Compromise or confrontation - Daniel 1

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the evening service on 18th May 2003.

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The date was the 31st October 1517, the place was Wittenberg in Germany, the man, Martin Luther. Martin Luther was a monk who had gradually become more and more discouraged and weighed down by his own sin and by the abuses of the church in sixteenth century Germany. But through his study of the Bible he had come to see that salvation could never be earned by doing good deeds and performing religious rituals as he'd been taught as a monk. Rather salvation was a free gift given by God to those who repented of their sins and trusted in Jesus. He was becoming more and more appalled that the church in Germany and indeed throughout Europe was failing to teach people the gospel and instead enslaving them to a religion of works and ritual. Finally his patience broke. He resolved to make a stand. And on that day in October 1517, he nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, 95 statements which showed the world what was wrong with the church of his day. Four years later, Luther was asked to stand before the Emperor himself and deny what he'd written and had been preaching. Luther said this: 'I am convicted by Scripture and plain reasonAnd my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. May God help me.' It was in many ways a small stand but one which was to have huge effect.

Now today we're beginning to look at the book of Daniel, and in many ways the book of Daniel is about taking a stand. It is about living for God in a pagan world, knowing that God is the true King. And although this book was written 2,500 years ago, yet we'll see that it actually couldn't be more relevant to our situation here in Hull in 2003. Now I don't how much you know about the book of Daniel, but I think we often make two mistakes with this book. The first mistake is to think that this is a book for children. There are exciting stories of Daniel and the lions den, and the men trapped in the fiery furnace. There is the story of the writing on the wall and the strange dreams which Daniel interprets. And we tend to relegate the book to fictional stories which are there to teach the Sunday School. But they are not. Daniel is a book set firmly in human history and actually written for adults. It's written for people like you and me struggling to live as Christians in an often hostile environment.

But there is a second mistake we often make, and that is we assume that the book is about super saints. It's about the heroes of the faith, and quite frankly when we read the stories we feel there is no way in the world we could ever aspire to such standards. But such an understanding is actually a mistake. Yes, Daniel and his friends were courageous and faithful. But they were just ordinary men who trusted in an extraordinary God. And actually in chapter 1, when they took their first stand, they were no more than teenagers in all likelihood. Hardly heroes of the faith. So if you're in Mark 2, then listen carefully. This is about teenagers the same age as you taking as stand for God. Furthermore, these events described in Daniel took place not on one week, but over seven decades. We tend to think that on Monday Daniel and his friends refused to eat the king's food, on Tuesday they were put in the fiery furnace, on Wednesday they interpreted the writing on the wall and on Thursday they were fed to the lions. But it wasn't like that. Daniel could easily have been in his seventies when he had his tete a tete with the lions. These things didn't happen every day. But as we'll see, unless they had taken the small stand they do in chapter 1, then they would never have survived the bigger tests of faith later in their lives. No they were ordinary people serving an extraordinary God who strengthened them to do extraordinary things! You see Daniel teaches us that it is not so much about how much faith you have, it's where you put it that matters. You may feel the weakest and most useless Christian in the church, and yet God can still use you. Don't let anyone leave this building tonight thinking they have to be a super saint in the annals of Christian history. Rather it's about faithfully serving the same awesome God that Daniel served and putting our trust in him. And it's only in seeing that he is the true King that we will have courage to living for God in a pagan world. So let's turn to our first chapter and join these four teenagers as they enter the University of Babylon as young freshers. And we'll learn three lessons:

1) Recognise where you live

2) Resolve to make a stand

3) Remember who's in charge

1) Recognise where you live

And the first lesson we learn from Daniel 1 is that we must recognise where we live. I don't mean Desmond Avenue or the like, I mean recognise the fact the we live in spiritual Babylon. And for the Jews of Daniel's day they were living in literal Babylon. Verses 1-2: 'In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.' Now what we are reading here is a description of the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jews in about 600 BC. Babylon was the super power of the day, and the Babylonians had slowly worked their way across the known world and taken nations in their sway. And for Israel, it was the grimmest event in her history. Much of the population were killed, many starved to death during the siege, even eating their own children to survive. It was horrific. And in the end, the land, the city of Jerusalem and even the Temple, God's holy place, were completely destroyed, and the people carted off into exile. I don't think we can really understand what an horrific experience this was. Imagine your home being destroyed, your family put to death, your country ruined, her historical monuments pulled down and in rubble, and then you yourself carted off to a foreign land where you don't understand the language, where you are in an alien culture, and where you can't worship your God. Everything that could be different is different. That's what Daniel experienced in 600BC.

But strange as it may seem, that wasn't the worst of it. The worst thing of all was that it seemed God had been defeated. And it's symbolised by Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, carrying off the Temple articles, the precious artefacts of God, and placing them in his god's temple in verse 2. It looked as if God was defeated and the Babylonian gods were supreme. 1-0 to Bel and Nebo, the gods of Babylon. The God of the Jews was dead.

Now as we saw two weeks ago, this situation of exile and being in a strange land is precisely the way the NT describes Christians. You see the fact is that we are in an alien land. Our real home is heaven where we are heading, but for the time being we are in exile, away from our true home. And it's therefore no surprise to find that the world in which we live and our country seems very alien. Yes, Britain may have a good Christian heritage, but sadly much of the good foundation is no longer left. It is slowly being eroded away every day. We live in a society were the values and ideas are alien to the Christian. Matthew gave us four which sum up the mood of the day. Secularism, saying that the latest is the greatest, and God must have no place in our lives. Pluralism, saying that religious variety is the spice of life. Relativism saying no truth is The Truth, but that all truths are valid. And woe betide if you declare your truth is the truth. And materialism, that this world is all there is, so make the most of it and get what you can. That is the air we breathe today. We are in spiritual Babylon. We live in an alien culture, speaking an alien language and living alien lives. And like the Jews of Daniel's day it's tempting to think that God has left us, that he's been defeated.

One writer called Harry Blamires, who was a student of CS Lewis' puts it like this writing at the end of the 20th century: 'There is no doubt that as the 21st century approaches, the Christian community faces formidable hostility, not least in the developed Western countries once regarded as the bulwarks of Christian civilisation. Looking around us, we Christians cannot but be aware of how powerful and insidious is the assault on the faith we hold, the faith we have assumed to be the foundation of Western culture. Current secularist humanism- a mishmash of relativistic notions negating traditional values and absolutes, infects the intellectual air we breathe. There is a campaign to undermine all human acknowledgement of [God]The hold of the campaign on the media is such that the masses are being brainwashed as they read the press, listen to the radio or watch TV.' Daniel and his friends lived in literal Babylon, a culture utterly opposed to God and his ways. We live in spiritual Babylon, a cultural utterly opposed to God and his ways. And the sooner we realise it, then the better. Recognise where you live.

2) Resolve to make a stand

But the second lesson we learn is that we must resolve to make a stand. And that is what Daniel and his friends did in Babylon.

a) The King's Cunning Plan- But it was certainly not what Nebuchadnezzar had in mind. You see the king had a cunning plan. When he took over a country, he would not just subdue it, he would also take its young future leaders away to Babylon and Babylonise them! The cream would be skimmed off and brainwashed. They were the brainiest, the poshest, the royalist and the hunkiest. The plan was to get them to forget their past and see the wonders of the new regime. The king would get Babylonian ways into them and so change their hearts and minds. Think Babylonian, act Babylonian, that was the university's motto.And for these young Jews, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, it must have been quite an eye-opener. They were given an all expenses paid scholarship to study at the biggest and best university in the world, the University of Babylon. On their beds as they arrived, no doubt there was the very impressive welcome pack. It would read: 'We at the University of Babylon pride ourselves on our ancient heritage and modern teaching facilities. We desire that our young men be the best in the world in arts, literature, language and culture. You'll be fed on the choicest food, given opportunities you never dreamt of, and best of all have a highly paid job in the Babylonian Foreign Office for life. You can also enjoy the most exhilarating hobbies like furnace building and lion taming, all at the personal pleasure of the king himself.' You couldn't have failed to be impressed. But it was actually a plan to crush Babylon's enemies. The sophisticated way.

Notice how they did it. There was first isolation, verses 3-4: 'Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility, young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king's palace.' These men were taken from their homeland and brought to Babylon. They would not see their friends, family or homeland again. There was indoctrination, verse 4: 'He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.' Day after day, week after, Dan and his friends went to lectures to be taught all things Babylonian. They probably didn't say Judaism was wrong, but they just taught their own curriculum. And no doubt after a while, you'd be left thinking that the Babylonian way was best. There was indulgence too in verse 5: 'The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king's table.' No spam fritters for these young men. No, the king's venison, caviar and Chateaux Babel 620. Only the best for the cream of the crop. And then finally there was the identity change. Verse 7: 'The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.' No longer were their names reminiscent of the God of Israel, for all their names had something to do with Yahweh. No, now they were given Babylonian names which reflected the Babylonian gods. The brainwashing was complete.

Now it's worth us pausing here to reflect on how each of those four things can happen to us living in spiritual Babylon. It's very easy for instance for Christians to become isolated. You might be the only Christian in your workplace or on your course or in your class. That's why church, Homegroups, student groups and Mark 2 are so vital. It's certainly true that we are constantly receiving secular indoctrination through the media, through others' moral standards, and through the constant whittling away of Christian standards in our land. It's true that virtually all advertising is telling us to indulge ourselves in our materialistic culture's dining table, to take our share and dine out while the going is good. And it's true to say that our identity as Christians is in danger of being eroded as we become more Babylonian than Christian. For each of us there is a serious danger of spiritual Babylonian brainwashing, so that we are not only in the world, but of it too.

b) Daniel's Faithful Stand- And it could have been the same for Daniel and his friends, had they not resolved to take a stand. Verse 8: 'But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.' And this was not some whim of Daniel as he and his mates were chatting in the campus cafeteria one day. No they resolved to do it. The Hebrew word has overtones of serious thought and prayerful determination. But of course the big question is why the food? Why not the lectures? Daniel and his friends could have boycotted the lectures and refused to have been taught. Why not resist the isolation. They could have campaigned outside the palace with placards saying 'Release the Jerusalem Four'. Why not the names? They could have made a point on all these things. But they didn't. It was the food. There's certainly been no end of suggestions- perhaps obedience to Jewish food laws, perhaps because the food was sacrificed to idols, perhaps because Daniel didn't want to be seen to have fellowship with the king at his table. But all have flaws. I think actually the real reason why they chose not to accept the food was because it was there that they decided to draw the line. It may not have been a big issue. But it was here that they resolved to make their stand. There's a hint that Daniel felt that to eat the food might defile him in verse 8. Maybe he did feel that eating with the king was a sort of tacit statement saying that the king was his lord. But we don't ultimately know. What we do know is that they decided to make a stand on that issue. The king might try all he could to make them Babylonian, but at the end of the day, Daniel knew where his true allegiance lay. To the king of kings, Yahweh. I guess he would have received some flak from other Jews. 'Come on Daniel, don't rock the boat. Just eat the food and run. When in Rome and all that!' But Daniel would not be shaken. He resolved to take stand. And it wasn't without cost too. He could easily have been killed for it. Notice in verse 10 that the first official didn't want anything to do with it. It was a treasonable offence. But it was a stand. It was as if he was saying: 'Look you can remove me from my home, you can teach me all you like, you can even change my name, but you cannot change my heart. And to show it I'm drawing the line here. I will not eat the king's food. My allegiance is to God. Here I stand. I can do no other.'

And what a vital lesson that is for us today. Because the point is that making a stand for Christ however small shows where our true allegiance lies. And if we make a stand on a small issue we are far more likely to stand on a bigger issue. You see we might be tempted to think: 'Oh yes, if ever there was persecution in Britain, I'd die for Jesus. I'd go to prison for Jesus, we say.' Well would you? If you're not willing to make a stand for Jesus now in a small thing, then what hope is there of you making a stand for him later? If you're ashamed of him now, then you'll almost certainly be ashamed of him later. Or maybe we say: 'Well it's just not worth it. It would be much easier if I just got on with things. If something big comes up, then of course I'll make a fuss.' But the danger is that we have become so Babylonian that we are no longer able to make the stand we should. We might say, 'Yes but I'm being salt and light in the world. I don't have to make a stand to show my allegiance to Christ. I'll just infiltrate the system and show it by my life.' But unless you do stand up and be counted, then the salt can so easily become tasteless and the light snuffed out. Let me ask you: When was the last time you said no to something that would compromise you? When was the last time you did stand up and be counted for Christ's sake. It may be something small, but the point is, unless you stand on the small things, then you'll never stand on the big issues. I doubt very much that Daniel would have survived in Babylon for 50 years as a follower of Yahweh if he'd simply said: 'I'm going to go undercover for Jesus. I'll take a stand when the real trouble comes.' No, he'd be just another Jew who after 70 years of exile could no longer be distinguished from his Babylonian mates around him.

Let me give a few examples of people who have taken stands on small things and shown their willingness to put Christ first. It's not that we should do the same necessarily, but these show how some Christians have decided to act. One girl for instance working in a office decided that the way she would stand for Christ would be not to play the office lottery every week. When asked why, she said she was a Christian and didn't believe in gambling. It was her way of standing up for Christ. You may not agree, but at least she had the courage to do something and show her allegiance. A few months ago, an email went round an office in Hull asking for contributions to a Christmas card. The only problem was the rules. 'The card cannot express any religious opinion and belief as we cannot offend other faiths.' So a number of Christians had the courage to email back and say that the idea was offensive to Christians since Christmas is about Christ. And the idea was dropped. Again you may disagree, but at least they had the courage to do something. Small stands reveal your allegiance in Babylon. Or take another example. I have a friend who played football for one of the teams at his university. The only problem was that with the team came the usual social necessities. Heavy drinking, sleeping around and a generally indulgent lifestyle. But my friend resolved to make a stand on drink and sex. He stuck to his limits with drink and kept himself sexually pure. Yes he got a lot of flak. But he took a stand because he knew his Lord was not peer pressure, but Christ. And we could multiply the examples. Maybe you'll need this term to say that you won't be going to a particular club on the weekends because you know it'll tempt you. You might decide to speak out against the constant foul language in your office once this week. Now you make think all these things are small. But ask yourself. When was the last time you took a stand for Christ's sake. Is your allegiance to Christ obvious to others, in the office, in the school, in your college, in your home? It may be a small stand. But you've laid your cards on the table. You're a citizen of heaven first and foremost, a follower of the King of kings. So resolve to take a stand.

3) Remember who's in charge

Recognise where you live, resolve to make a stand, and then finally remember who's in charge. And that becomes clear in the rest of the chapter, especially as we get to verse 9: 'Now God had caused the official to show favour and sympathy to Daniel.' Verse 9 is actually very surprising. Didn't you think God was dead? Didn't you think God was defeated by the gods of Babylon? But no, here we discover that God is alive and well in Babylon. He's at work in the officials making them friendly towards Daniel. And so when Daniel makes his stand they are willing to let him do it, despite what Nebuchadnezzar had said. Daniel and his friends are allowed a ten day trial period when they go on the first no fat diet in history. Vegetables and water for them! And the outcome? Verse 15: 'At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.' It's not a mandate for Christian vegetarianism. Rather it's God's way of saying to Daniel. 'I honour your stand.' God is in charge even in Babylon. But that's not the end. Because in verse 18, when the degree is over, the exams have been sat, the papers marked, and the oral exam before the king himself is over, what do we discover? Verse 19: 'The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king's service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.' And this is no fluke. It wasn't just a question of the questions they revised for coming up! No, verse 17 tells us that God gave them knowledge and understanding. Once again it was God working behind the scenes.

And that is the central message of Daniel. God is in control. He is the Lord of history. Did you notice who it was that brought about in the exile in verse 2? 'The Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into Babylon's hand.' God used Babylon as his punishment for Judah's persistent rebellion. God is the true King. And even Babylon will one day fall. We get a hint in the final verse of the chapter. Verse 21: 'And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.' Who is Cyrus? The King of Persia. The new superpower who in 539BC would overthrow the Babylonians. No human power lasts forever. God would one day overthrow the Babylonian empire. He would one day bring his people back to Judah. God is the real king in charge.

And that is the key truth we need to remember which will spur us to take a stand. God is in charge. He's the real king. It was a tough decision Daniel had to face. Who am I really serving. God or Babylon? And his answer was God. It's not that we will always be rescued in the way Daniel and his friends were. God may bring things to a happy conclusion if we take a stand. Daniel was promoted. But God doesn't promise that. In fact before Daniel has finished his book he'll warn of severe suffering for Christians who take a stand. But what enables us to take that stand is the truth that God is in control. And one day he will right all the wrongs. One day spiritual Babylon, this world with all it's pain and injustice will be held to account, and the new Jerusalem will be established. We'll be in heaven our true home for ever. And we can be sure because we've seen God do it ultimately in Jesus. In Jesus God defeated death and sin and paved the way for the final triumph. Yes, God is alive all right. He's the one who's in charge. The big question is will we trust him or the world? We need to remember who's in charge.

Martin Luther had no idea that his stand for God's truth would lead to what we call the Reformation. He took his stand because he believed it needed to be taken. He served the true and living God the real king of the world. Will you do the same? Recognise where you live, resolve to take a stand and remember who's in charge.

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