeds General Infirmary where Mrs Smith’s mother is dangerously ill,” The first SOS message was broadcast in March 1923. It was a 30-second appeal to help find a missing six-year-old boy. Listeners got in touch, and the boy was found safe and well. This success encouraged the BBC to produce more, and an eclectic mixture of “emergencies” followed, including the escape of a Pelican from St James’ Park, and a request for a wet nurse for twins born at a hospital in Norfolk. Another message to a bird-lover urged him to contact a Birmingham pet shop after buying parrots there because the seller had died from Psittacosis or “parrot fever”.
By the 1930s the SOS messages were becoming rather numerous so the BBC undertook some research to find out which messages were successful. Only about one on four missing persons it seems wanted to be found, whereas the success rate for contacting next of kin because of illness, was about 50%. I remember hearing some of those messages in the 1950s and 1960s and wondering whether the relatives ever made it in time. I was also curious to know why they had lost contact with their family in the first place. Personal SOS messages were broadcast until the 1990s.[i]
How do you get somebody’s attention today? If you know their address you can write a letter or visit. If you don’t know, you can check census data online. You can telephone, Skype, email or message them. But how do you get the attention of the most powerful people in the world? People like President Barak Obama, President Vladimir Putin or President Xi Jinping? How do you get past the switch board operators, personal secretaries, private secretaries, special advisors, magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers? And when are people most accessible? Most vulnerable? When its dark. At 3:00am when they cannot sleep. That is when God most often calls, if people are not listening to his usual means of communication – through the wonder of creation, through the Spirit’s convicting work in the conscience, or through the scriptures, the word of God. I know of many Iranians, for example, who have met Jesus in dreams. This is how God got through to Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful man in the world, 600BC. And not just one dream but several. Dreams we are told in chapter 2 verse 1, that left him troubled and unable to sleep at night. Last week in Daniel 1 we learnt about the spiritual quality of resilience. We discovered that resilient people, like Daniel, resolve to maintain their integrity. Resilient people commit to building vibrant community. Resilient people remember that life, even their suffering, has purpose in the eyes of God. Today we want to consider a second spiritual attribute of Daniel – courage.
Please turn with me to Daniel 2. Let us observe Daniel’s predicament, Daniel’s prayer and Daniel’s proclamation and observe the principles that flow from them that apply universally. His Predicament: Courage is needed when we face impossible demands (2:1-16). His Prayer: Courage is provided when we rely on God alone (2:17-23). His Proclamation: Courage is rewarded when we speak God’s word (2:24-49)
The Predicament: Courage is needed when we face impossible demands
“In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep. So the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed. … The astrologers answered the king, “There is no one 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 humans.” (Daniel 2:1-11)
Daniel was once again in a difficult situation. He was serving with integrity, faithful to his Lord and to his king. Daniel was not immune from the anger or rash decisions of his ruler anymore than we are.
It is tempting to believe that when we accept Jesus, if we obey Him, he will keep us safe from pain and suffering. The problem is, that is not what the Bible says. Our Lord died on the cross. Many of His followers were martyred. Daniel obeyed God, but again, through no fault of his own, he was facing execution.
“This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon. So the decree was issued to put the wise men to death, and men were sent to look for Daniel and his friends to put them to death.” (Daniel 2:12-13)
Courage is needed when we face impossible demands. What did Daniel do? He finds out the facts, explains the situation to his friends and urges them to pray. The Predicament: Courage is needed when we face impossible demands.
The Prayer: Courage is provided when we rely on God alone
“Daniel … 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. 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 deposes kings and raises up others. 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, God of my ancestors: 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.”
Daniel had no where else to go but prayer. There is nothing like desperation to get us on our knees is there? Like Daniel, pleading for mercy. Would that we knew our true condition and prayed like this every day.
John Piper says,
“Life is war. That’s not all it is. But it is always that. Our weakness in prayer is owing largely to our neglect of this truth. Prayer is primarily a wartime walkie-talkie for the mission of the church as it advances against the powers of darkness and unbelief. It is not surprising that prayer malfunctions when we try to make it a domestic intercom to call upstairs for more comforts in the den. God has given us prayer as a wartime walkie-talkie so that we can call headquarters for everything we need as the kingdom of Christ advances in the world. Prayer gives us the significance of front-line forces, and gives God the glory of a limitless Provider. The one who gives the power gets the glory. Thus prayer safeguards the supremacy of God in missions while linking us with endless grace for every need.”[ii]
The apostle Paul assures the Philippian church,
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Daniel and his friend’s prayer is answered. Daniel too is given a night time vision in which the mystery is revealed. And their pleading is turned to praising. Courage is needed when we face impossible demands. Courage is provided when we rely on God alone.
The Proclamation: Courage is rewarded when we speak God’s word
“Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come… “After you, another kingdom will arise, 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 … 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… Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honour and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.” (Daniel 2:24-49)
Picture the scene: Daniel, probably still a teenager, stands before the most powerful man in the world. Verse 26, ‘Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?’” Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about.” But underline verse 28. This is the theme of the whole book of Daniel. “But there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.” That’s the theme of the entire book of Daniel. There is a God in heaven who is able. Notice Daniel displays great humility in acknowledging the source of his wisdom but he has the courage to say to the most powerful man in the world,
“As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than other living men, but so that you, O king, may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind.” (Daniel 2:28-30).
“I have the answer to your problem.” The lesson is – when you have knelt before God in prayer, you will not be intimidated by anyone. Daniel confirms the dream, explains its meaning and delivers God’s message about the coming king whose kingdom will never end, the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Then king Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The king said to Daniel, ‘Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.’” (Daniel 2:46-47)
Do you see that – the most powerful man in the world lays at the feet of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar is humbled for a season. He confesses, ‘Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries.’ On this occasion, Daniel is rewarded for his courage. But courage is not always rewarded.
“Courage,” said Atticus Finch, is “when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” Harper Lee’s Southern hero understood a truth that we would do well to embrace: Courage isn’t always recognized or rewarded, at least for very long, or usually in our life time.
But like resilience, courage is essential if we want to follow Jesus, if our ambition is to become like Jesus. And if you identify more with Nebuchadnezzar than Daniel, what is God’s SOS message to you? What is it that keeps you awake at night? Had any dreams recently? If you want to know about God’s purpose for your life then check out Life Explored. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xghL-8RrSac
As we shall see next week, God will give Daniel many more opportunities to demonstrate courage before Nebuchanezzar’s successors, Belshazzar, Darius and Cyrus. But from Daniel chapter 2, we have discovered: Daniel’s Predicament: Courage is needed when we face impossible demands. Daniel’s Prayer: Courage is provided when we rely on God alone. And Daniel’s Proclamation: Courage is rewarded when we speak God’s word, if not on earth, then certainly in heaven. What ever happens to you this week, when you face impossible demands, when difficult situations force you to plead for God’s mercy, when God gives you a message to deliver, what ever the response, remember, there is a God in heaven and he is able.
Bob Fyall, Daniel: Tale of two Cities (Christian Focus)
John Goldingay, Word Biblical Themes: Daniel (Word)
John Lennox, Against the Flow (Monarch)
Ronald Wallace, The Message of Daniel (IVP)
[i] BBC SOS messages http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35815747
[ii] John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad http://www.desiringgod.org/books/let-the-nations-be-glad