August 23, 2015
Is the United States a Christian nation? Many would say, “yes,” because many of the first settlers were Christians fleeing persecution. In addition to this, the United States was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and a number of the founders professed faith in Christ. From the beginning Christianity has been the predominant religion in the United States, but that is changing. If I asked, ‘Is the United States a godly nation,” we would probably have to say, “No.” There were some bright moments of great religious revival, but underneath the veneer of Christianity there is little godliness. Christ is not honored in this country, except by his followers.
If I were to ask was Israel of old a Jewish nation, of course we would all say, “Yes.” After all, God himself established Israel as a nation and called Israel his chosen people. But if I asked, was Israel of old a godly nation, we would have to say, “No.” There were some bright moments of religious reform and revival, but for the most part the people of Israel were idolaters and did not walk in faith and obedience to God. In fact, Paul said that not all of Israel is Israel.” In Prov.14:23 we read, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”
Two weeks ago we looked at Joseph. Joseph lived at the beginning of the nation of Israel. Today we look at Daniel. Daniel’s story takes place when Israel is defeated and exiled to Babylon. Daniel would have been taken to Babylon in 605 B.C. Jerusalem was finally destroyed in 586 B.C. Daniel and his friends went from living in a Jewish culture to a completely pagan culture. This morning I want to say that a changing culture requires Christians to answer three significant questions.
I. WHO AM I? Dan.1:1-7
As I mentioned, Israel was not a godly nation except for a few bright moments when godly kings brought religious reform. Daniel grew up in one of those bright moments. King Josiah was a committed believer in God and brought great religious reform, turning the people back to God. He was the last good king of Judah. Daniel and his three friends were thoroughly Jewish and committed believers and worshippers of God. They did not practice any kind of idolatry. Their identities were primarily defined by their Jewishness and their faith. These were godly men.
When Nebuchadnezzar first came to Jerusalem in 605 B.C., he took many members of the royal family and the nobility of Israel back to Babylon. He took the brightest and best, the cream of the crop. His plan was to enlist the best of those he conquered into government service. Daniel and his 3 friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were all chosen to enter into a three year program in preparation for service to the king. No doubt there were other Jewish men chosen but our focus is on Daniel and his friends.
Nebuchadnezzar’s plan was to give these chosen men brand new identities, because when you are in Babylon you do as the Babylonians do. They were enrolled at the University of Babylon. The course was intense. They would have to learn how to speak Chaldean. And they would also have to learn to read the Sumerian and Akkadian languages. In Babylon, all the official documents were written in Akkadian and a great deal of Babylonian literature was written in Sumerian. They would have studied a curriculum of religious, magical, astrological and scientific literature.
Along with their schooling, Daniel and his friends were given new names, names that reflected various Babylonian gods. Daniel was called, Belteshazzar, which refers to the god, Bel. Hananiah was called Shadrach (Shuduraku) after Aku, the moon god. Mishael was named Mechach (MisaAku) after Aku. And Azariah was named Abednego, after the god Nebo.
The third part of their preparation for government service involved a diet of food and wine from the royal table of Nebuchadnezzar. They were given the best food so that they would be strong and healthy.
The culture and society that we live in plays a powerful role in shaping our identities as individuals. The laws and customs of our society help to bring order and structure to our living. But more often than not, cultural influences will not lead us into godly living. From the very beginning of our country slavery had a profound effect on the way people thought. So much so, that many professing believers tried to justify slavery from the Bible. Jefferson Davis seemed to have a profound encounter with Christ, but he believed in slavery until his death.
There are profound cultural ways of thinking that are having a powerful influence on followers of Christ today. Materialism, tolerance, and pluralism exert a powerful influence on the church in the United States in ways that we may not even be aware of because it is so much a part of how we live. Generally in the United States we embrace a “Live and let live” way of life. This is a free country. Well, as long as Christian concepts and principles dominate our culture, it works for us. But now, as we are moving into a post-Christendom society, more secular principles for living shape our culture and our thinking.
Our changing culture is changing us and so we must ask ourselves the question, “Who am I.” What defines my identity? As Christians we would say that Jesus Christ and the Scripture defines who we are. Daniel and his friends were enrolled in the University of Babylon where they were taught all about the Babylonian way of living. When a person becomes a Christian that person enrolls in the Academy of Christ where they are taught all about Jesus and the Jesus way of living. The classroom is the Church. The textbook is the Bible. The teacher is the Holy Spirit. But what does the current dismal rate of church attendance say about the church and about Christians in general?
You may say that you are a Christian but can you say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ?” What is it that distinguishes us from our pagan culture and our non-Christian friends? Do we “honor Christ the Lord as holy” in our hearts, as Peter tells us to do?
Some Christian thinkers are welcoming the post-Christendom society because they believe it is going to purify the Church. In other words, they think that currently there are many in the church who are not really Christians at all. Are you a Christian? By that I mean, have you repented of your sin and surrendered your life to Jesus Christ? Have you embraced Jesus as your only Savior and Lord? Are you his follower? Do you embrace his teachings? Is Jesus your life?
I just have to point something out. Not only were Daniel and his friends enrolled in the University of Babylon, but they were given new names. In that day, a person’s name had bearing on their identity and character. Isn’t it interesting that when a person embraces Christ by faith, in Rev.2:17 it says that believers are given a new name, a new identity, a new character. It is the character of Christ who is our life. We must ask, “Who am I.”
II. WHO DO I SERVE? Dan.1:8-20
Who we are will always be expressed by how we live. Paul tells us in Rm.12:2 that we are not to be conformed to this world. In other words, “Do not let the world shape you according to its mold.” Of this we can be sure, our culture and society will always seek to bring us into conformity with itself.
Now even though Daniel and his friends had been taken to Babylon against their will, and had very little say over their life in Babylon, they were given an opportunity to make something of their new life. They had a chance to enter into government service. In a pagan culture that will usually require some compromise. We are not living in Kansas anymore.
In v.8 we read that Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food or wine. Now think with me for a minute. Back in Jerusalem, Daniel would have studied the Law of God, in Babylon the curriculum was very different. They were studying about Babylonian religions, magical arts, astrology and science. The Law of God forbid any dabbling in magic and Is.47:13 speaks negatively about astrology. Why didn’t they refuse to study these things?
It seems to me that when you study something you do not have to agree with it or embrace it. When you study something, you gain information and you have a better opportunity to figure out why you don’t agree with it. Not only that, but in studying these things Daniel and his friends would have a much better understanding of the people they would be dealing with. I’m not suggesting that there is never a risk in studying a secular subject. Sometimes Christians who are not well versed in the Faith will study and leave the Faith. Ideas are powerful, but they can be rejected.
To me there is a difference between studying something and eating something. Daniel and his friends discerned that eating the king’s food would defile them. Was it because the king’s food was unclean according to Jewish food laws? Surely that would be part of it. Was it because the king’s food and wine would have probably been offered to false gods? That is probably also true. Whatever the reasons, they discerned that they should not eat the food. It strikes me that one can take knowledge into himself and reject it. It does not have to shape his life. But when we eat food it becomes part of us. You can’t reject it once it is eaten. Eating that food represented a physical embracing of the pagan lifestyle of Babylon.
We have a New Testament example of this. In 1Cor.10 Paul is addressing the question about whether it is appropriate for a Christian to eat meat that has been sacrificed to an idol. On the one hand Paul says, “Idols are nothing. If you go to someone’s house and they serve you meat bought at temple, don’t ask questions. Just eat it. It won’t hurt you.” But that said, Paul goes on to say, “Don’t go to the pagan temple to enjoy a meal there.” In 1Cor.10:16-21 Paul writes, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” In fact, in a papyrus fragment are found these words, “Chairemon invites you to a meal at the table of the lord, Serapis in the Serapeum, tomorrow the fifteenth from nine o’clock onwards.” Paul says, “Don’t go to the pagan temple to eat a meal sacrificed to demons.”
Notice what Daniel did not do. He did not go to the chief of the eunuchs and say, “You know that food is unclean. You are all a bunch of pagans and I’m not going to eat with you folks.” Daniel did not criticize the culture. The Babylonians were only doing what Babylonians do. Instead, Daniel graciously asked if he could be allowed to not defile himself according to his beliefs. He asked the steward to conduct a test. For ten days they would eat only vegetables. After ten days they should be evaluated to see how they fare.
The chief of the Eunuchs was concerned because he did not want to disobey the king. That would be dangerous. Nevertheless the test was conducted and in v.15-16 we learn that, “At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king's food. So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.”
Now Daniel and his friends could have served themselves and chosen to just go with the program, but when they asked the question, “Who do we serve,” the answer was, “We serve the living God.”
How important this is for us. In our culture there is great freedom to say and do pretty much anything we want. But our aim is to serve God as we follow Christ in the way we live. In Rm.12:1 Paul writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.“
In a post-Christendom society our goal is to serve God without compromise. But we want to serve God as graciously as we can. Rm.12:17-18 says, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
III. WHO DO I TRUST?
I want to be brief here. In v.2, 9, and 17, we find the phrase, ‘God gave.” In v.2 it refers to the fact that the Lord gave the kingdom of Judah into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, it was an act of judgement. Because the people of Israel had turned away from God in idolatry, God sent them into exile. But God’s purpose was to work repentance in the hearts of his people. That is always his purpose. Our best life is lived in worship and obedience to God, our creator. So this act of judgment, was also an act of mercy. He spared a remnant for himself.
In v.9 we read that God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs. In v.17 we read, “As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” In fact, at the end of their 3-year program they were interviewed by the king and it says in v.20, “And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.”
These men were trusting in God. They may not have understood all that God was doing, but they trusted in God and sought to honor God in their lives.
Brothers and sisters, in this post-Christendom society ask yourself, “Who am I, Who do I serve, and Who do I trust? Are you a committed follower of Jesus Christ? Amen