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God is king

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Pray slowly

Introduction

Where do we draw the line?

            Friends of ours moved to Kenya a few years ago, so the husband David could take up a job lecturing at a Bible College there. Their house didn’t have a water meter for a while, due to an oversight by the Water Authority, so for a time they got all their water for free. Being a Christian David went to the Water Authority to try and open an account to pay for their water. He had to queue in 9 offices over the space of two days just to open an account. He wrote in his newsletter ‘even in their wildest fantasies, the officials had never experienced someone voluntarily asking to pay for water.’ Would you have done the same?

            Try a few more scenarios:

            1) You are sitting in an American High School classroom, when two hooded youths burst in carrying guns. They demand that all those who love Jesus stand up. The young girl at the front of the class stands, only to be shot dead. Will you stand up?

            2) You are on a bus in Indonesia, when some militant Muslims stop the bus and get on. They tell all the Christians to get off. A man near the front stands up and is herded off. You see him pushed to the ground and clubbed senseless. Will you get off?

            They were real scenarios. But let’s try some closer to home perhaps:

            3) Your tax agent is showing you the return he has just prepared for you. He has put down some expenses connected with your job that you never spent. You ask him what these amounts are, and he says that in your line of work you can claim that amount without having to prove it, so you might as well. Would you claim it?

            4) You have just bought a new computer. Your friend comes around with a copy of the latest software, which you know is already loaded on his computer. It’s just what you want and need, and he offers to give it to you. Will you take it?

            The issue in all those scenarios, and countless others we face as Christians, is - where do we draw the line? Where do we stand up for what God wants and say to the world ‘this far and no further’? What cost are we prepared to pay to maintain our obedience to God? Or do we keep compromising our faith?

            They are some of the big questions dealt with in the book of Daniel, for Daniel and his friends faced those sorts of very real pressures. As we look at Daniel 3 & 6 my prayer is you will leave tonight encouraged to stand up for your faith in Christ every day in every way, regardless of the cost. For our God is worth it.

            So you might like to turn to Daniel ch 3 in your Bibles and to the outline in your Bulletins if you don’t already have it handy. Daniel is just after the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

1. Is God king? (Daniel 1:1-2)

            Yes, but to see it we must look beyond physical events.

            But first some background, because jumping straight into Daniel is like watching the second series of Sea Change without having seen the first. You feel a bit lost, and not sure of what’s going on and who is who.

            So, what is the story thus far?

            You’ll remember that God promises to Abraham to make a great nation out of him, and from his grandson Jacob come the 12 tribes of Israel. God brings Israel into the Promised Land and dwells with them in the temple built by Solomon, in His city Jerusalem. But for centuries Israel has rebelled against God, despite God’s clear warnings that He will punish them. And in 722BC it happens - the northern tribes of Israel are wiped out by the Assyrians. But the southern tribes don’t learn, and in 605 the unthinkable happens - the Babylonians come and invade Jerusalem, the city of God, taking away some articles from the temple, and taking away the cream of Jewish youth to re-programme them. Including a young man called Daniel, and three of his friends.

            And so opens the book of Daniel. Read vv1-2. It raises big  questions for us. Has God lost? Where is God? Is He still king? What will He do? What of Israel?

           

            As we go through ch 1 we see that God is still very much in charge, and responsible for Israel’s situation. So v2 - the Lord delivered Jehoiakim in to Nebuchadnezzar’s hand. v9 - God caused the official to grant Daniel’s request. v17 - God gives to Daniel and the other 3 great wisdom and to Daniel himself the ability to understand visions and dreams. On the surface it seems that Nebuchadnezzar and his gods have shamed and overcome the God of the Jews. The reality is however that the One true God is still in control. But to see it we need to look past the physical events themselves. As we look around our world, it often seems that God is missing in action. Or as someone once said - God is dead. But friends God is still working to fulfil His plan and nothing will thwart Him.

            Daniel’s dilemma then is how do I live out my trust in God, in a very pagan nation. And how can my faith even survive in a pagan world? Hence point 2.

2. Living under a pagan king (Daniel 1)

            Bend with the wind, but resolve not to break!

            Daniel is taken from the city of God, to the city opposed to God. The NIV footnote calls Babylonia Shinar. It takes us back to Gen 11, where the tower of Babel was built in Shinar. Babel represented humanity in its arrogance setting itself against God and his kingdom. Babel of course becomes Babylon, and throughout the Bible Babylon is the image for mankind opposed to God, until Revelation 18, where Babylon finally falls, never, ever to rise again.

            It is to this city Daniel is brought, to be indoctrinated into its ways and culture and lifestyle as we see in ch 1.

            Daniel himself is, v3, a young man from either the royal family or the nobility of Israel. He is, v4, physically fit, handsome, and intelligent. Just right to help the Babylonians run their vast empire, and in the process destroy the Jewish culture by reprogramming the next generation of the leaders of Israel in the culture of Babylon.

            So Daniel is to be indoctrinated for three years. The programme is, v4, to teach them the language and literature of Babylon. Then, v5, to give them food and wine from the royal table. And finally, v7, to give them Babylonian names.

            But look at v8 - read. Daniel will not defile himself. He accepts he is in Babylon, but refuses to become a full part  of it, so draws his line. He can cope with a new name, and new learning, but resolves not to eat the king’s food or drink his wine.

            Why not? Some say the meat was unclean, but that doesn’t account for the wine. Others say the food had been offered to idols, but so too vegetables. The better suggestion seems to be that to eat the king’s food was to implicitly enter a covenant relationship with him. So, in 11:26 it is seen as very disloyal to eat from the king’s provisions and then turn against him and try and destroy him. There is apparently an Eastern saying ‘to share a meal means a commitment to friendship’. We say, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

            For Daniel this is too much. His commitment is to God first, not anyone else. He will not let any other loyalty take the priority over his relationship with God. To eat the king’s food would compromise for him his freedom to serve God above all others. So he makes his choice. Humbly, and in full submission to those in authority over him. There is no protest hunger strike for Daniel. He is always gracious, polite and tactful, and wins the favour of non-Jews by his attitude. But his choice is still a risky one - there is no guarantee of safety.

            But God graciously honours Daniel’s resolve by clearing the way for his request to be granted. And his request turns out, with God’s help, to be a winner. Daniel and the other three are far healthier and better nourished than the others. But even more than that, God equips them for what is yet to come by giving them outstanding wisdom and understanding and the ability to interpret dreams and visions. By v20 Daniel and the other three are 10 times better than any others, even than the Babylonians own wise men. God’s wisdom is seen to be far greater than the wisdom of Babylon and its gods. And so too is God’s kingdom greater, for we see in v21 that Daniel survives until the year of King Cyrus. In 539BC, 66 years after Daniel goes to Babylon, Cyrus defeats Babylon. And Daniel, the man of God, is there to see it. He has outlasted the kingdom of Babylon, through the power and sovereignty of God.

            It’s a great chapter isn’t it. The sovereignty and power of God, the one true God, who is also our God. And a great witness to the courage of a young man who put his trust in God to the test, not knowing the outcome, but determined to put God first, using all his wisdom and will to do it.

            Like Daniel, Christians too are in the world, but are not to be of the world. We too live in a pagan society, hostile to Christianity and determined to undermine it.       Like Daniel, we need wisdom to see where to draw the line. And like Daniel this wisdom comes from God - from knowing His word and prayer. We will only be wise if we keep reading our Bibles and praying. Will we? If not we will never know how and where to draw the line in a world which constantly seeks to undermine us.

            And like Daniel, it takes an effort of will to draw the line and stick to it. We need his resolve not to defile ourselves. We can pray and read the Bible 24 hours a day, but if we do not resolve to do anything about it its useless. To bend down and draw that line in the sand of our lives takes an effort of will. Will you do it?

            Are there areas of your life where you are tempted to say yes to the world when you should say no? Areas of your life where you know you need to make a stand? Maybe at work, in our leisure, our attitude to money, our tax returns, how we drive, what we watch on TV or read, where we go, our relationships with the opposite sex, our views on marriage or living together, the priority of our families. Where is it that God is calling you to make a stand for your faith in Him in a pagan world?

            Once we start making small compromises, we will make bigger ones. And we will find our resolve totally sapped and our faith... gone forever. If we do not learn to stick to our convictions over small issues, we won’t be able to do it with the big ones.

            It is an issue of will and trust and obedience. Will you draw the line? Because as ch 2 reminds us, a place in God’s coming eternal kingdom is at stake.

3. God is king! (Daniel 2)

            a) Nebuchadnezzar - Tell him he’s dreaming

            Sadly we don’t have time to look at ch 2 in detail. At Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a big statue. If you don’t remember it, go home and read it. The point of the dream is that God says human kingdoms will come and go, but eventually they will all crumble.

            Most of chapter 2 is written in Aramaic, not Hebrew, the language of Babylon. Why? God wants all the nations of the world to know that He is carving out His own Kingdom, a Kingdom not of this world, that will eventually crush and destroy every man-made kingdom, and then last forever.

            For Daniel and the Jews in exile this dream brought them great hope. Through it God tells them that He is in control and still working to bring about His plans and purposes even if everything else looks hopeless. History is God’s history and he reveals His plans to us. And our faith will only survive in a pagan world if it has great confidence in the final triumph of God and His kingdom.

            The challenge is to be part of God’s kingdom. So where is it?

            b) Jesus - Are you the king of the Jews? Yes! (Matt 27:11)

            We know some exciting news which Daniel didn’t know, and that is that the king of the kingdom has come. He came in the first century AD, about 600 years after Daniel. The King of God’s Kingdom is Jesus, the Christ. Remember at His trial when Pilate asked him - are you the king of the Jews? Jesus answered - Yes, it is as you say.

            Here is God’s king. Who defeats his enemies by dying on a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem. And who rose again to life victorious and now reigns forever and ever. Not just a king, but the King of kings and Lord of Lords. The king of God’s everlasting kingdom. In Jesus, and as we proclaim Him, God is hurling His rock at the feet of the kingdoms of men just as He showed Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel He would.

            Do you want to be in God’s kingdom? Trust Jesus and make Him your king. Do it today if you haven’t already. It takes an act of will to take the crown off your head, and to hand it to Jesus and to say I now submit myself to you and want to live my life for you not me. After 2 and 1/2 years I know many of you have done that and I thank God for bringing you into His kingdom. But some of you haven’t done it yet - even some who have sat in church for decades, and heard more sermons than I will ever preach. Please hear this - coming to church will not get you into God’s kingdom. You must come into a personal relationship with the King. Please do it today again.

4. Is God (your) king?

            Live this life in light of the life to come. What difference does God’s kingship make to your life in 1999? Dare to be different!!

            For us who are in God’s kingdom the challenge of Daniel is to live this life in light of the life to come. It is a call to be different isn’t it, for the world does not know of the life to come. That’s why this series is called ‘dare to be different’. Daniel was prepared to stand up and say no to the world. He did it wisely, tactfully, and gently, but he did it. Will we?

            If we say Jesus is our king, what difference does it make to our lives? You cannot claim to have Jesus as your king and be the same as the rest of the world. God calls us to be holy as he is holy. It means being different. Drawing the line. Resolving not to let the world compromise who you are - one for whom Christ shed His blood. That is the staggering price that God paid for us. The life, the blood of His own dear Son - so don’t sell out. Don’t give in, but live for Christ. Daniel encourages us that it is possible. It all depends on the grace of God and our trust in Him.

            My plea as I leave is that you will keep resolving to be different. To be holy. That in years to come even non-Christians will say the Christians in Shellharbour are different - they stand up for the God they believe in. And as you do that, God will keep bringing in His kingdom through you. To Him be the glory in your life, and in my life, forever. Amen.

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