05 Jul Against all odds: High treason
28 All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” 31 While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, 32 and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” 33 Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.
34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; 35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” 36 At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
God hates every sin but there is one sin that God absolutely hates. The bad news is that everyone is affected by this sin. From the richest to the poorest, from the most successful to the least accomplished, from the best to the worst of us, all of us has this sin. We hate this sin when we see it in others but we hardly think that we are guilty of it ourselves. Here is the funny thing about this sin. The more we have it, the more we can smell it in others. The more we have it, the more we dislike it in others. If we think everyone around us has this issue except for us, then we definitely have it worse than people around us. C.S. Lewis calls this sin the great sin. Timothy Keller calls it spiritual cancer. I refer to it as high treason for this sermon. Anyone want to guess what sin am I talking about? It is pride. All of us are affected by pride. Pride is the sin underneath all sin. If we want to know how prideful we are, the easiest way is to ask ourselves these two questions. First, how much does it annoy us when other people do not notice us? Second, how much does it annoy us when other people show off before us? The more prideful we are, the more annoyed we are at other’s pride because pride in its nature is competitive. Here is how Lewis puts it. “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.” This is why God hates pride. Pride challenges God’s right as the true Sovereign King of the everlasting kingdom.
Let me share with you my story. A few months ago, I went to Bangkok with my dad for intensive gospel training. There were about 40 of us. Most of them were pastors and there were few young church planters. I was excited to learn more about the gospel. However, none of them thought that I was a pastor. In case, you did not notice, I have a babyface, even for Asian standard. They assumed that I was still in college and I was there to accompany my dad. I was offended. They did not recognize my greatness. And as I listened to them speak in class, most of them only knew the gospel for the last few years. Including the instructors. And I was like, “I know the gospel way longer than them. I have been reading Keller long before they even knew of Keller. And they think that I am just a little boy who accompanies my dad?” So, you know what I did? I made sure they knew who I was. In the class discussion that day, I said things like, “When I read Keller in 2009” and I emphasised on 2009. I also used difficult words like propitiation, antinomian etc. Why? Because I wanted them to recognise my greatness. I wanted them to know that I was not just a boy who accompanied his dad. I wanted them to know that I was a capable pastor. And I knew more about the gospel than any of them. By the way, I repented that night. I got back to the hotel and I thought to myself, “What am I doing?” And I shut my mouth in the class discussion for the next few days. Can you see what happened? What drives me to boast about myself in front of all those pastors? It is pride. Why am I telling you this story? Because today we are going to learn how God humbles a very prideful man. Today, we are in part 4 of the series. But before we go there, let review the previous parts.
Previously, in against all odds, Daniel and his friends were sent into exile into Babylon. And this created a tension. The temptation was either to withdraw from Babylon or to assimilate with Babylon. However, the boys chose to be spiritually bi-cultural. They chose to work for the prosperity of Babylon while remaining faithful to God at the same time. And because of it, Daniel and friends were quickly promoted to the highest positions in the kingdom. It was not an easy journey. Their rise to the top came with many challenges that threaten their lives. Yet they remained faithful to God and this caught the attention of King Nebuchadnezzar. Slowly but surely, Nebuchadnezzar began to acknowledge the God of Israel. When Daniel interpreted his dream, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that Daniel’s God is the God above all gods. And when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego survived the fiery furnace, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that there was no other god who was able to do that. However, Nebuchadnezzar has yet to become a believer. He is making progress but he is not there yet.
At the beginning of chapter 4, something wonderful happens. Nebuchadnezzar calls for a press conference. His message is broadcasted in IG live, Facebook live, YouTube live, and every single channel on the TV. And this is what he says. Daniel 4:1-3 – King Nebuchadnezzar to all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you! 2 It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me. 3 How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation. Did you read that? King Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges that the God of Israel, the Most High, as the true Sovereign King of the everlasting kingdom. He has become a true believer. What happened? I am glad you asked. This chapter is Nebuchadnezzar’s personal testimony of how he becomes a believer. Therefore, we are going to shift focus. We are not going to learn from the life of Daniel and friends but Nebuchadnezzar. Here is why this story is important for us. We do not live in Sydney to become nobody. We live in the city of Sydney to become somebody. We are driven by greatness. But if we are not careful, what happens is that we lose sight of what really matters. We begin to build our own kingdom and think that we are in control of our lives. Nebuchadnezzar’s problem is our problem. All of us are prideful people. Therefore, we need to learn what Nebuchadnezzar learned in this chapter. The point of this chapter is clear. God is the only Sovereign King and his kingdom is the only everlasting kingdom. To think otherwise is to commit high treason. And God will humble the proud.
There are four lessons that we can learn from this story. The problem of pride; the root of pride; the result of pride; the cure for pride.
The problem of pride
King Nebuchadnezzar has another dream that terrifies him. Remember that in that culture, a dream is seen as an important omen for the future. They believe that the gods would reveal the direction for the future through dreams. Therefore, Nebuchadnezzar must understand his dream. But unlike the previous dream, Nebuchadnezzar does not keep his dream a secret. He tells the dream to the wise men but they cannot interpret it. And once again, Daniel comes to the rescue. Nebuchadnezzar then tells Daniel his dream. In the dream, he sees a humongous tree that reaches to the heavens. Look at this picture. The tree is extremely large that it covers everything under the earth. Everything in the whole world is sheltered under the tree. It is magnificent. Then a watcher comes down from heaven and commands to cut down the tree so that no one can enjoy the tree anymore. But the tree is not cut off fully. The stump remain on the earth. And here is the purpose of it. Daniel 4:17 – The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.
After Daniel heard the dream, he is dismayed. He knows the meaning of the dream. But he is disturbed because of it. Just think about it. What would you do if you were Daniel? I would probably think along the lines of, “Finally, you will get what you deserved king Nebu.” After all, this is the person who is responsible for destroying my home and killing many innocent people in my country. Anyone else thinks the same way? But Daniel is different. Daniel genuinely concerns for the well being of Nebuchadnezzar. He wishes that the dream would fall on Nebuchadnezzar’s enemies and not him. Yet at the same time, Daniel speaks the truth to Nebuchadnezzar. It is because he desires the best for Nebuchadnezzar that he speaks the truth. He says, “King Nebuchadnezzar, you are that magnificent tree. But God is coming to humble you. He will cut you off but he will not cut you off completely. God will teach you that you are not that great and that the Most High rules over all. He will show you that you are weak and that the only reason you are great is because God gives your kingdom to you.” But Daniel does not stop there. Daniel also pleads to king Nebuchadnezzar to repent. He says, “Please repent O king. Practice righteousness and show mercy to the oppressed, and maybe this dream won’t happen.” And the story stops there. In the very next verse, twelve months have passed.
Here is something for us to learn. All of us desire greatness. All of us desire to leave a mark on this world. But it does not matter how great we think we are, at the end of the day it is empty. There are two main ways that pride manifest itself. First, secular pride. It is the driving force that tells us that unless we reach a certain standard of success, we are nobody. Unless we have accomplished this or that, our lives do not count. But look at the life of Nebuchadnezzar. His life tells us that we can be the most powerful, successful, richest person in the universe and yet we are sleepless. Why? Because deep inside our heart we know that it won’t last. We know that our time will be up one day. We know that the tree will be chopped off. There is a deep hole inside of us that we try to cover using our own merits. We try to cover that hole with pride. With our accomplishments. We think that if we only just have this or that, then our lives will matter. But the life of Nebuchadnezzar tells us that even if you become the most powerful man on the earth, it is still not enough. You are still sleepless. Nothing you can do can fill that hole in your heart.
The second way pride manifest itself is through religious pride. And let me tell you, this pride is extremely subtle and dangerous at the same time, especially for Christians. This pride has another name. It is self-righteousness. Here is what happens. We can see what is wrong with our culture. We can see the evil of homosexual lifestyle, slave trafficking, drunkenness, abortion, drug abuse etc. And we stay away from those flagrant sins. This is good. But then what happens if we are not careful is that we begin to think that we are better than those who commit those sins and we start to treat them with contempt. Rather than engage them with the gospel, we stay away from them. We avoid them because we think we are much better than them. We are no longer spiritual bi-cultural. We separated ourselves from the culture because of self-righteousness. We forget that our acceptance in the eyes of God is by grace alone. And if we can avoid those sins it is simply because of the grace of God that is working in our lives. We try to cover that hole in our heart with our good deeds. And it is not going to work. It turns us into a very prideful self-righteous Christian.
The root of pride
So now, twelve months have passed. What happened in those twelve months? Was God being patient with Nebuchadnezzar? Or did Nebuchadnezzar repent temporarily? We are not sure. But the author tells us that one day King Nebuchadnezzar is walking on the roof of his palace and he says the words that reveal the root of pride. Daniel 4:29-30 – 29 At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” Nebu doesn’t listen to the warning from God. And his sentence reveals the root of pride. The root of pride is I and my. Nebu has been warned that the reason that he is great is because the Most High is the one who makes him great. It is the Most High that rules the kingdom of men. But now Nebu says, “Look at this great Babylon. It is I who did it. It is my power that makes this happen. And this is for the glory of my majesty. I deserve all the praise. I am the bomb!” He takes all the credit for himself. This is the root of pride.
By the way, this is not an empty boast. At this time, Babylon is the most powerful kingdom on the earth. Babylon is the gold in the statue. The best of all kingdom. And Nebuchadnezzar is the king of the most powerful kingdom. He is the most powerful man on the earth. He can destroy a nation at will. He is that magnificent tree that covers the earth. And not only that, but Babylon also has two of the seven wonders of the ancient world. First, they have the hanging gardens. Look at this picture. Nebuchadnezzar created a palace for one of his wives where it is filled with plants from top to bottom. For some of you girls, this is like your dream house. I don’t understand this new fascination that girls have with plants. But you would love the hanging garden. But your husband is not the most powerful man of the most powerful kingdom. So do not ask him to build this garden for you. Second, they have the walls of Babylon. Look at this picture. The city of Babylon is surrounded by massive walls that protected the city from its enemies. It is a wonder how Nebuchadnezzar built these walls. So when Nebuchadnezzar boast of his accomplishments, it is not an empty boast.
However, as soon as those words come out of Nebu’s mouth, a voice comes from heaven saying, “Time’s up Nebu. You do not heed the warning. You think that you are the greatest person in the universe. It is time for you to know who the true king is. I am taking your kingdom away from you.” Here is something that we must understand about the kingdom of God. Yes, the fullness of the kingdom of God has yet to come. But it does not mean that God is not reigning. The Most High rules over the kingdom of men from eternal past to eternal future. There is not a single moment where God is not the Sovereign King over the universe. And the Most High not only rules over heaven but he also rules over the kingdom of men. He is in constant rule over history and nations. He gives the kingdom of men to whomever he wishes. He appoints rulers and he removes rulers. You cannot bribe this God. He does whatever he wills and nothing can stop him. Nebuchadnezzar thinks that it is his own power that makes Babylon great. But he is mistaken. It is the Most High that makes Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon great.
This is an important lesson for all of us. There is a desire in all of us to be God. We want to call our own shots. That’s what pride is. Pride is the desire to be God for ourselves. Pride is the self-inflated view of self. Keller calls it a cosmic plagiarism. It is when we take what belongs to God and attribute it to ourselves. Let me give an example. It is no secret that one of my preaching heroes is Timothy Keller. I lost count to how many of his sermons I have heard in the recent years. I know his sermon so well that I can detect the smell of his sermon from other people’s sermons. And sometimes I get very upset. Do you know why? Because I would hear them plagiarise Keller’s sermon without giving credit to Keller. I mean, I am not talking about using Keller’s ideas and words in your sermon. Who doesn’t? Let me tell you a secret. If you hear me say anything that sounds good and wise, I probably stole it from Keller without realizing it. But I am talking about plagiarism here. The sermon is exactly like Keller but does not give credit to Keller at all. And that person got praised for it. I got mad. That is plagiarism. But that’s what we do with God.
The Bible is clear that everything we have is a gift from God. God is the source of everything we have. Do we realize that we have no control over our lives at all? Who do we think gives us the talents that we have? Why do we have that nationality? Who gave us our parents? There is not a single thing in our lives in which we can rightly claim, “I deserve it.” None. But this is exactly what pride does. Pride makes us think that we deserve it and that God owes us. And pride not only works in the good moments of life but also in the bad moments of life. If life goes well, pride says, “I deserve it.” If life does not go well, pride says, “I did not deserve it.” At the core of it is the thought that God owes us. If we get promoted at our job we think that God owes it to us after all the hard work we put into our work. If we do not get promoted at our job we think that God owes us to give us what we deserve. We do not realize that everything we have in life is a gift from God. God does not owe us anything. But pride makes us think that God owes us everything. It is cosmic plagiarism. Let’s continue with the story.
The result of pride
Daniel 4:31-33 – 31 While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, 32 and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” 33 Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.
This is very devastating. King Nebuchadnezzar loses his sanity and becomes like a beast for seven periods of time. We do not know if this refers to seven months, seven seasons or seven years. The number seven in the Bible is the number of completion. Maybe the best way to understand it is that Nebuchadnezzar becomes like a beast for the periods of time that God has set for him to complete. It is God’s punishment for his pride. The king that thinks that he is like God must become a beast to learn that he is nobody. But don’t miss it. This is not a random punishment. When we refused to submit to God’s authority, we become less human. Pride makes us like a beast.
Let me explain. There is one chapter in the book Mere Christianity where C.S. Lewis talks about pride. I recommend all of you to read this book. It is brilliant. Lewis insights on pride is superb. Let me summarise it for you in six points.
First, a proud person has to be better than everyone else. Pride thrives in comparison. Let’s say you are rich. You are not proud because you are rich. Pride takes pleasure in the fact that you are richer than someone else. If everyone is as rich as you, there is nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud, the pleasure of being above the rest. Pride does not find its satisfaction in being good. Pride find its satisfaction in being better than others.
Second, a proud person is never satisfied. Why? Because it does not matter how rich you are, there will always be someone richer than you. There will always be someone better than you. So there is this constant urge for more that will never be satisfied. That $70,000 salary is great when you compare it with $50,000. But it is not enough when you compare it with those who earned $100,000.
Third, a proud person craves power. A proud person enjoys being better than others because it feeds his superiority complex. Being better gives you power over others. And this desire for power leads to enmity between people. As long as there is one person in your life who is better than you, that person is your rival and enemy.
Fourth, a proud person turns God into an enemy. Pride makes you feel threatened with those who are better than you and it turns God into your enemy. You cannot accept the superiority and sovereignty of God over your life as you desire to have power over your life. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man always looking down on people and as long as you are looking down, you cannot see someone that is above you. And this applies to Christian as well. Many Christian believes God with their head but they are living their daily life as if God does not exist. They still want to be in control over their own lives. That is pride.
Fifth, a proud person is inhuman. Have you ever heard the phrase, “You will become what you behold”? The more you look at something, the more you will look like that thing. Here is the truth about you and me. We are created to look at God and reflect his image. But pride causes us to refuse to look up to God. And if we will not look up, we will inevitably look down at the beasts and we will become like beasts. This is frightening. This is what Paul means in Romans 1 when he writes that we have exchanged the glory of God for images of beasts. Then God gives us up to our lusts and we turn into beasts who only live to pursue pleasures.
Sixth, a proud person is blind. You are blind to your own pride. You justify your beastly behaviour. You lose your rational mind. You don’t care about others. You only care about satisfying your appetite. This is why pride is the sin underneath all sin. This is what happened to Nebuchadnezzar. Because he refused to look up, he looks down and becomes like a beast. It begs the question, what are you looking at? You will become what you look at.
The cure for pride
Daniel 4:34-36 – 34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; 35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” 36 At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
What a beautiful ending to this fascinating story. After the completion of God’s judgement, Nebuchadnezzar looks up to heaven. This is a sign of the acknowledgment of God as the Sovereign King of the everlasting kingdom. And when he looks up to God, his ability to reason return to him. Don’t miss it. It is God who gives him the ability to reason in the first place and it is God who returns that ability to Nebuchadnezzar. The only reason we can reason is because God gives us the ability to reason. And now Nebuchadnezzar is turned into a worshipper of God. He exults and praises the Most High. He says, “The Most High is the one true King. His kingdom and dominion are everlasting. There is none like him and to him be all praise and honour forever. The Most High does whatever he pleases and no one can accuse him of wrong. He is the King of heaven. All his ways are just and he humbles the proud.” What a beautiful praise to the Most High. This is the last time we see Nebuchadnezzar in the story. But I am convinced this is not the last time we see him. We will one day meet Nebuchadnezzar in the eternal kingdom and worship the Sovereign King together with him. But the point of the story is clear. It is repeated three times in verse 17, 25 and 32. The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will. God is the Sovereign King of the everlasting kingdom.
What does this story teach us? It teaches us that God is able to humble those who walk in pride. All of us are prideful people. We rebelled against God and we sinned against God. And often times, God allows us to go through intense pain and suffering to humble us. Because unless we are humble, we are not able to receive the good news of the gospel. The gospel is a very humbling message. The gospel tells us that there is nothing in us that can earn God’s acceptance. There is nothing in us that we can boast before God to make us worthy of his grace.
So, how can we be cured of pride? Two things. First, admit your pride. There is a great story in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia that deals with this issue. There is a movie on it called The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In the story, there is a proud little boy named Eustace. And his pride turns him into a beast, a dragon. He tries to get rid of his dragon skin by pulling it off on his own but it does not work. It doesn’t matter how hard he tries, he is still a dragon underneath. Finally, he meets Aslan, the great lion that represents Christ. And Aslan says, “I am the only one who can get rid of those dragon skin off you. You will have to let me undress you.” So Aslan takes his claws and rips Eustace’s skin. And this is what Eustace says, “The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I had ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.” Lewis is trying to show us that being cured of pride is a painful process. Because you and I are naturally driven to think about ourselves first. It is in our skin. We cannot get rid of pride on our own. We have to let God undress us. And it begins with admitting our pride. And you might not like what I say next but it is true. Sometimes it takes a massive failure to humble us from our pride. But that massive failure can be the means by which the gospel comes alive in our lives.
Second, look to the Most High. Only the grace of the Most High can cure us of pride. How do we receive it? By looking up to him. And let me tell you what you see when you look up to him. You see the Sovereign King of the everlasting kingdom. You see the all-powerful king who rules over the kingdom of men. But this king is not proud. This king is humble. He is everything Nebuchadnezzar is not. And his name is Jesus. Jesus is crowned with honour and glory. He didn’t simply create the wonders of the ancient world, he created the world itself out of nothing. He is the only one who has the right to say, ”Look at the great creation that I have build with my power and for my glory.” And yet he did not count his glory a thing to be grasped. But he emptied himself of his glory, taking the form of a servant and become one of us. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. Why? To pay the cost of our rebellion against him. In our pride, we have committed high treason. We want to be god for ourselves. We exalt ourselves at the cost of God but Jesus humbles himself for the sake of us. Jesus who knew no sin became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. The key to humility is not to focus on being humble but to focus on the one who humbled himself for us. As long as you focus on self, you will never become humble. Only the gospel can make you humble. Look up to Jesus and you will become like him. This is the only cure to pride.
One last thing and I am done. Do you know what happens when you are humble? You can enjoy life. Because now you see everything in life as a gift. You do not deserve anything but Christ has given you everything. When life does not work out as you expected, you are free to acknowledge that you are weak because Christ is strong for you. When life works out well, you know it is not you because apart from Christ, you can do nothing. Therefore, in both good and bad times, it is not about you but it is about Christ and his purpose in you. So, be the best you can be. Give your lives for the sake of the city. Make the gospel known throughout your life. “Yet not I but through Christ in me.”
- “The more prideful we are, the more annoyed we are at other’s pride because pride in it’s nature is competitive.” What does it tell you about your own pride?
- Give some daily life examples of secular pride and religious pride. Which one do you think you are more prone toward?
- Timothy Keller refers to pride as cosmic plagiarism. Explain.
- Look at my summary of C.S. Lewis insight on pride. (Better yet, read the chapter on “great sin” in Mere Christianity. It is very enlightening.) Which one struck out the most for you and why?
- Why is it very difficult for you to admit your own pride?
- Explain why the gospel is the only cure for pride?
- In your life right now, is there any area where you say “I deserve this” or “I do not deserve this”? How can you apply the gospel into that specific area?