Dare to be a Daniel - Daniel 1:1-21
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Theme: The God of Israel is completely in control of international politics and individual people. Therefore, wherever his people are located they must set him apart as Lord.
Aim: To encourage the congregation to believe what Daniel believed about God and so, as a result, to follow his example in the New Year.
When the Christian writer John Piper was a boy he would occasionally have the privilege of listening to his father preach the gospel to a whole variety of people. Children, teenagers, young single people, young married people, the middle-aged, the retired, John Piper heard his father preach to them all. His father was an evangelist and John remembers that he had a huge number of stories. He had stories of glorious conversions and stories of horrific rejections followed by tragic deaths. But as a boy there was one illustration that captivated John Piper more than all the others. It was the story of a man who gave his life to Jesus Christ in his old age. Apparently the church had prayed for this man for decades but he was hard and resistant. And yet for some reason he turned up to church when John Piperís father was preaching. At the end of the service, during a hymn, to everyoneís amazement, he came and took the preacherís hand. They sat down together on the front pew of the church and there and then he received the forgiveness of his sins from the risen Jesus Christ. It should have been the best day of his life and yet despite the wonderful joy of knowing that he was now heading for eternal life tears ran down his wrinkled face. As he sat on that wooden bench, reflecting on his life so far he realised how meaningless it all had been. And so he cried. And through his tears he said again and again "Iíve wasted it! Iíve wasted it!"
How many of us want to get to the end of our lives and say through the tears "Iíve wasted it, Iíve wasted it"? We only get one shot at life. There are no repeats. There are no second chances. Of course some of us are privileged to enjoy more years than others on this revolving sphere but none of us will undergo a reincarnation after we die. When the heart stops pumping it is time to meet our maker for the ultimate appraisal of our life. So just imagine that you are now standing before him. It is five minutes since you breathed your last on planet earth and the time has finally arrived when you are face to face with Jesus Christ. Will he give your life a thumbs up or a thumbs down?
What is a successful life? According to the Bible, it is a life lived with Jesus Christ as Lord. That is what it means to be successful. Itís got nothing to do with how many toys we have when we die. That counts for nothing in the end. Success is not about the accumulation of things. Far from it! Success is living a life here on earth where Jesus Christ is allowed to be King over every aspect of our existence. So I want to encourage us all on this New Yearís day, as we reflect on the past year and as we plan for the coming year, to live in such a way that when we get to the end of our lives we will not have to say, with eternal regret, "Iíve wasted it." So by all means letís prepare our New Year diet, letís pay off our New Year debt, and letís plan our New Year diary. But at the same time let me challenge us to make sure we enter this New Year with a firm resolution in our minds to live out these next 12 months with Jesus Christ as King. Letís make sure our behaviour outside these walls is consistent with our beliefs inside these walls.
And to help us achieve this I want us to focus our attention on the example of Daniel. Daniel was a young man, probably in his early teens, who was taken by force from his homeland in ancient Israel to the nation of Babylon. Without any preparation and without any warning suddenly this young man found himself living in a country where he was constantly bombarded by hostility.
Not physical hostility to his person but spiritual hostility to his beliefs. You see the culture of ancient Babylon, what we call modern day Iraq, was vastly different from the religious beliefs of ancient Israel. So what we read about in the book of Daniel are the adventures of a young man attempting to live out his convictions about God in an environment where most people believed something very different. Does that sound familiar? Of course it does. Because this is a description of modern day Britain. We are not a Christian country. Britain is a spiritual Babylon. And so therefore as Christians we have been commanded by God to live out our beliefs among people who largely do not share our convictions about who God is, about what counts as right and wrong and about what awaits people when they die. This is our situation at the beginning of 2006. So here is our challenge for the New Year: Will we have the courage to live like Daniel?
Have a look at verses 1 and 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."
If you were a commentator on international affairs in 605 BC and you had just witnessed the events described in these verses, which God would you have said was the strongest? The God of Israel or the God of Babylon? No contest. It looked like game over for the God of Israel. How could he possibly survive this defeat? An attack had been launched by the King of Babylon against his political capital. Nebuchadnezzar had come to Jerusalem with such a show of strength that he was able to walk into the temple of Israelís God, remove some of the precious items and carry them off to the temple of his god in Babylon.
So if you were a UN observer watching this international conflict there could be no doubt in your mind that in a straight head to head fight the God of Israel had been dealt a fatal blow by the gods of Babylon. And yet, according to the interpretation in the book of Daniel, such a conclusion would have been completely mistaken. Have a look at the surprise in verse 2. The Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of JudahÖ Now how would you have expected verse 2 to finish? How would you and I have concluded the sentence? Perhaps something like this. The Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah from the dangerous menace of the Babylonian army. But it doesnít say that at all does it? Instead we read the amazing truth that it was the God of Israel who gave his people into the hands of their oppressive enemy. So it wasnít because Bel and Nebo, the false gods of Babylon, were much more powerful than Yahweh, the God of Israel, that the items were nicked from the temple, but it was because the God of Israel was using international politics to punish his people for years and years of spiritual adultery. This was no spiritual turf war between two regional deities. No this was an example of the absolute power of the unique creator God. Let us be confident that Godís hands are not tied. He is not limited to what he can do on this planet. God is not like a poor quality mobile phone company whose signal quality diminishes outside the major cities and is non-existent in many parts of the country. No, the God who made us is in complete control of everything that happens.
Now this was a truth that Daniel believed. He may have been relocated many miles from his domestic villa but even in his foreign apartment he was convinced that the God of Israel was still the power behind the throne. Why was Daniel able to make a stand for his God in the toxic environment that was ancient Babylon? Because he believed that the God of Israel was completely sovereign over everything that happened. He believed that there was only one God. There were not many gods around the world playing a gigantic game of spiritual Risk.
No, he was persuaded that only one God controlled the movements on the entire board and his name was Yahweh, the God who had specially chosen the people of Israel.
Now the implications of this are massive. If there is only one all-powerful God who controls the universe and he is the God you worship then no matter where you are he deserves your allegiance and no matter where you are he can help you out of difficulty. So do you see why Daniel made his stand for God in a hostile environment? Because he believed this truth about God he had the courage to draw a line in the sand and say to his employers, "This is my limit. This is where I take my stand. I can go no further." Our behaviour is always connected with our beliefs. So if we want to follow Danielís example, if we want to live for Jesus Christ in the hostile environment that is contemporary Britain then we need to be convinced that the God we worship deserves our allegiance in every situation and controls the outcome of every decision we take. Our beliefs always affect our behaviour. They did for Daniel and they will for us.
So, with this in mind, letís examine the provisions that Daniel rejected. Have a look at verses 3-5. "Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility ó 4 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 kingís palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. 5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the kingís table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the kingís service."
Now here was a cunning policy from King Nebuchadnezzar. By bringing these young lads to Babylon not only did he remove potential trouble makers from a country far away but he also brought some of the brightest people in his empire to help him at the very centre of power.
Nebuchadnezzar was not a stupid king. These young men were the cream of Israel. I imagine they were the sort of people you would want your daughters to marry. They were from the royal family or from the nobility, verse 3. They were without any physical defect, verse 4. They were handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning. So not only were guys experts at how long it would take a camel to swim across the Jordon River but they could also explain to you how you could persuade a camel to swim across in the first place. They were well-informed, verse 4, always up to date on the latest gossip and what about their job prospects? They were to enter the Kingís service. Now, come on, be honest, are these not the sort of lads you would love to have round for Sunday lunch to meet your daughter? Men of faith, from a good background, handsome, intelligent and with a prosperous career ahead them. These were the cream of Israel.
But now they were being prepared to work for the Babylonian government. According to the end of verse 5, they were to be trained for three years and after that they were to enter into the Kingís service. It almost sounds like a university degree doesnít it? So what did they study? Have a look at the end of verse 4. Ashpenaz was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians, or better, if you look at footnote b at the bottom of the page, Ashpenaz was to teach them the language and literature of the Chaldeans. Now in the Book of Daniel the Chaldeans are a special group of people who were called upon by King Nebuchadnezzar to interpret dreams and to provide guidance for the future. They were the ancient equivalent of astrologers or you can think of them as the type of people who would be writing most of the nonsense we find at the Mind, Body and Spirit section in our local bookshops. So what are these Israelite men to do? We can assume that they knew the Old Testament prohibitions on all forms of divinisation, so how could they possibly accept a scholarship to the University of Babylon? Would it be at this stage that Daniel and his friends would draw the line in the stand?
Would it be at this stage when they would have to say to their employers, ĎIím sorry but we cannot maintain loyalty to our God and take part in your free education programmeí? Did they do this? No, they decided to complete their degree, and, in fact, according to verses 18-20 they passed with flying colours. So what is the explanation? Studying the culture of ancient Babylon, even studying ancient practices of sorcery and witch craft were not the same as putting them into practice. And so therefore Daniel and his friends could still maintain their witness to the God of Israel and take part in the Babylonian education system.
Furthermore, they also accepted a change of name. Did you see that in verse 7? "The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego." Here was a massive identity change. Here was a rewriting of their birth certificates. Their Hebrew names, which significantly included references to the God of Israel, were changed to Babylonian names, which included in them references to the gods of the Babylonians. So would it be here when the men of Israel would draw their line in the sand? Would it be here when they would stand up and be counted? No, apparently they accepted their new identity cards with less fuss than the people of Great Britain.
So where did Daniel draw the line? Have a look at verse 8. "Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself in this way." Now what a surprise! Daniel doesnít make a stand over the study of sorcery, he doesnít make a stand over the change of his name but he does say Ďenough is enoughí when it comes to the issue of food and drink. But why now? Thatís the question isnít it? Why now? Many people think it has something to do with the Jewish food laws described in the Old Testament or perhaps it is motivated by a keen desire to avoid any food that has possibly been sacrificed to the Babylonian gods before arriving at the table of Daniel and his friends. But, if you will pardon the pun, I find those explanations a bit hard to stomach. And the reason is because later in the book of Daniel we read in 10:3 that at some point in his career Daniel was perfectly happy to eat the best food and wine that the King had to offer. So therefore I think we need to look for a different explanation. Let me point you to a few clues. In verse 5 we are told that the food and wine are to come from the kingís table. Then in verse 8 we read that Daniel resolves not to defile himself with the royal food and drink. Do you see the pattern? The problem seems to be about where the food and drink comes from. And we see this focus again in verse 13 and also in verse 15. But perhaps the biggest clue is found in verse 10, where the chief official says to Daniel: "I am afraid of my lord (the same word that is used for God in verse 2) the king, who has assigned your food and drink." I think the issue for Daniel centres around who is Lord. Is it the King of Babylon or is it the God of Israel? And how can Daniel in his day to day routines demonstrate that he firmly believes that it is the God of Israel? For him it was the rejection of the royal food and drink. He said Ďenough is enough. I cannot claim to be a follower of the God of Israel and eat this meal that you have provided for meí. So he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself in this way.
Now I think we can learn at least three lessons from Danielís example. First of all, he actually took a stand. He was convinced that his God would look after him and so when it came to the crunch point in his life, when it came to the point when he could not continue to say ĎYahweh is Lordí and live the life that people expected him to live then he drew a line in the sand. Fully persuaded that he must obey God rather than men and fully persuaded that his God would look after him he took the courageous step of the faithful disciple, he chose to be different. And this is exactly what we are commanded to be. According to 1 Peter 3, as we live in this spiritual Babylon, we are to set Jesus Christ apart as Lord.
But when we do there will inevitably be crunch points in our lives. There will be moments, especially if you work and socialise predominately in the front line of Christian witness, that is, in the secular world, when you will experience a conflict of interests. Or if I can put it like this, you will be given opportunities when you can dare to be a Daniel. For example,
o Are you ever asked to lie for the boss?
o Are you expected to take part in the office lottery fund?
o Are you regularly drawn into the gossip at the school gate?
The point where we draw the line is certainly not the same for everyone. But as we begin this New Year can I encourage us all to take a stand for Christ. Let the lordship of Jesus be seen in the way we behave. Let us live differently in a hostile world. My brothers and sisters, let us dare to be a Daniel!
So, first of all, Daniel took a stand. But, secondly, he also used his brain. Did you see that in verse 8? We are told that Daniel resolved not defile himself with the royal food and wine. This was no rash decision. This was no impulse statement. On the contrary, this was a reasoned choice from a convinced mind. Do we want to live like Daniel? Then before we take the action letís think about it first. Letís resolve in our mind to do what we need to do.
Thirdly, letís be wise when we finally put our plan into effect. Itís important to notice what Daniel didnít do. He didnít gather round his friends, create a few risky banners to wave in public and then march around the palace making a lot of noise. No, he simply went to the chief official and asked for permission not to eat the royal food and drink the royal wine. And when the chief official got scared that Nebuchadnezzar would chop his head off if he took the choice food away from Daniel and his friends even at this point Daniel suggested a very wise course of action.
Have a look at verses 12-14. Daniel now says to the guard, "Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see." 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days."
Jesus Christ says that his followers are to be as innocent as doves but as wise as serpents. What a perfect combination! We are to be people of integrity and people of wisdom. So letís remember that in the next few weeks as we make our stand for Christ. Letís think about what we need to do, letís actually do it and letís do it in the smartest way we possibly can.
And when we do letís be confident that our God will look after us. Have a look at verses 15-16. "At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead." Do you see whatís happened? The God of Israel has granted them success. At the end of the test they looked in fantastic shape. Far better than those who had been eating the choice food from the kingís table. Now this is not a biblical command for teetotalism or vegetarianism but it is a wonderful affirmation that God will look after his faithful people. God will look after his own. The way of success is always to take a stand for Christ. Yes in some instances drawing a line in the sand will mean physical harm or financial setbacks. Sometimes it will not. But whatever happens we must believe the truth that we hear in Romans 8:28: "Öthat in all things God works for the good of those who love him." Taking a stand for Christ is always for our good. So at the beginning of this New Year let me encourage us all to be like Daniel. Letís avoid the agony of having to say at the end of our lives "Iíve wasted it, Iíve wasted it!" Letís be a success and letís do that by practising what we preach. Letís pray.
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