Daniel, chapter 8, this morning; why don't we go ahead and pray.
Father, we pause and really it is a pause because though we have worshiped in song, we continue our worship by demonstrating that what you have to say to us is worth all of our focus and attention, that there's no distraction that is deemed worthy enough to take attention away from the corporate gathering and exposition of Holy Scripture.
We believe your Spirit speaks through and to men and women as we read together. We pray, Lord, that you would share with us, correct our thinking, admonish us, encourage us. You and you alone know the variety of experiences that are represented in this room, and then beyond this room to overflow, and then beyond that to people watching on the Internet, or hearing on the radio. But one thing I'm convinced of is that you love each one so individually, so uniquely. We pray, Lord, that your Holy Spirit would now speak, in Jesus' name, amen.
I was reading this week about an ESPN sports commentator, about an NBA basketball team that had made it to the finals, and he kept using the word "great": "This is a great team. They have great rebounding. They have a great defense. There's great three-point shooters on this team." Great, great, great, he kept saying how great they were. So it got me to thinking, not only do we use that word a great deal, sometimes just as a throw-away term: "How are you doing?" "I'm doing great." "Well, how's everything at home?" "Great!" "What about your work?" "Great!"
What does it mean to be great? What is the best definition of that term? I think if you were to ask the world, our culture outside the church, "Define greatness," they would come up with at least four categories. A person with power would be considered a great person in their eyes. He or she has the ability to control things around them—power.
Prestige would also fit the term great in the world's point of view: the accolades that are given to a person for what he or she has accomplished. Power, prestige. Position would be part of their definition: the status they have achieved in their culture, their society, their school, wherever they're at. And then possessions, what a person owns—all of that would be considered great.
I looked it up in the dictionary, it's a simple word, but it's a very telling definition. According to Webster's Dictionary "great" means: considerably above normal or above average. A synonym would be remarkable. That's a remarkable team, a remarkable person, a remarkable thing; above average, above normal. The problem with using the term great is as soon as you use it for one thing, you are inferring that something else is not so great.
Like a man who went to the doctor and he said, "Doctor, I am suffering from an inferiority complex." The doctor ran a series of tests for several weeks, came back to him and said, "Actually, it's not a complex, you really are inferior." That's a very sad thing for a doctor to tell somebody.
Sometimes the term great shows up in a formal name. I went on Google and found no less than 142 people with the word great attached to their name: Herod the Great, Ivan the Great, Alexander the Great, Napoleon the Great—142 different people.
So what I'd like to do by using the text of Scripture today, Daniel, chapter 8, is look at three people. One that is mentioned by name, two that are inferred in the text: a prophet named Daniel, a Persian named Cyrus, a prodigy named Alexander whom we know is Alexander the Great, and look at what greatness really is.
How can a person be great in God's estimation? How can our lives be significant so as to make a real difference? How can I make sure that I'm not just breathing air and occupying space, but I'm doing something noteworthy, even above average and normal in God's estimation, not in the worlds? What does it mean to be great?
Now, as we get into chapter 8, I need to tie it together with chapter 7 and just remind you that in chapter 7 Daniel had a vision, a prophetic vision of the future. He looked ahead from his time onward through four successive world-governing empires to which his people the Jews would be subject for centuries, all the way to the second coming of Christ.
He saw four kingdoms in chapter 7. Now in chapter 8 he gives us details on the second and third of those four empires: the Medo-Persian Empire and the Grecian Empire. Why is that? Simply because as we'll read eventually in chapter 8, the Grecian Empire is going to produce somebody who is going to so persecute the Jewish people that he'll be like Nebuchadnezzar was in the past, and like the Antichrist will be in the future. So it is written to comfort the Jewish people in captivity that though hard times are coming, God still has a plan for them and that includes the coming kingdom.
So let's consider three people, the great and the not so great in Daniel the eighth chapter. First of all, a prophet named Daniel, and you'll notice in verse 1 that his name is mentioned as it is also mentioned in the last verse of the chapter, verse 27. But in the first verse we read, "In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me—to me, Daniel—after the one that appeared to me the first time."
Now I think it's safe to say that most people in the modern culture would not consider Daniel to be great. Yes, he made it up the ladder to become the prime minister of the Babylonian Empire, but he was a pretty despised person because he was a Jewish captive. The Babylonians said "come in" and subjugated Judah, and that makes him part of a conquered people, that brings a certain kind of shame with it. You would be considered a military or political loser.
Certainly Daniel would not be put in TIME magazine's Person of the Year Award, or the Top 10 Most Influential People. In fact, I did look in TIME magazine's list this week at the 100 Greatest People of All Time and then they go all the way up to a thousand people; Daniel was not listed in either of those lists. So Daniel wouldn't be considered that great, but to God he certainly was great.
Even when we get to Daniel the fifth chapter when King Belshazzar is on the throne, if you remember, this king brings all the wise men of Babylon before him, except Daniel. Daniel isn't part of that group. It's almost as though Daniel was marginalized and kept away from the group: "Let's not bring Daniel in, let's bring the worldly guys in with the worldly wisdom."
Sort of like that kid that's the last pick when people are picking teams and he's like the last kid on the field. I know about this because I was often the last kid. Nobody really wanted—I wasn't really great at a lot of those kinds of sports, so: "Okay, Skip, you can be on our team. You gotta be on somebody's team."
Daniel could have felt like that, but again, in God's estimation he was great, because he's the guy that gets all the revelation to the future. Yeah, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream, but the interpretation came through this prophet Daniel.
So power, prestige, position, and possessions—God looks at all that and goes, "Huh! Not so much." Jesus put it this way in the New Testament, "What is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God." God isn't impressed with all that stuff. It's always been that way. What the world sees as great, God goes, "Heh! Fluff, vanity, nothing." And what the world despises often God will extol.
Consider for a moment John the Baptist that eccentric, unpredictable, rabble-rousing hippy who ate bugs out in the desert and said, "Repent!" to everyone he could find. People wouldn't consider him great, but Jesus Christ said, "I tell you of all who have ever been born of women there is none greater than John the Baptist." He was great. Daniel was great.
Though the word doesn't appear in terms of who he is in this chapter, in God's estimation he was great. Now what made him so great? Let me suggest to you three qualities that are found in this man Daniel. First of all, humility; he was a humble man. Did you notice how verse 1 was phrased? "In the third year of the reign of the King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me—" watch this, "to me, Daniel." The language of that verse reveals sort of an amazement, like: "Can you believe it? God keeps showing me all of these dreams and visions of the future,"—that's humility.
I believe that some Christians too easily and too flippantly say things like, "God spoke to me." You make sure God spoke to you if you say that. Make sure it wasn't last night's onions on a burrito. "Well, God showed me." Well, that's cool, if God indeed showed you. But here's Daniel saying, "Can you believe it? I, even I Daniel."
It's a Chinese proverb that says, "Great men never know that they're great." Moses was like that. When God called him at the burning bush he said, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?" The first king of Israel, King Saul, started out humble. When he was chosen he said, "But am I not a Benjamite from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans in the tribe of Benjamin?"
When David became king, he said, "Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?" And finally there's Paul the apostle who knew what he used to be before he came to Christ, and never let go of that memory. And Paul wrote these words, "Unto me, the one who is less than the least of all the saints is this grace given." So a great person is one who bows before a great God—that's humility.
A second characteristic that made Daniel great was not only humility, but singularity. He was a person with a one-track mind. When he was young, if you remember in chapter one, it says, "He purposed in his heart," he made a decision. "He purposed in his heart not to defile himself with a portion of the king's food." And in virtually every situation Daniel pointed up to God. When he stood before Nebuchadnezzar, when he stood before Belshazzar, when he stood before Darius the Mede—he pointed up to God. He had a one-track mind.
So a great person is one who bows before God, and one who points toward God. He's humble before God, but he points others toward God.
A third thing that made Daniel great was not only humility, not only singularity, but consistency. He was consistent over time. What he was as a youth, he continued to be all the way through the Scripture. In that incident that I just mentioned in Daniel, chapter 5, when Daniel was not brought into the court with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. Finally the queen mother, after the King Belshazzar was so shaken by what he had seen, she said "Bring Daniel in." For she said, "In that man is an excellent Spirit, and he was the guy who in times past made all these things known to your father the king."
Chapter 6, Daniel is described as one who distinguished himself regularly or consistently. So a great person is one who bows before God, points toward God, and one who is faithful to God over time.
True story: There were two brothers having a discussion after their Sunday school class. They were in Scotland and they were discussing their life's goal. The first brother said that he wanted to be rich and famous. The second brother said his goal was to follow Christ to the fullest. That second brother achieved his goal; he was the famous David Livingstone, the missionary medical doctor and explorer of the continent of Africa.
His brother became rich, but his fame was not due to his wealth, but to the fact that he was David Livingstone's brother. When John Livingstone died, on his grave were written these words: "Here lies John Livingstone the brother of David Livingstone." He was remarkable. David Livingstone—above average, above normal. He was a great man, because he was humble, spiritual, and faithful—that's greatness. Would you rather be king of the mountain for a day or the child of God for eternity?
Now listen, parents, when you have children and you see and you dedicate those little children and you think, "I want this child to be great." What do you have in mind? How do you define greatness?
I know grades are important and we make a big deal out of grades: "Johnny you made a C, you need to make at least a B. You have it in you to make an A, but you at least have to make a B." Okay, grades are important, but are they that important? Excelling in that sport—you want him to be really notable in that sport.
Hey, listen, build within your children the goal of them being a great person in these terms, the greatness of Daniel: humble, spiritual, faithful; humble, spiritual, faithful; humble, spiritual, faithful. If they get a C- but they're humble, spiritual, faithful—if they don't get picked for the team but they're humble, spiritual, faithful you have a great child.
A prophet named Daniel, he was great. Let's look at a second person in our text not named, but inferred, and you'll see what I mean in the first few verses—a Persian named Cyrus.
"In the third year" verse 1, "of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me—to me, Daniel—after the one that appeared to me the first time. I saw in the vision, and it so happened while I was looking, that I was in Shushan, the citadel," or "Susa the palace" some translations say, "which is in the province of Elam; and I saw in the vision that I was by the River Ulai."
Now get this, "I lifted up my eyes and saw there standing beside the river, was a ram which had two horns, and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher one came up last. I saw the ram pushing westward, northward, and southward, so that no animal could withstand him; nor was there any that could deliver from his hand, but he did according to his will and became great."
Another wild, weird, wacky vision, right? You think, "Did this guy have like a Babylonian burrito the night before?" Daniel had this in chapter 7, he has it now in chapter 8, and it's like these things just get weirder with each vision. Now, I will say that I've also had weird, wild, wacky visions, but that was before Christ, and it wasn't inspired by the Spirit of the Lord, but by another substance—that's a whole other story that I was delivered from.
This is the revelation of God, and I find it fascinating that God reveals himself sometimes through dreams, sometimes through visions. And if you get the picture of the biblical author sitting in a room, a dark, cold, dim room with a candle, and they're just sort of taking dictation as God's voice is coming through the walls, you got it wrong. Sometimes they wrote poetry, sometimes narrative, and sometimes they saw an animation before them like this wild cartoon of these beasts or animals where one thing represented something else.
First of all, in his vision he is not where he is in person. In person he's in Babylon, in the vision he is transported 350 miles to the east in the headquarters of the Medo-Persian Empire where Cyrus the Great was setting up his kingdom; it says in "Shushan, the citadel." He sees in the vision a ram with two horns. What's odd about these horns is they don't grow up simultaneously, but one grows up, then a second grows up, and it's much more notable, it's taller, it's bigger than the other.
So this is like a ram with an attitude that he sees, this ferocious ram—Rambo. [laughter] Just want to see if you're awake. Why a ram? Because the ram was the animal that depicted the Medo Persian Empire, just like the eagle is the bird that has been chosen to represent the United States of America, or for Great Britain a lion, or a bear from the Soviet Republic in times past.
The ram, what was on the coins of the Persian Empire. The ancient coins have a head of a ram on one side, a recumbent ram on the other. The king of Persia would often wear as the crown a gold jewel-studded head of a ram. The armies marched with a banner of a ram on their banners above them and on shields that they wore.
So, like the two horns, the Medo-Persian Empire would come in two parts: Media and Persia. Media came first, and it was a significant power. Persia was an insignificant power at the time that Daniel was writing, but it was growing, growing, growing in notoriety. And it was Cyrus the Great, he was called, and his son Cambyses II who brought a Medo-Persian coalition so that the second part of the empire, the Persian Empire, grew in strength bigger, and by this coalition they became a world-governing power that was the biggest to that date.
They had an interesting strategy history tells us. According to history they first marched westward and took Babylon, and Mesopotamia, Syria, Asia Minor, including Macedonia. Then they marched northward and conquered Colchis, where the region of ancient Georgia and the Soviet Republic, Armenia, Iberia, and the lands around the Caspian Sea. And then they conquered southward seizing the Levant, Egypt, Libya, and Ethiopia.
Their armies were so large the historians tell us that no single nation nor coalition of nations could stop them. Daniel sees all that. Question: How could Daniel know that? That's the whole point; he couldn't know that. This wasn't some food-induced vision; this was a revelation of God. God was telling him what is going to help.
Now notice verse 4, notice a word in verse 4: "I saw the ram pushing westward, northward, southward, so that no animal could withstand him; nor was there any that could deliver from his hand, but he did according to his will and became great." He became great. The Medo-Persian Kingdom was great. Cyrus was Cyrus the Great.
The word gadal/gadol is the Hebrew word, it means to grow, to become important, to do great things, or to magnify himself. Yes, Cyrus would make it in TIME magazine's Top 10 Most Influential People list. He was great. But you know, the problem is when you're great as an emperor, there's always somebody greater around the corner. There's always somebody ready to take your great spot, and Cyrus would learn that the powers that be will someday become the powers that have been.
Even Solomon, great King Solomon said in his writings, the book of Ecclesiastes, "I have attained unto greatness." But as soon as he wrote that, he said, "Yet, all of this is grasping for the wind." Grasping for the wind—it's empty. "My greatness is so short-lived." Jesus said, "What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his own soul?"
Daniel was great, Cyrus thought he was great, but somebody greater was right around the corner. Verse 5 tells us, "As I was considering, suddenly a male goat came from the west, across the surface of the whole earth, without touching the ground; and the goat has a notable horn between his eyes and then he came to the ram that had the two horns, which I saw standing beside the river, and ran at him with furious power.
"And I saw him confronting the ram; he was moved with rage against him, attacked the ram, and broke his two horns. There was no power in the ram to withstand him, but he cast him down to the ground and trampled him; and there was no one that could deliver the ram from his hand. Therefore the male goat grew very"—there's the word again—"great; but when he became strong, the large horn was broken, and in place of it four notable ones came up toward the four winds of heaven."
So you have a goat with a prominent horn that moves like lightning speed, his feet don't even touch the ground, from the west toward the east. This is turbo goat. This is, in Star Trek terminology, the goat at warp speed—just frooom! moving from the west toward the east. Now we don't have to guess who this is, just like we don't have to guess that the first emperor is Cyrus the Great, part of the Medo-Persian Empire.
I want to move you ahead to verse 20. Look at verse 20, "The ram which you saw, having the two horns—are the kings of Media and Persia." Verse 21, "And the male goat is the kingdom of Greece. The large horn that is between its eyes is the first king. As for the broken horn and the four that stood in its place, four kingdoms shall arise out of that nation, but not with its power."
So we know who the fourth king was in history, that was Alexander the Great, the son of Philip of Macedon. Let me give you a little biographical sketch. When Alexander was growing up, his dad who was a warrior, Philip the head of the Macedonian Empire, Philip didn't think his son would amount to much. Isn't that funny? "Little Alex, he's not going to grow up to be anything great."
Because little Alex was like an indoor kid. He was like a bookworm. He wouldn't go outside and play army like all the other boys, and this was a warrior. He noticed his son just likes to read books. But he was particularly brilliant with books, and so Philip decided to give him a tutor by the name of Aristotle who would help him along and tutored him until he was age nineteen.
At nineteen, Philip, his dad, died. And when he died something rose within Alexander to want to become a warrior like his father and avenge his father's death, especially against the Persians who had attacked one hundred fifty years prior that empire that they were living in. And so Alexander amassed an army, not large in comparison to Medo-Persia, but very fast, very swift moving, and he moved from west, Greece, toward the east.
And wherever he went history tells us he slaughtered thousands of people, and sold people groups into the hands of others. For instance, Alexander the Great came to the city of Tyre and asked for supplies for his men, because they wouldn't give him supplies, he decimated every citizen of Tyre.
After conquering Tyre, he moved south toward Egypt. After conquering Egypt he moved north toward to Medo-Persian Empire finally crushing them at the ancient city of Nineveh. After crushing and defeating them, he attacked Shushan, Ecbatana, and finally Persepolis.
In verse 8, notice, "The male goat grew very great." His dad said, "You're not going to amount to much." He became great. History tells us that Alexander's mother convinced him that he was divine. That he wasn't really the son of Philip of Macedon, but he was a son of the gods, and that he was great. So he went around telling people, "I'm divine. My mama said so." [laughter] Didn't go over well with his generals.
But notice something else in verse 8, "The large horn was broken." On June the tenth, 332 BC, in Babylon after conquering the world—it took him ten to twelve years to do it, did it very swiftly—at age thirty-three, interesting age, Alexander the Great died. He had been drinking the night before. Some say he was poisoned. Most historians say he just got a fever, some weird fever out of nowhere, and the next day he died.
When he was on his deathbed they said, "To whom shall go your kingdom?" He said, "Give it to the strong." And they divided it up between—guess how many generals? Four; four generals just like that vision predicts, four generals. Alexander the Great, the horn, was broken. So great, so vulnerable, so weak, got some virus, he died.
There was a reporter who years ago asked the great Walt Disney the theme park maker, the movie maker, etcetera, how it felt to be such a great celebrity. His answer is classic. He said, "Well, it's pretty good, especially when you want to get good seats at football games or great tables in restaurants."
But then he said, "But being a great celebrity has never helped me make a good picture, nor command the obedience of my daughter, nor impress my wife. It doesn't even keep the fleas off of our dogs. And if being a great celebrity won't give me the advantage over a couple of fleas, I guess I can't be that great after all." Isn't that classic? In other words, if you're not a great dad and a great husband and even a pet owner, I don't care what else you're great at, you're not that great.
Kings don't impress God; he's the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Conquerors don't impress God; one day through Jesus Christ he will conquer the world that he created. Movie stars and executives and musicians and politicians—none of them ever make God say, "Wow! Wow!" God doesn't say that, God doesn't have to, he's God. Except one type of person, there's one type of person that God would take note of and say, "Ah, that person's great."
What kind of a person is that? Well, do you remember when the disciples, the twelve disciples were arguing among themselves as to who would be the greatest in the kingdom of God? Can you imagine that argument? Peter going, "I'm going to be the greatest. I'm Peter. He called me the 'Rock.' I have a bigger beard than you guys. I'm always first in the list of the twelve disciples, you're not. I'm going to be the greatest."
John and James going, "I don't think so, you couldn't fish all that great anyway. You got your mama-in-law living with you. I think we're greater than you are." So they had this argument: who's going to be greatest in the kingdom? Finally Jesus said this, "The greatest among you will be your servant," will be your servant. That's a great person. Not the person who says, "I want to be the greatest!" The person who stoops and bows as a servant—now that's a great person.
Humility, the way up is down. You want to be great? Bow, be a slave to people. Be a slave to your wife, husband, serve them. Serve your husbands, women. Serve your children. At work your fellow workers, you're friends, serve them. The greatest example is Jesus Christ "who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God," but he humbled himself and became a servant. He was great.
I mentioned that Alexander the Great died at age thirty-three. How old was Jesus when he died? Thirty-three; what contrast, Alexander the Great—Jesus the Christ.
I close with this little poem: "Jesus and Alexander died at thirty-three. One lived and died for self; one died for you and me. The Greek died on a throne; the Jew died on a cross; one's life a triumphed seemed; the other but a loss. One led vast armies forth; the other walked alone; one shed a whole world's blood; the other gave his own.
"Jesus and Alexander died at thirty-three. One died in Babylon, and One on Calvary. One gained all for self, and one himself he gave; one conquered every tongue, the other every grave. The one made himself a god; the other made himself less; the one lived but to blast, the other but to bless. Jesus and Alexander died at thirty-three. The Greek made all men slaves; the Jew made all men free."
King for a day—a child of God for eternity. Serving, bowing—that's great.
Father, we close on that note; it's a stark comparison. Daniel, who was surprised that the revelation came to him; Daniel the young man who consistently through his life pointed people toward the living, true God without shame, without blush; the one who was a servant versus Cyrus or Alexander. Great men of power and prestige and position and possession, but that's where the greatness ends. They live for self, and though their names will go down in history, those who are truly great will have their names written in the Lamb's Book of Life forever.
Lord, it's really hard to fight against the tide, the value system of this world that considers certain accomplishments and accolades and status to be marks of greatness, but that's the world in which we live; it always has been, it always will be. I just pray that you would give us enough stamina and strength to be separate from and not like the world, bowing before you, pointing people to you, and being consistent in our faithfulness about your business.
Father, I pray for families in our fellowship, some are struggling. For some the struggle is between a husband and wife, for others its parent and child, and still others it's all of the above and magnified in desperate ways. Lord, if one person decided to put on the garment of humility to humble himself or herself in that family unit, what healing could happen. If one decided: "I'm going to become a servant this week and this month and the rest of my life to these people; I'm going to be as their slave," what things could change because of it. Bring that kind of healing, Lord that comes with humility and spirituality and faithfulness, in Jesus' name, amen.