Daniel Chapter 1 Daniel Sermon #1 Feb. 7, 2016
Sermon Series: “The Lord is King”
Sermon Title: “Worship the Lord your God, and Serve Him Only”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
How does a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ live in a secular society? How should a Christian stand up for his or her faith, in light of strong pressure to conform and give in?
It is clear that over the last 50 years America has undergone a major shift from being a place where Christian values undergirded our morals and lifestyles, to being a country where Biblical standards and ideas are not only seen as outmoded, but as bad, harmful, and intolerant. We can see this in the cheapening of human life, in the attacks upon not only traditional marriage but on the idea of being male or female, and in the almost universal acceptance of a world that has simply evolved, without purpose or a destiny.
So where do we go, in God’s Word, to get guidance and wisdom, in this situation?
Along with the Book of Revelation, I believe that the Old Testament book of Daniel is exactly what we need. For Daniel shows the followers of the Lord Jesus how we can faithfully navigate a God-honoring path through a deeply secular society, as well as to how we can shine for Him, in the midst of temptations and attacks on our faith.
The big picture of the book of Daniel is this: “The Lord is King!”
The main point of Daniel Chapter One is that God uses apparent defeats and temptations to give up as ways to test and strengthen our faith in Him, so He can demonstrate His power and glory, through us.
1. God Rules Over Apparent Defeats (vv. 1-2)
In 605 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon besieged Jerusalem, God’s holy city, defeated the king of Judah, and carried off some of the sacred furniture of the Lord’s holy temple…to place them in the treasure house of his pagan god! Think about how crushing this seemed to God’s people. This tyrant of a godless, hated nation not only defeated the chosen people of God, but then carted off their holy vessels to his temple! This would be like the Russians conquering America, and carrying off the Liberty Bell to the Kremlin. Could anything be more humiliating and defeatist, than to have a secular king do this to the holy place, the sacred place where God dwelt among His people?
Wouldn’t that have challenged your faith in God, as being all-powerful?
We too have seen seeming “defeats” in our country. Prayer, Bible reading and God have been “carried off” from our public schools and from the public square. Man’s self-rule has manifested itself in abortion on demand and the slaughter on innocent lives. In the last few years we have witnessed the Biblical view of marriage and gender distorted and turned upside down.
And therefore, like in Daniel’s day, it would appear that God’s side has lost most of the key battles in society’ perhaps even that God Himself has been defeated. If so, what is our hope? What hope did Daniel and his three friends have?
Or on a personal level, perhaps you feel defeated because you’ve given into temptation a lot, or because you feel like you’ve been laid low by trying circumstances, and your faith in God is low.
Well, even here, there is a hint that God was still on His throne, and that His Word was still the Truth that could be trusted. We read in v. 2 that “The Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into (Nebuchadnezzar’s) hand….” That is, behind the apparent triumph of a pagan king, the Lord was sovereignly directing all these event. It was the Lord God who ultimately was moving the chess pieces on the board, not any man. Furthermore, what had happened to Jerusalem and its sacred vessels was the fulfillment of God’s Words in Isaiah 39:5-7 (“Everything in your palace…will be carried off to Babylon.”
Yes, Nebuchadnezzar had conquered Jerusalem, but it was the LORD who delivered it into his hands. Yes, Nebuchadnezzar carried off the holy vessels, but it was done according to the Word of the Lord.
Therefore, even in apparent “defeats,” (whether national or personal), our God still reigns; His Word is still true.
Only God can turn a mess into a message, a test into a testimony, a trial into a triumph, a victim into a victory. Therefore I ask you: Will you trust God in the midst of loss, defeat, and setbacks? Will you put your faith in His unseen but omnipotent hands, working behind the curtains of your life? I urge you to see His sovereign power and His faithful Word as ruling over your life and your circumstances, especially your “defeats.”
2. God uses defeats and temptations…to test and strengthen our faith in Him. (v. 3-16)
Not only did Nebuchadnezzar take away the temple furnishings; he also took away the people of Israel. And out of those exiles, the king commanded that the best and brightest of the young men of Israel should be indoctrinated into Babylonian culture, where they could serve the king and his empire. He wanted to mold these men into being his men, his servants, his followers, and so he was willing to invest a lot of time and money into their training program. That’s what Daniel and his companions were facing: a complete indoctrination into the Babylonian culture, in order to be civil servants for this pagan empire.
What would that look like today? Well, imagine that God’s plan was for the Islamic State to grow and become so dominant, that it eventually took over America. And that the leaders of ISIS took the best young people from our churches and indoctrinated them for 3 years into the thinking and culture of Islam, in Saudi Arabia. Imagine that you were chosen for this program. You would hear how Allah conquered the God of the Christians; you would be given an Islamic names. You would be bombarded with Islamic regulations and doctrine all the time. And all positive references to Christianity would be erased, and you would never get back to the USA. Your whole life would be turned upside-down.
How would you respond under such pressure? What would do?
Let me suggest that in a situation such as that, when a believer is an exile, a stranger in a foreign land, he or she has three options:
The first option is to conform/ blend-in; to go along with the crowd and the current; to give in to what appears to be the inevitable. Daniel could have thought “God has abandoned us; He doesn’t care about us; so why should we honor and obey Him in this foreign land.” But he didn’t.
The second option is to retreat; to withdraw, to isolate yourself; to have nothing to do with the culture that is pressuring you to conform (like the monastic movement in the church, or like the Amish today.) Daniel could have thought “Just circle the wagons and hold on to my private faith, but don’t get involved in the politics of this secular country.” But he didn’t do that either.
The third option is to co-operate without compromise; to practice a “dual citizenship” whereby you seek to be a good citizen of the country you are in, but continue to pledge your highest allegiance to the Lord and His Word. And that’s what Daniel and his companions chose to do. They saw their hard circumstances as a time of testing, for the strengthening of their faith in the Lord.
The Lord gave them wisdom to suggest a creative alternative to eating the royal food, a diet of vegetables and water for ten days. This plan would both satisfy their pagan king AND at the same time allow them to keep the Lord first in their allegiance.
Marvin Olasky, the editor of World Magazine, calls this the “Daniel Option.” It’s when we stay engaged in the life of our secular society, including the media, politics, and cultural trends, but at the same time, refuse to compromise the truth of God’s Word and His standards. This is what it means to be salt and light for the gospel: the salt must come out of the saltshaker when the culture needs preserving; the light must come out from under the bushel, when darkness creeps in.
But let’s ask the question: “How did Daniel and his friends go about knowing how to cooperate without compromising God’s truth? What made them decide on what was non-essential and what was an uncompromising principle of their faith in the Lord? For the answer, look at vv. 8-16:
On the one hand, Daniel and company cooperated with the Babylonians when it came to non-essentials of their faith. They entered the 3 year training course, they studied the language and literature of their oppressors; they took Babylonian clothes and names, etc.
But there was one area where they wouldn’t compromise; namely, they refused to partake of the royal food. Why not? Many reasons have been suggested, but my understanding is that if they ate the king’s food (see vv. 5, 8, 10, 13, and 15 – “the royal food/ the king’s food”) they would have been binding themselves to this pagan king, in a covenant of absolute and binding loyalty. And for Daniel and his companions, that was a no-brainer! They knew they couldn’t pledge themselves to a pagan king, for they were already bought with the price; they belonged heart, soul, and body to the true King of kings. They believed that to eat the king’s food would have bound them to Nebuchadnezzar, and they couldn’t serve two masters. (Matt. 6:24)
To put it another way, it would be like a woman engaged to a soldier serving in WWII, and her fiancé is gone for 3 years, at war. While he is absent, another man comes to her and says. “Your finance may never come back. Maybe he’s dead or crippled. Put him behind you, and sleep with me.” But she tells him, “Never! My love and my allegiance are with my fiancé, and with him alone! I will be faithful to him, no matter how hard it looks.”
Today Christians are under pressure to conform to the politically correct (but warped) values of our culture. Some are compromising and giving in. Others are by retreating from society. Some want to do battle with it. But God calls us to engage the culture without Biblical compromise. And as we do so, like Daniel, our faith in God will be strengthened, through the tests we are put through.
3. God does all this….to demonstrate His power and glory. (vv. 17-21)
We read in vv. 17-21 that these four men looked better than all the others, and they were head and shoulders above the other men, in their skills and insights. Therefore God was glorified through their faith in Him.
So…how did Daniel and his buddies stay strong in the face of defeat and pressure to conform?
The main reason was that they had a firm trust in God’s absolute control over history, over nations, and over their challenging circumstances. Look at v. 2 “The Lord delivered…”; v. 9 “Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel…”; and v. 17 “To these four men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning.”
The Lord used their faith in Him to strengthen them and enable them to overcome the apparent defeats and the pressures to give in.
“As representatives of the only true God, they needed to prove in the highly competitive Babylonian training school, that indeed, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
“God, in His infinite wisdom and sovereignty, uses apparent defeats, and pressures to conform, to display His power, glory, and truth, through those who will trust Him.”
Isn’t that what happened at the cross of Christ, 2,000 years ago? God’s Son was mocked and insulted, and died a cruel death on a cross, after his close friends had betrayed Him and denied Him. It appeared that Christ’s life had been in vain and His mission for nothing. All the pressure was on his followers to give up and go home.
Yet it was through that very “defeat” that God was able to display His power and His love! Through the apparent triumph of Satan at Christ’s death, God the Father turned that seeming victory into a fatal defeat for our enemy. God displayed His sovereign power to save sinners, and to triumph over Satan and over death, when God the Father raised His son to life, three days later, thus validating the redemptive and sacrificial work of Christ.
1 Cor. 1:18 “The message of the cross is foolishness… but to us… it is the power of God.”
Romans 8:37 “In all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”
The pages of the book of Daniel reveal a battleground between faith and unbelief, between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of men. It pits God’s rule vs. man’s rule; God’s way vs. man’s way; God’s glory vs. man’s glory, and God’s exalted people vs. kings who are humbled and behave like animals. And that is the message of the gospel, of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ vs. the kingdom of Satan or the kingdoms of men. Our Lord Reigns! The Lord is King!
Remember: God uses apparent defeats and temptations to give up, as ways to test and strengthen our faith in Him, so He can demonstrate His power and glory.