I spend a great deal of time daily pondering the requirement as a teacher to tell the truth about important spiritual matters…even when it isn’t popular. That is something that’s expected of teachers/ministers, but not always appreciated.
Think of a circumstance when an individual would suddenly grab his side in pain, double over and fall to the floor. Paramedics were called and he was rushed to the hospital. After a battery of tests and X-rays they found he had a cancerous tumor the size of a small football in his stomach. The doctors give radiation treatment and 3 months later they
operated to remove the tumor, now shrunken to the size of a golf ball.
Many people say sin is a negative subject. So is cancer. If you have a cancerous tumor in your stomach the size of a football and they rush you to the hospital, you don’t need the doctor to tell you, ‘It’s just a stomach ache. Take some Mylanta and you’ll be OK.’ You need to know the truth.
How would you like to be the doctor who has to deliver such bad news? It probably wouldn’t be on anyone’s list of favorite things they like to do.
What is true of physical life and the threat of cancer it also true in the case of spiritual life and the reality of sin. Before people can understand and accept the good news of God’s forgiveness and salvation, they need to hear from us the bad news of their condition before God in their sins.
Because telling the truth about sin is quite similar to the doctor who must break the news about cancer, many people shy away from it. They prefer either to say nothing, or to water down the truth so as to somehow soften the blow.
Sadly, preachers and other Christians can become pretty good at watering down or disguising the truth so that it no longer appears to be bad news. Perhaps it is the reason why so many sense no joy in their salvation – they’ve no idea how bad their condition was so they don’t appreciate their deliverance from it.
Delivering good news is a joy. Delivering bad news is unpleasant. Yet it can get even more complicated than that. Imagine delivering bad news to a superior with a penchant for temper tantrums and the power to kill you. Surely the temptation in such a situation would be to tell a little less than the truth, or perhaps some version of “what they want to hear.”
That is the situation for Daniel in the fourth chapter of the book we’ve been studying. Daniel is the “doctor.” The “patient” is Nebuchadnezzar and he has a deadly sin in his life called arrogance. God has decreed his judgment and it is about to come upon him unless he changes his ways. Daniel must deliver the bad news.
This is sermon number four in our series from Daniel called, “Faith in the Fire: God’s in Control.” We’re looking at dealing with calls from the world. This message is titled, “When They Call for Truth.”
Daniel 4:1-37 (ESV)
1 King Nebuchadnezzar to all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you!
Notice that this chapter differs from the previous three in that it is written by Nebuchadnezzar himself in the first person. It describes what brought him to become a believer in the God of heaven. It involved some bad news. Penned after the fact, this was either a decree he sent out across his kingdom after the events described, or something he wrote in his memoirs for posterity. Note his high praise for God in the next two verses.
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.
It wasn’t always that way. Listen as he describes what happened”
4 I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and prospering in my palace.
5 I saw a dream that made me afraid. As I lay in bed the fancies and the visions of my head alarmed me.
6 So I made a decree that all the wise men of Babylon should be brought before me, that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream.
7 Then the magicians, the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers came in, and I told them the dream, but they could not make known to me its interpretation.
8 At last Daniel came in before me—he who was named Belteshazzar after the name of my god, and in whom is the spirit of the holy gods—and I told him the dream, saying,
9 “O Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you and that no mystery is too difficult for you, tell me the visions of my dream that I saw and their interpretation.
10 The visions of my head as I lay in bed were these: I saw, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great.
11 The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth.
12 Its leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the heavens lived in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it.
13 “I saw in the visions of my head as I lay in bed, and behold, a watcher, a holy one, came down from heaven.
14 He proclaimed aloud and said thus: ‘Chop down the tree and lop off its branches, strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the beasts flee from under it and the birds from its branches.
15 But leave the stump of its roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, amid the tender grass of the field. Let him be wet with the dew of heaven. Let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth.
16 Let his mind be changed from a man’s, and let a beast’s mind be given to him; and let seven periods of time pass over him.
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.’
18 This dream I, King Nebuchadnezzar, saw. And you, O Belteshazzar, tell me the interpretation, because all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known to me the interpretation, but you are able, for the spirit of the holy gods is in you.”
What a story!
Recall now what we are looking for in this passage. We’re looking to see how we should deal with a situation where someone from the world asks one of us for the truth. A careful look reveals four necessary things for the truth-teller to get his message across. The first is…
Notice back in verses 7 and 8 that Daniel was one of Nebuchadnezzar’s leading advisors. By this time, Daniel had established a track record in the palace, not only of telling the truth, but also knowing it. I have no idea why the king chose to call Daniel in last, after he had consulted the others, unless he wanted to evaluate his advisory team the way he did back in chapter two.
Look at his description of Daniel: “in whom is a spirit of the holy gods.” Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t a believer yet, but he recognized Daniel had something the rest didn’t. From his previous encounters with Daniel, he must also have known that Daniel wouldn’t back away from telling him the truth.
When the world calls on one of us for truth, it will likely be because their observations of our actions have built credibility in them. We have become authentic. Usually unknown to us, the unbeliever has been watching and evaluating us in other circumstances. They’ve noted it when we had the courage to tell the truth and they’ve also noted it when they saw us
hedge. That is why it is so necessary to be truthful in all areas of life, big and little.
Who do you suppose if watching you right now, evaluation your truthfulness? It might surprise you to know who and how many!
If we expect the world to listen to the truth when we tell it, we don’t get there by waiting until they ask before beginning to tell the truth. We tell it now, in the little things that we face every day, knowing that the world is watching. We also don’t go to the world’s shifting standard of truth to learn how to do it (like the Indians learning to make smoke
signals from the movies.) We must be in God’s eternal source of truth, the Bible.
If you were called upon by the world to tell the truth today, would your message be heard or ignored? A lot depends upon your credibility.
Though it has been repeated to the point of being trite, it is still true that “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” We see here in the example of Daniel a genuine concern for Nebuchadnezzar.
19 Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was dismayed for a while, and his thoughts alarmed him. The king answered and said, “Belteshazzar, let not the dream or the interpretation alarm you.” Belteshazzar answered and said, “My lord, may the dream be for those who hate you and its interpretation for your enemies!
Daniel could have said, “Well, it’s about time God dealt with you, you Pagan, for what you did to my people and my family back in Jerusalem!”
We must tell the truth, but we must tell it with compassion. We should preach and teach “as dying men to dying men.”
Our message isn’t delivered from a place of condescension! Without God’s offer of grace to us, given while we were still in our sins, we are no better off than this pagan king! We must never forget it.
Candor is forthright honesty. It’s what you want from your doctor. It’s what you should want from those who teach you. It is what the unbeliever who comes to you seeking truth, needs desperately from you.
When you arrive at the absolute truth about a matter, things that contradict it cannot be right! That makes them wrong in case anyone needs some help figuring it out.
When we speak of telling the truth with candor, we mean telling it like it is, not like we want it to be or we wish it were or our favorite version of it!
From time to time there are people who are with us in the church for a while, then they leave. Often it is because they run aground on this very issue. They get upset because the leadership of this church will not go against the clear commands of scripture to accommodate their situation.
Those of you sitting here this morning don’t always know the issue behind some folks leaving, but you may hear them as they go mumbling things like how “unfair” the shepherds/minister are. My experience has been the “unfair” they are talking about is that these shepherds, who will account to God one day for their stewardship in this place, would not change the absolute truth of the situation to make it convenient for them to disobey God.
In those statements, I said you don’t always know the issue. The reason is that we don’t usually parade people’s personal lives before the church. If you have a question about something said about the elders, though, the best approach is to ask. They are open to questions and not above accountability for their actions. It is just that I can say with certainly that they (and I) are more afraid of some twisting the word of God than they are of someone’s threats to leave.
Candor – forthright honesty – is what is needed when the world calls for truth. We dare not let them down. To do so is fatal.
Though he risked the king’s wrath, Daniel told the truth with candor.
20 The tree you saw, which grew and became strong, so that its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth,
21 whose leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in which was food for all, under which beasts of the field found shade, and in whose branches the birds of the heavens lived—
22 it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong. Your greatness has grown and reaches to heaven, and your dominion to the ends of the earth.
23 And because the king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Chop down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump of its roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, in the tender grass of the field, and let him be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts of the field, till seven periods of time pass over him,’
24 this is the interpretation, O king: It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king,
25 that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.
26 And as it was commanded to leave the stump of the roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be confirmed for you from the time that you know that Heaven rules.
To the person in the church, we need to tell the truth about the need to obey God. To the outsider, we need to tell the truth about their sin and the coming effects of it.
Those of you who have used “Sin-Savior-Salvation” lessons to teach someone else the gospel: that is why the lesson on “Sin” comes before the one on “Salvation.” People need to know the truth that, because of their sin, they are lost and could be bound for Hell. Only then will they be interested in Jesus as a Savior and not just a nice man.
It is also true of those of us who have been baptized for remission of sins…our refusal to ‘walk in the light’ and to confess the willful sin in our life…puts our eternal condition in peril.
Credibility, Concern, Candor. These are all things we need when the world calls for truth. It is not the time to back away.
The call from correction is a call to fix what is wrong. It is the instruction to make straight what is crooked. Here it is from Daniel. 27 Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”
That is our ultimate goal when the world calls for truth. Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will all, likewise, perish.”
Sin separates and alienates people from God. If it isn’t forgiven, they will go to hell. That is the truth. Repentance is the first step back toward God. It is the point where they change direction. They quit living for themselves and make up their mind they will start living for God.
Repentance is the hardest part of the message because it means a person must stop doing things only to please himself and start doing what pleases his Maker.
For the king it involved abandoning his arrogance and helping other people. It involved getting off the throne of his own life and putting God in His rightful place.
To those seeking truth it is no different. When we tell a person the bad news, that is, his sin has him bound for a fully conscious eternity in hell and that he cannot save himself, we show him God’s answer to his problem. Christ has died to take away his/her sin.
But he must turn from his sinning and accept Christ. He must be baptized to have his sins washed away. He must strive from then on to put God first in his life. In these things we cannot afford to be unclear or try to slip it by.
Daniel 4:28-37 (ESV)
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.
What Preaching is All About? By Wes McAdams
Preaching is the proclamation and explanation of God’s word. Both the Old and New Testaments are full of men who stood before God’s people and explained, “This is what God says, this is what it means, and this is how it applies to us today.”
The church needs to hear the proclamation and explanation of God’s word. We need to hear what it says, what it means, and how it applies to our lives today. When God’s word is proclaimed and explained:
- it brings glory to God.
- it unites God’s people of the present with His people of the past.
- it makes us into a knowledgeable and disciplined community, by encouraging us to stretch our attention spans and develop an ability to hear the word of the Lord.
How We Turn Preaching Into a Competitive Performance
With singing, we often misplace our focus. We focus on the tune and the tempo, when the focus should be on the words of praise. With preaching, we focus on the preacher’s style and delivery, when the focus should be on accurately proclaiming and explaining the word of God.
But think about it, when we sit in the pew and make the sermon about the preacher’s performance – rather than our own walk with Jesus – it takes the pressure off us and puts it on the preacher.
When we have the luxury of sitting and measuring the length and style of the sermon, comparing it with other sermons we’ve heard, our job in the pew is easy. It’s much more difficult for us to accept our God-given responsibility to look beyond the flaws, shortcomings, and human limitations of the preacher in order to discern and apply God’s holy word to our lives.
Pride, Ego, and Self-Esteem
It’s easy to see the harm we do to those we criticize. It’s easy to see how it hurts a preacher’s feelings when we criticize his style; but we might actually be doing more harm to those on whom we constantly brag. When we constantly brag on a preacher’s style and performance, we might very well be stroking his ego.
How To Encourage a Preacher
So how can we show appreciation to our preachers, without being stumbling blocks? Here are a few of my favorite kinds of encouragement:
- “That message really made me think. I’m going to have to go home and study some more.”
- “I’m convicted. I’m going to make some big changes in my life.”
- “God’s word is so powerful.”
- “Thank you for telling us the truth.”
Some years ago a terrible railroad accident occurred, killing many people. A commuter train had stalled on the tracks just a few minutes before a fast freight was due to arrive. A conductor was quickly sent to flag down the approaching train. Assured that all was well, the passengers relaxed. Suddenly, however, the speeding freight came bearing down upon them. The crash left a ghastly scene of horror.
The engineer of the second train, who escaped death by jumping from the cab, was called into court to explain why he hadn’t stopped. “I saw a man waving a warning flag,” he said, “but it was yellow, so I thought he just wanted me to slow down.” When the flag was examined, the mystery was explained. It had been red, but because of long exposure to the sun and weather it had become a dirty yellow.
When the world calls for truth, our message must be clearly red, not yellow. It must be held up with confidence, waved with concern and candor, accompanied with a message of correction.