And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever (Dan. 2:44).

And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed (Luke 2:1).

These two verses taken together, and put into juxtaposition, will enable us to consider what the Bible has to say concerning the true message of Christmas. Nothing is more wonderful about the Bible than that this great message of Christianity is not confined to the New Testament but appears in the Old Testament also. As St. Augustine first put it, it is “latent in the Old and patent in the New.” It therefore behooves us always to take these two together. The theme of the one Book, both in the Old and in the New, is this glorious fact, this great event, of the coming of the Son of God into this world for our salvation.

Now in the Old Testament, of course, it appears mainly in the form of prophecy and foreshadowing; and as one thinks of this aspect of the message one is really in difficulties because of the bewildering extent of the material. The prophecies are almost endless; they are to be found in almost every book of the Bible, and they are put in different forms and in different pictures. The Lord Jesus Christ is foreshadowed and foretold in the Old Testament in an almost endless variety of ways.

The Message Is For Us

I direct your attention to this particular prophecy because of the message that it has for us at this present time. There is something that is always very wonderful about the Bible. It does not matter what may be happening in this world, the Bible always has its relevant message. The Christian faith is not merely a matter of personal salvation; it has a world view, and therefore it speaks to every time, to every era, to every epoch in the history of struggling mankind. And so, whenever we find ourselves in some particularly difficult situation and are tempted perhaps almost to be overcome by it, if we know our Scriptures, and if we search them, we shall find a word that is particularly appropriate. Here we have at one and the same time one of the great prophecies of the coming of the Son of God, but, because of the particular form in which it is put, it also gives to those of us who are Christians and who view all things with a Christian eye, one of the greatest messages of comfort, consolation and final assurance that we can ever have.

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King Nebuchadnezzar has had that dream which Daniel alone was able to recall and to interpret. Now the precise time when all this happened was this: the children of Israel, because of their sins, had been conquered by Babylon and carried away into captivity. Jerusalem had been destroyed, the Temple was in ruins, and all that Israel had prided herself on, in a sense, lay there in desolate and hopeless condition. The land was derelict and the Israelites captives, indeed slaves, under the domination of Nebuchadnezzar. It was one of the lowest points in the history of Israel. They were the people of God, the people to whom God had made his promises, but here they were in this miserable and seemingly hopeless condition. But it was just there and then, in such a situation, that this tremendous thing happened and this message was given to them, full of hope and bright future, full of a certainty which nothing could remove and destroy.

Here is something thoroughly typical of God’s method, something that runs through the Bible as a recurring theme, even at the very beginning in Genesis. Watch those men on whom God had set his affections; constantly he allows them to get into some hopeless position. There they are feeling utterly disconsolate and their enemies are full of a sense of triumph and of rejoicing. But suddenly God comes in and the whole situation is changed.

Now that has always been God’s method, and it is an essential part of the message of the Christian faith, illustrated most perfectly of all in the coming of the Son of God into the world. When the Lord Jesus was born into this world, once more the situation was completely hopeless. Since the prophet Malachi there had been no word from God, as it were; for 400 long years there had been no true prophet in Israel. God seemed to be silent. The children of Israel seemed to be abandoned, and their country conquered by Rome. It was into that kind of situation, when it was least expected, that God did the greatest thing of all—he sent his only begotten Son into the world to rescue and redeem men.

That is the great thing that stands out in the whole history of the Christian Church; and that is why this message is of such comfort and strength to Christian people at the present time. How often the Christian Church has seemed to be at the very end of its tether—lifeless, helpless and hopeless. Her enemies had become loud, proud and arrogant, convinced that Christianity was finished; the doors of the churches seemed about to be shut for the last time. A bleak midwinter had settled upon the Church, and then suddenly and quite unexpectedly God sent a mighty and glorious revival. That message stands out on the very surface, and is quite clear in this prophecy. The prophecy was fulfilled literally and it has continued to be fulfilled in principle ever since. Therefore as we look at ourselves today and see the Christian Church as but a dwindling remnant in this sinful, arrogant world, and many begin to feel hopeless and anxious about the future—here is the message of God. It has been God’s custom throughout the centuries to come and visit his people when they least expect it. Who knows but that round the corner there may be waiting for us a mighty and glorious revival of religion! Let us take hold of this great principle.

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God’S Mysterious Way

Notice in the second place the way in which this message came. There is something peculiarly enthralling about this, almost an element of divine humor. God chose to give his message of comfort and encouragement to his depressed and hopeless people through the person of this great king Nebuchadnezzar, described as “a king of kings,” a man who had conquered the then known world. God chose to give this man a dream; a dream about this great image with the head of fine gold, the breast and arms of silver, the trunk of brass, the legs of iron, and the feet of iron and of clay. He had this wonderful dream but, of course, like any busy man, he woke up in the morning and could not remember what his dream was, so filled was his mind with affairs of state. But the dream had left an impression upon his mind and it disturbed him. However, he was a powerful man, and had his astrologers, soothsayers and wise men, and he had simply to command them and they would tell him all about it. But alas, not a man among them could tell him what the dream was, still less give him the interpretation! So here he was fuming in a rage, insisting that unless these men could remind him of what the dream was and what it meant he was going to kill them all. Now there happened to be among these men Daniel, an Israelite, one of the captive people. The message came to him also, but because he was one of God’s children he pleaded with God to have mercy upon him and his fellows and his people. And God revealed the dream to him and its interpretation. So Daniel, to the astonishment of the king and everybody, repeated the dream and gave the interpretation of it.

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That is how God did it. He did it in such a way as to humble this great man, this colossus that seemed to stand astride the earth in greatness and glory. This, Christian people, is one of the things that ought to make us shout with laughter. That is how God did it. He chose an “unknown,” one of his own people, to show forth his divine glory and wisdom, and to humble the great king of this world.

If you and I are depressed by what is happening in the world today, it is because we are not truly Christian in our thinking. This is the whole story of the Bible. Look at the great powers that have risen against God. For a while virtually everybody believed they were going to be triumphant; but suddenly God arises and in a most contemptuous manner (I use the term advisedly) he just humbles them and puts them in their place, and goes on with his wonderful purpose. Many powers have arisen in the past that seemed to threaten the extermination of Christianity. They have all gone. And every power in the world today that seems to be threatening the Christian faith will go in exactly the same way, and we can anticipate that as God pricked this particular bubble called Nebuchadnezzar, he will do so again. He brings down the great and mighty, and he exalts the humble.

The Time Of His Coming

Now let us come to a consideration of the message itself, for it is full of the most extraordinary things. First of all God gives here a prophecy of the exact time his Son is going to be born into this world, “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom.…” The dream indicated that there was going to be a succession of kingdoms. First of all this head of gold, which Daniel told him in the interpretation was Nebuchadnezzar himself, and the kingdom of Babylon. That was going to be followed by a kingdom of silver—the Medo-Persian dynasty, that in turn to be replaced by a kingdom of brass—the kingdom of Greece, Alexander the Great, so called. And that was to be followed by this kingdom of iron with its divisions and the admixture of clay as well—and that is, of course, the Roman Empire.

Then we are told that when the Roman Empire would be in the fullness of its sway and its sovereignty, God was going to set up his Kingdom, was going to send his Son as King to start this mighty Kingdom of Heaven. And so, that 1st verse in Luke 2 tells us that it actually happened at that time: “And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus.” Here we have one of those numerous instances of the particularity of Old Testament prophecy. It does not merely prophesy the coming of the Son of God into the world generally and vaguely; it tells us the exact time. Later on, in the 9th chapter of this Book of Daniel, it is still more particular and fixes the very year when He was to come. Micah tells us that he was to be born in Bethlehem, and so on. Notice the particularity, and let us draw the great lesson from it, that God is controlling history. It was when “the fulness of the times was come” that God “sent forth his Son made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.”

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An Unique Kingdom

Let us look at the characteristics of the Kingdom—and here, as we do so, we shall see a summary of the Gospel. The thing emphasized is that this Kingdom is going to be essentially different from all other kingdoms. In what respects? First, it is not going to rise out of any one of the other kingdoms. It is a kingdom that will arise independently, apart from, entirely distinct from the others. You remember that in the case of the earthly kingdoms, each arose out of the ruins of the previous one. A great conqueror came and conquered and demolished the previous kingdom, set up his own on the foundation of the former. And that happened to each in turn.

But God’s Kingdom is not going to be like that, it does not belong to that order at all. Let us never forget, therefore, that this dream image of Nebuchadnezzar not only describes those four kingdoms and empires, but it typifies and represents all earthly, human, worldly power. But this other Kingdom does not belong to that order. That is why our Lord said to Pontius Pilate, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” It is a spiritual Kingdom, an unseen Kingdom, a Kingdom in the hearts of men. That is God’s Kingdom. It does not belong to the image seen by Nebuchadnezzar.

Let me point out something still more wonderful. It is a Kingdom that presents a striking contrast in its lowliness and in its apparent insignificance. It is compared to “a stone cut out without hands.” You see at once this striking contrast. The kingdoms of the world are great and wonderful in their pomp and majesty, their external show and all their glory—gold, silver, brass, iron! And then there is this other little kingdom—a common stone!

What a perfect description of the Kingdom of God! We must never lose sight of this. It is an essential part of the Bible’s message. The children of Israel seemed so small and insignificant in their origin. Israel was a very small country, and when you contrast her with these great empires, how insignificant she always seemed to be.

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But that is not really the thing to emphasize. Look what happened when God’s Son came into this world. Where was he born? It was not in a king’s palace, not in purple, not surrounded by gold and silver and brass. Born in a stable, placed in a manger—a stone! Born into a very poor family that could not afford to sacrifice a lamb, they could only buy turtle doves. There was nothing more humble and more lowly. It is all in that picture of the stone. It shows us the humble origin of our Lord as born in the flesh: the insignificance of his position, because he was not a Pharisee and had never been to the schools; the insignificance of his kingdom, just followed by a rabble of ordinary, common people; spending most of his time in Galilee and not in the capital, nor in Jerusalem and in Judea. There it is, the stone contrasted with the gold and the silver and the brass and the iron.

A Divine Kingdom

Let me emphasize this still more: it was a stone that was “brought out,” we are told, “without hands.” Have you noticed the repetition of that? Each time this stone is mentioned that is added—why? This means that everything that has happened in connection with the coming of the Kingdom of God has been entirely outside all human agency, all human ability, all human power, all human policy and all human understanding. “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son made of a woman, made under the law.…” It is all of God.

Here we have this extraordinary mystery, this amazing paradox—the humility and the glory, the insignificance and the Godhead, a Babe placed in a manger, yet eternal Son of God, and both together! “Veiled in flesh the godhead see!” The mystery, the marvel, the miracle of it all! And here it is, prophesied so long ago in the interpretation of this dream that king Nebuchadnezzar had and which Daniel alone could interpret.

But let me remind you that all this is not only true of the Son of God himself, the King of the Kingdom. It is perfectly true also of the Kingdom. Look again at the beginning of the Kingdom of God as seen especially in the form of the Christian Church. Could there possibly have been a more insignificant beginning? It started by his just preaching to common, ordinary, poor people. He did not spend his time in kings’ palaces. The first disciples were not the great men of the world; they were just ordinary artisans, publicans and sinners. The learned and the rich were virtually all outside. That is the Kingdom at the beginning as seen in the Gospels. And he goes back to heaven and leaves it all in the hands of just these insignificant men. You begin to read the Book of the Acts of the Apostles and you say, “Well, of course this is monstrous, it cannot possibly continue. How can this stand up against the centuries of the Jewish religion? How can this stand up against the great Roman Empire? What can this do in the face of Greek philosophy? It is hopeless!” It is a stone, cut out without hands! But you know the story, you know what happened. And the explanation, you see, is still the same. It is not man’s action. The stone was “cut out without hands.” You simply cannot explain the spread of Christianity in terms of the first disciples and apostles.

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The authorities met together and said, “What is this? How can we put a stop to it?” They said, “These men are insignificant, unlettered and untutored, yet they seem to have worked this miracle.” Somebody said: “These are the men who have been with Jesus, and the Holy Ghost has come upon them. It is God!” Cut out without hands! It is divine! It is supernatural! It is miraculous!

That is the truth about the Christian Church. This reminder was never more needed by the Church than it is today. The Church is as she is today because she has forgotten this very thing. She has been trying to buttress herself and her message by human learning, philosophy and understanding. We say we must have a learned ministry and we must, but we have forgotten that preachers must be men filled with the Holy Ghost. We adopt worldly methods of advertising and of organizing. We are going to do it. It was never meant to be like that. It is a Kingdom that has come into being “without hands,” and we must learn to look less at “our hands and our abilities,” and look to God, and realize that it is God’s doing. You see this principle in the King; you see it in the Kingdom.

An Enduring Kingdom

We are told that this Kingdom shall “break in pieces and consume all these other kingdoms.” There is a sense in which it has already done that. There is a yet greater sense in which it is going to do it. Within three centuries this despised little sect became the official religion of the great Roman Empire. And when the Goths and the Vandals came down and sacked and ruined Rome, what little was left of civilization was preserved by the Christian Church. There was nothing, in a sense, that was not conquered except the Christian Church: And so the Church, and the Church alone, remained when the world was reduced to chaos.

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But it is yet to come in a more glorious and a more wonderful manner! For there is a day coming when “at the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of things in heaven and things in earth and things under the earth, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Have you heard the angels shouting and saying: “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ”? He is the King of kings and the Lord of Lords, because, as the interpretation of the dream reminds us, this is an invincible kingdom.

Did you notice that other interesting phrase, “and the Kingdom shall not be left to other people”? Now there is a better translation: “Its sovereignty and its power shall never be transferred to other hands.” This Kingdom, as I have been reminding you, is entirely different from every earthly kingdom. Who would have thought that the power and sovereignty would ever be taken out of the hands of Nebuchadnezzar? And so in turn, with the great Medo-Persian empire, Alexander the Great, the Caesars, and so with them all. But the power, the sovereignty, the glory and the might have never been taken out of the hands of Christ the King. His authority and power will never pass into other hands. His Kingdom shall stand for ever.

Make Your Citizenship Sure

Very well, what conclusion must we draw from all this? Hear the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews: “Wherefore, we receiving a Kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace and let us be steadfast.…” The thing that matters is that we belong to this Kingdom. The kingdoms of this world, whatever form they may take—whether military, or social, or political, or philosophical—talk about the gold, the silver, the brass and the iron. Exalt them as you will, they are all going to be destroyed. Listen: “Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter. And the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.”

I ask you this personal question: Are you a citizen of this Kingdom which cannot be destroyed, whose power shall never pass to another? Do you know that you are reconciled to God by the blood of Christ? Have you been made anew? Not by the hands of man, or man’s manipulation or understanding, but by the hands of God? Have you experienced the second birth? Have you “the authority” to become a son of God? Are you born “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God”? If so, you are in the Kingdom and you will remain in it though the whole world rock and shake in the convulsion of an Armageddon. You are secure because you belong to a Kingdom which never can be moved. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath visited and redeemed his people.

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A Welsh physician who answered God’s call to the ministry today occupies the pulpit of Westminster Chapel, London, where G. Campbell Morgan once ministered. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who ranks as one of Britain’s great expositors of Bible doctrine, is the author of this Christmas sermon.

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