Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lent Midweek Service

Lent Midweek – Nebuchadnezzar – March 13th

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          Nebuchadnezzar was on top of the world.  There he was, king of the most powerful Empire the world had ever seen.  Even Egypt trembled before him.  And he knew that when he conquered Jerusalem, he had hit the jackpot.  Daniel, his servant, full of wisdom, able to interpret dreams had come from there.  The three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were from there – and their God was strong enough to preserve them even in the heart of the fiery furnace… and they all served and advised Nebuchadnezzar.  It was a fantastic situation, a wonderful set up.   We would say that King Nebuchadnezzar was truly blessed.

          The problem is, that isn’t what Nebuchadnezzar himself said.  Daniel had just interpreted a dream for Nebuchadnezzar, where God had warned Nebuchadnezzar not to be prideful, to repent, to turn away from sins, including idolatry.  Stop making these idols – listen to Daniel, listen to the wise Israelites and worship the True God.  In fact, Daniel says to Nebuchadnezzar, “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.”  There it is King – God is willing and content to use you as His own servant – but be a servant to God.  Repent, do what is good and righteous, show mercy, and be content and rejoice in the abundant bounty which God will provide for you – for you know His power.

          But Nebuchadnezzar didn’t listen.  ‘All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar.  At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 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?”’  Well, not quite the proper lesson.  Kings walking on their rooftops seems to lead to bad things – it lead to David having an affair with Bathsheba, and it stokes Nebuchadnezzar’s pride.  Because there he is, literally on the top of the world – on the top of the tallest building in the great city, and his ego gets the best of him.  Is this not the great city that *I* have built by *my* mighty power to show forth *my* majesty.  Me, me, me.  Even as Daniel is warning him to repent, to simply be a glad and well provided for servant, Nebuchadnezzar goes in the exact opposite direction – he runs straight into pride.

          Now, let us pause for a bit and consider our own lives.  We may not be kings living in a palace, but consider. Nebuchadnezzar was certain that Babylon was the greatest city in the world – do we not gladly say that we live in the greatest country in the world?  While we are not kings, do we not have houses that would be the envy of billions, and not merely enough food on our tables but fantastic options for food and leisure and entertainment?  We have success in our jobs, respect, and power – not the power of a king, but still more than most people in the world. And can we not ourselves be tempted to think that this is because of our talents, our hard work, how good we are?  Are we not tempted to take pride in our homes, our authority, our power? 

          The Lord responds to Nebuchadnezzar’s pride in a dramatic fashion.   “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.””  How do you like them apples?  Do you pride in your power and your plans – then I will make you unable to plan and I will cut off your power.  You don’t get to be a king when you are crazy and think that you are a cow.  “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.”  And it happens.  For quite some time.  His hair grows wild and his fingernails get on and untrimmed.  The man who thought that he was the best of men stops even acting like a man, becomes little more than a wild beast.

          The proud man is humbled.  And again, this is to be a warning to us.  God humbles the proud.  The mighty and arrogant He brings down.  This is a theme repeated over and over throughout the Old Testament, it is part of the Magnificat – the poor He has fed but the rich He has sent empty away.  And it is something that we ourselves should be mindful of.  How easily, how carelessly, how thoughtlessly can we here in America be tempted to be arrogant and dismissive of God – even us here, even we who attend Church and should know better?  How often have we seen people get their comeuppance, seen the powerful fall?  This is not reason for us to gloat – it is a reason for us to repent, lest the same befall us!

          Of course, Nebuchadnezzar’s story doesn’t end there.  While we don’t normally think of him as such – Nebuchadnezzer ends up contributing to the Scriptures, ends up being an author in part of the bible.  Listen.  
 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.  Nebuchadnezzar is restored by God. God gives his reason back to Him, and Nebuchadnezzar knows that he is established by God, and that God added more greatness to him.  Do you see now how in his repentance, Nebuchadnezzar is content to confess the greatness of God and simply receive from God the blessings that God deigns to give?  The praise he writes, if not as poetic as the Psalms, is as high as anything David writes.
          Martin Luther observed at the very start of the Reformation that our lives as Christians are to be ones of repentance – and Nebuchadnezzar here tells us what a life of repentance is.  We do not lift our eyes upon our own greatness – rather we look to the Lord.  We do not trust our own strength – we extol God’s strength.  We know above all things, we remember at all times that His works are right and that His ways are just.  But again, dear friends, remember that this confession says more than just that God is okay, God is good.  It says that God’s works are right – that is, they are righteous, they deal with righteousness.  His ways are just, they lead to justification.  We are to keep our eyes focused upon God because He is the One who provides righteousness for us by the saving work of Christ Jesus, He is the one who has baptized us and placed us in Christ Jesus, the very Way, the Truth, the Life – He who is our justification.  The same God who will humble the proud is the same God who will take the lowly and humble sinner, and by the power of the Word of the Gospel forgives them and elevates them, gives them heaven, makes them co-heirs of eternal life with Christ Jesus.  This is why God desires you to be repentant – for His delight is not in your condemnation or punishment, but His delight is in restoring you, in blessing you, in forgiving you and giving you all and every blessing.  His mercies endure forever – and He would not want anything, not even your pride, to keep you from seeing this mercy, to make you overlook this mercy.  God grant that by the power of His Word and Spirit we turn away from our pride and rather  always behold Christ Jesus and His great love for us.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified +  

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