December 12, 1999

ROCK OF AGES

The rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.  Daniel 2:35

There once was a king who had a dream, a strange and scary dream.  Most dreams lose their power once a person wakes up and are soon forgotten.  But this was a dream the king couldn’t forget.  The dream stuck with the king even when he was awake. The dream seemed so real and so overwhelming that the king could think of nothing else.  The dream troubled the king so much that it kept him awake night after night.  Finally, the king decided he had to do something.  He called together all the psychics, shamans, fortune tellers, and horoscope experts in his kingdom and told them, “I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means.”

The psychics, shamans, fortune tellers, and horoscope experts smiled confidently.  They often got big money to explain dreams and predict the future.  “O king, live forever!” they said, “Tell us the dream, and we will interpret it.”

The king thought, “Why should I tell my dream?  Aren’t these men supposed to be mind readers?  If they can’t read my mind and tell me what I dreamed, why should I believe anything they say about the meaning of the dream?”  So the king declared, “This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble.  But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor.  So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.”

The psychics, shamans, fortune tellers, and horoscope experts looked at each other nervously and cleared their throats.  They had no idea what the king had dreamed and no way to find out.  Finally they stammered, “There is not a man on earth who can do what the king asks!  No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any psychic, shaman, fortune teller, or horoscope expert.  What the king asks is too hard.  No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among men.”

This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men in his kingdom.

The Dream Revealed

Now, not quite all of the king’s wise men were psychics, shamans, fortune tellers, or horoscope experts.  There were four men who never claimed to have any powers for reading minds or predicting the future.  They believed in one God who alone controlled the future and knew every thought and dream.  Still, even though they had never been phonies like the other wise men, they were still to be executed along with the rest.

The leader of the four honest men was named Daniel.  When the king’s commander came to take them in for the mass execution, Daniel asked gently, “Why did the king issue such a harsh decree?”  After the commander explained the matter, Daniel went to the king and asked for time, so that he might interpret the dream for him.  The king agreed to give Daniel a chance.

Daniel then went home and explained the problem to his three friends.  He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that they would not be killed.  That very night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision.

Daniel went to the commander and told him not to execute anybody.  “Take me to the king,” Daniel said, “and I will interpret his dream for him.”  So the commander took him to the king at once.

The king asked Daniel, “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?”

Daniel made it clear that he himself was not a mind reader and had no power to predict the future. But what no human could ever figure out on his own, God knew perfectly well. “This mystery has been revealed to me,” said Daniel, “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.” The king listened with amazement as Daniel told him the dream exactly as the king had dreamed it.

You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue–an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance.  The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay.  When you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands.  It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them.  Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer.  The wind swept them away without leaving a trace.  But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.

Daniel then explained the meaning of the dream. The king’s dream was God’s way of giving a glimpse of the future of the world and its kingdoms.  The king himself, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, was the head of gold.  God had given him power, and his empire of Babylon was the greatest on earth.  Eventually, though, Babylon would give way to another great empire.  This was the chest and arms of silver.  Following that would come another empire, the bronze belly and thighs.  Then would come the iron empire, the strongest in many ways, but with divisions and weaknesses, like iron mixed with clay.

But what about the rock?

“In those times,” Daniel explained, 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.

A Dream Come True

The story of the king’s dream is a true story.  About 600 years before Christ, there really was a King Nebuchadnezzar who was the most powerful ruler on earth, and there really was a man named Daniel who explained his dream to him. The Bible records it in the book of Daniel, chapter 2.  And here’s the most important thing: not only was there really a king and a Daniel and a dream, but the dream really did come true.

Babylon’s empire of gold was replaced by the silver empire of the Medo-Persians.  Eventually that empire was conquered by Alexander the Great, who established the bronze empire of Greece.  Finally came the iron strength of Rome and its empire, though Rome’s attempts to unite its iron with the clay of its conquered territories never succeeded fully.  These four empires rose and fell just as God had told Daniel they would.

The small rock, the one not made by human hands, was formed by God himself in the womb of the virgin Mary.  The baby Jesus was born during the time of the iron rulers of Rome.  Through Jesus God “set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed,” just as Daniel predicted. Today, two thousand years after Jesus’ birth and 2,600 years after the king’s dream, the empires of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome are nothing but memories, while the kingdom of Christ remains and includes people in every nation.  Great empires have crumbled to dust, but the rock of Christ and his church “became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.”

Jesus Christ is a dream come true.  Rulers come and go, empires rise and fall, but Christ and his kingdom fill the earth and remain forever.  As we approach Christmas and the dawn of the year 2,000, the truth of the Bible is indeed confirmed when it says, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever…  Hallelujah!  For our Lord God Almighty reigns” (Revelation 11:15, 19:6).

There’s a story about Queen Victoria when she had just become monarch of the British Empire.  She went to hear Handel’s oratorio, The Messiah, and the young queen was told that when all the people stood up as the Hallelujah Chorus was sung, she should remain seated.  It would not be proper for royalty to stand in reverence with everyone else.  So, as the singers cried, “Hallelujah, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth,” she forced herself to stay seated in order not to violate the custom of kings and queens.  But when the chorus thundered Christ’s praises as King of kings and Lord of lords, Queen Victoria suddenly rose to her feet and stood with bowed head.

That’s the only fitting response to Jesus: submit to him as King of kings, and join in praising him. Mighty monarchs are weak compared to Christ.  Enormous empires are puny compared to his kingdom.  Centuries and millennia are too short to measure his unending reign.

Six hundred years before Christ, when the Lord showed Daniel the king’s dream and the future of the world’s kingdoms, Daniel worshiped God as the reader of minds and the ruler of history: “Praise be to the name of God forever and ever; wisdom and power are his.  He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them…. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him” (Daniel 2:20-22).  When Daniel explained the dream to King Nebuchadnezzar, the king fell on his face and blurted out, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries” (2:47). Daniel and the king were awestruck by what they could only see coming in the distance.  Shouldn’t we, who have seen these things fulfilled, marvel and praise the Lord with even greater awe?

Rock of Ages

In the king’s dream, the statue representing the various empires looked “enormous, dazzling … awesome in appearance,” while the rock at first looked small and unimpressive.  When Jesus came to earth, what was one poor son of a carpenter compared to the enormous might of the Caesars?   What was his little band of followers compared to the vast power of the Roman Empire?  But the small rock became a huge mountain that filled the whole earth, while the great and glittering powers of this world were crushed and blown away like chaff in the wind. Through every passing age, the Rock of Ages looms larger and larger.  The Christ who seemed so small as he lay in a manger and so helpless as he hung on a cross has greater power over humanity than all the tyrants of history combined.  A Roman governor ordered Jesus execution, but Jesus rose from the dead, and long after Governor Pilate was gone, Jesus continued to advance his kingdom.

In 1999 North America saw massacres of Christians by two teenage boys in a Colorado high school and by a disturbed loner in Texas church.  Those killings were dreadful, but back in the early centuries when Christianity burst on the scene, it wasn’t just a few angry teenagers or a loner who wanted Christians dead; it was the most powerful men in the world, the Roman emperors, and their entire military machine.

The emperor Nero  tried to wipe out the early Christians, and later emperors tried to do the same, but the number of Christians kept growing.  The emperor Diocletian launched such a ferocious and bloody campaign and murdered so many Christians that he had medals and monuments made, honoring himself “for having extinguished the name of Christians.”  However, it was not the name of Christ but the name of Diocletian that vanished. The Roman emperors eventually gave up trying to stamp out the Christian religion, but in the fourth century one last emperor, Julian the Apostate tried to revive paganism and destroy Christianity.  He despised Jesus and spoke of him as “the Galilean.” But Julian’s efforts to defeat Christ ended in Julian’s own destruction.  He was mortally wounded on a military campaign, and as he was dying, Julian flung a handful of his own blood at the sky and cried, “Thou has conquered, Galilean.” Eventually, the Roman Empire collapsed completely, while the church of Jesus became a huge mountain that filled the earth.

In the past two millennia, other empires have risen and fallen, other conquerors like Attila the Hun and Ghengis Khan have come and gone, but Christ and his kingdom remain. Various tyrants and political systems have tried to crush Christianity, but they’ve been shattered and blown away, while the mountain of Christ’s kingdom keeps growing.

In the twentieth century, the last century of the second millennium, Jesus has shown his supremacy yet again.  In the early 1900s the Turkish Ottoman Empire tried to snuff out Armenia and its Christians in a vicious genocide.  As the twentieth century comes to a close, the Ottoman Empire is gone, while Christ remains and Armenian people loyal to Christ remain.

Adolph Hitler tried to turn the German church away from Christ.  He tried to wipe out the Jews, the ancient people that gave birth to Christ.  Hitler predicted that his Third Reich would last a thousand years.  It lasted twelve.  As the twentieth century comes to a close, Hitler’s name is remembered only with disgust.  Meanwhile, the Jewish people he wanted to destroy have again become established in their ancient homeland of Israel, and the church worships Christ, not Nazi ideology.

For seventy years of this century, the Soviet Empire tried to destroy Christianity, but propaganda, atheistic schools, prison, torture, and mass murder could not wipe out the Christian faith.  As the twentieth century comes to a close, it is the Soviet Empire, not the church of Jesus, that lies in ruins.  Other communist nations, such as China, also tried to destroy belief in God and Christ.  China’s Chairman Mao declared that power comes from the barrel of a gun, but all the guns of Mao and his cronies could not match the power of Christ.  As the twentieth century comes to a close, there are more Christians in China than ever, and almost nobody believes the hollow claims of the communist party. Almost nobody wants to base their life on the writings of Marx or Mao, but millions want to base their life on the Bible and the Christ revealed in the Bible.  Isn’t it amazing?  It took only a few decades for communist ideology to grow old and exhausted, while the life of Christ among his people remains fresh and vigorous as ever after two thousand year.

Still today there is ferocious persecution of Christians in some parts of the world, such as the Sudan.  Christians there are tortured, sold into slavery, or slaughtered.  But these attacks on Christ’s kingdom are doomed to fail like all the others.

Even the killings in Littleton and Fort Worth, horrible though they were, have shown again the power of Christ.  The killers wanted to destroy Christians, but the death of Christ’s followers, though heartbreaking, woke many people up spiritually and moved them to commit their lives to Christ.  Christ’s enemies cannot destroy his kingdom.  As the early Christians used to say, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

The Lord Most High has seen and planned everything long in advance.  Nothing can prevent his purposes and plans from being carried out.  Already six hundred years before Jesus’ birth Daniel spoke God’s message about four empires leading up to the time of Christ, and it happened just as God said.  Over the past two millennia, right through the twentieth century, Daniel’s words about Christ’s indestructible kingdom have also come true.  Daniel said, “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.”  That, in a nutshell, is the story of history: God bringing one empire after another to an end but building an unconquerable kingdom founded on the Rock of Ages.

Son of the Most High

God spoke of these things through Daniel and other prophets long before Jesus’ birth, and when the time of Christ arrived, God repeated his promises as the angel Gabriel spoke to the blessed virgin Mary. “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,” Gabriel told Mary.  “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High… his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:31-33).  Why will Christ’s kingdom never end?  For the simple reason that Jesus is great, unimaginably great.  He is the Son of the Most High God!  What else can explain the mighty and mysterious power of Jesus Christ in human affairs over the past two thousand years?

As someone has written, “He is the centerpiece of the human race… All the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that were ever built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.”

Or, as historian Philip Schaff put it, “Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander, Caesar, Mohammed, and Napoleon; without science and learning, He shed more light upon things human and divine than all the philosophers and scholars combined; without the eloquence of the school, He spoke words of life such as never were spoken before, nor since, and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet; without writing a single line, He set more pens in motion and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, works of art, learned volumes, and sweet songs of praise than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times.  Born in a manger and crucified as a malefactor, He now controls the destinies of the civilized world, and rules a spiritual empire which embraces one third of the inhabitants of the globe.”

Of all the famous and mighty people who have ever lived, whose birth is celebrated by countless millions around the world and throughout the centuries?  Jesus Christ.  Of all the events that have happened in the history of the world, which event has determined the calendar itself and become the standard by which the years and centuries are measured?  The birth of Jesus Christ.  Celebrating Christmas and the year 2,000, we’re reminded yet again that Jesus is indeed the Rock of Ages.

Jesus is the only person worth of your ultimate trust.  Don’t put your trust in psychics, shamans, fortune tellers, and horoscope experts.  They can’t read minds or see the future any more than the phonies in the time of Daniel.  Don’t put your trust in political rulers or empires or ideologies.  They may look “enormous, dazzling and awesome in appearance,” like the statue in the king’s dream, but they are destined to disappear.

Put your trust in the Lord who read all minds, rules all events, foresees and directs the flow of history through all the ages, and rules “a kingdom that will never be destroyed.” Put your trust in the Rock that smashes every political idol, the Rock that has become a mighty mountain filling the earth, the Rock of Ages, the dream come true, the King of kings, the Lord of Lords–Jesus Christ.

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, in this final month of the second millennium, we bow before your wisdom, power, and love.  As we recall your birth this Christmas and observe two thousand years of victory over your enemies, we pray that you will have mercy on us sinners.  Make us citizens of your kingdom and children of God.  Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.