Live purely - Daniel 1

This is a sermon by Peter Birnie from 18th October 2020.

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Daniel 1 “Live Purely”

Intro: I wonder what you were (or are) like at school. Were you a model pupil or the class clown? Did you have a schoolbag full of prizes and certificates or were those sheets of crumpled up paper actually detention reminders? (Interested to hear!) Speaking as a former teacher and head of department, as well as the father of a secondary pupil, there is a particular type of lesson that always shows up a student’s true colours. The cover lesson with a supply teacher. When the restraining hand of the experienced classroom teacher is removed it isn’t long before some true inner convictions are revealed. Paper being thrown, seats being stood on, graffiti appearing on the desks – but amidst all of that carnage, there are always a few students who act differently, who look like strangers in the room. Students who still want to do things right, students who understand that though it is a supply teacher standing in front of them, there is still a Head teacher to be reckoned with.     

 

Daniel is a stranger in the land of Babylon. He was one of a group of gifted young men taken from the most important families in Judah whenever King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army defeated Jerusalem in the sixth century BC (nearly 600 years before the birth of Jesus). Taken far from his country and immersed in the culture of this foreign land with its false gods, Daniel’s inner convictions are given room to come to light; he can forget about the true God if he wants, there are plenty of distractions in Babylon. Will he live as a stranger or will he give in to what is happening all around him?

The answer to that question for Daniel and for all Christians who should live as strangers in this world is rooted in who we believe God is. What we will find in the book of Daniel is that the greatest Kings on earth only have the authority that God allows them to. They are only supply teachers and Daniel’s loyalty, accountability and hope lie elsewhere. They lie with the one true God who is all powerful and completely sovereign and who cares deeply what happens to the people who bear his name. In this short series we are only looking at Daniel chapters 1-6, but the whole book gives us 1 clear message – Live as strangers in this world knowing that God is in charge. In Daniel 1, that means to live purely, to live a life trusting and obeying God rather than a life filled with idols and compromise.

 

  • Plan to be pure (v1-8)
  • In verses 1-8 we see that this sort of life does not come about by accident; as we quickly look through Daniel’s circumstances in Babylon you can see that they were a perfect storm, a storm upon which any vague or wishy washy desire to simply ‘be different’ would founder. Instead, Daniel planned to be pure.

    Consider Daniel’s history; one of national shame and disgrace. For years, despite the awful example of the Kingdom of Israel to the North who had consistently worshipped idols and as a result had been wiped out in judgement by God, and despite God’s faithful warnings to Judah through the prophets about his judgement that would follow disobedience, God’s chosen people had continued to turn away from him.

     

    And so the Babylonians arrived and that was it – Daniel finds himself more than 500 miles away from the Temple of God and under the power and rule of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. What could cause more shame to an Israelite from a Royal family than to know (v2) that articles that belonged in the Temple of God in Jerusalem were now sitting in the temple of Marduk in Babylon?

    Consider Daniel’s age and abilities (v4); he is young, fit, handsome, intelligent, educated and sharp.

    Consider his surroundings; his 3 years of training in the language and literature of Babylon sound like going to university at Oxford or Cambridge - other young, fit, handsome, intelligent, educated, sharp men in the advanced, impressive, intoxicating city of Babylon.

    Consider Daniel’s future; this exclusive education is leading to an important and powerful job serving in the palace of the ruler of this huge empire. This even meant new Babylonian names for Daniel and his friends, names that before were linked to Yahweh, the God of Israel, are now linked to Babylonian gods like Marduk.

    And consider Daniel’s treatment; the best food and the best wine straight from the King’s table. What the King got to eat and drink, Daniel and his friends were offered.       

     

     

    Put all these circumstances together and what they add up to is a “live whatever way you want” situation. The cover teacher is in the room and the rules can be thrown off. (University and anxiety at home!) Daniel could have made a clean break with all that has gone before in his life, including a clean break with the God he grew up learning about and trusting in. V8 “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself …” With eyes wide open to all of the opportunities and temptations around him, Daniel made a firm decision. The things of Babylon were not going to master him and take him away from serving the one true God. He planned for obedience, he planned for purity.

    But why make a stand over the food? It could have been because the food from the King’s table had first been offered to idols, or it may have been because acceptance of this food showed an acceptance of the Babylonian King’s right to rule over God’s people. There may have been other reasons as well but when it is boiled down I think that had you asked Daniel and his friends the reason why they resolved so firmly not to eat this stuff, they would have said something like this; “I’m not one of them – I don’t want to worship what they worship and I don’t want to depend on what they depend. I belong to God, I trust in God, I will only worship God.”

    CC Riverside, most of us would say exactly the same thing – ‘I belong to, I trust in, I worship only God.’ But as we sit under God’s word together as strangers in this “live whatever way you want” culture, are we planning for purity? With God as our king, have we resolved not to defile ourselves?    

                 2. Be prepared for purity’s consequences (v8-16)

    This sort of resolution will feel risky and always has consequences; in verses 8-16 (and the rest of the book) Daniel was prepared to accept whatever would happen as a result of his determination to live under God’s rule rather than Babylon’s rule. The chief official is sympathetic to Daniel’s request but rightly scared of Nebuchadnezzar, after all, if this group of Hebrew men turn up in front of the king looking pale and pasty, it would be curtains for him, v10 “The king would then have my head because of you.” I think at this point, many British Christians would say “I’ve tried, maybe it isn’t such a big deal after all, God probably won’t mind that much.” But Daniel had resolved, he had planned to stand for God and so he is not put off, v12;

    “’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.”

    Daniel’s determination, this commitment to saying “I will not compromise” – where does it come from? Think back to the introduction and that cover lesson – it is so difficult to be amongst people who are doing what they want when you are committed to doing what is right. Daniel’s resolve is made possible only because of his trust in God. He is confident that going God’s way will be better no matter what happens as a result. He knows that despite the power and threat of King Nebuchadnezzar, there is a greater King to fear and trust.

    And we in the middle of these estates and this city, have got to hear this truth, understand it, submit to it and like a dog with a bone, refuse to let go of it; God’s way is better no matter what happens to us as a result. We too are called to live as strangers in this world knowing that God is in charge. We must put our full trust in the one true God who is all powerful and completely sovereign and who cares deeply what happens to the people who bear his name. There aren’t going to be any delivery drivers standing at your door with a hamper full of food from the King’s table in Babylon for you to say no to. But amongst many we could look at specifically, here are 3 dishes that those around us would consider pretty tasty, 3 choice platters that our friends and neighbours are gobbling up right now.

    The feast of materialism. The saying “money doesn’t make you happy” rolls off people’s tongues but the pattern of most lives doesn’t match it. More stuff, new stuff, nicer stuff would be the motto for many around and the uncomfortable question to ask is do God’s people look any different? Do we? Would the residents of Downfield and Greenacres and the Ghost estate and Welwyn Park and Compass Road, would they notice any difference in the members of CC Riverside in this area? From young to old we must plan to be pure amidst materialism, knowing that our King’s way is better. The way of our King here would be generosity and sacrifice; Modern day Daniels would say “I won’t eat the choice food of materialism, instead I will use my resources for God’s glory and the good of others.” God’s way is better.  

    The feast of sexual liberation. Sometimes the church gets criticised strongly for talking about the subject of sex and sexuality at all. But there are at least 2 things to be said in reply; firstly, our whole culture is obsessed with sex and have made sexuality less just a part of life and more an entire identity that a person is defined by. And secondly, the throwing off of God’s boundaries in this area has led to and continues to lead to huge damage in society as a whole and in many of our own personal lives.

    Sexual liberation hurts people and damages relationships. Speaking plainly; stop messing about sexually outside of marriage, stop dabbling in pornography, stop affirming practices and patterns that God warns are sinful. From young to old we must plan to be pure in this area knowing that our King’s way is better. The way of our King here would be faithfulness and innocence; Modern day Daniels would say “I won’t eat the choice food of sexual liberation, instead I will seek to be faithful to my spouse or a spouse that God may give me in the future, and I will fix my thoughts on Christ.”  God’s way is better. 

    The feast of self-rule. Very few people left in our society have any default respect left for any authority. For decades now we have moved as a whole culture from deference to cynicism in this area and this is like putting petrol on the bonfire of every sinful human heart in existence who hates being told what to do anyway. What this looks like in the church is wanting God to affirm our decisions rather than wanting him to change our wills.

     

    God is allowed in our lives (he has good stuff to offer) but is just one of the things orbiting around us. Instead, from young to old we must plan to be pure in this area knowing that our King’s way is better. The way of our King here would be humility and servanthood; Modern day Daniels would say “I won’t eat the choice food of self-rule, instead for God’s glory and the good of the church family around me, I will seek to bring my understanding and practice into conformity with God’s word.” God’s way is better. 

    “15At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.  So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.”

     

    Praise God that Daniel and his friends looked healthier than those who were eating the choice food. There is a general principle in God’s word that He honours those who honour him. But even if this account had ended with them being dishonoured and punished because they looked frail, they still would have been in the best position. Why? Because Nebuchadnezzar is simply a supply teacher - God is the one to whom we must ultimately answer. Plan to be pure, and be prepared to accept whatever consequences come your way as a result; The all-powerful and completely sovereign God cares deeply what happens to the people who bear his name.

                   3. Trust God to be at work for His name’s sake (v1-21)

    I have watched a bit of a programme called “Ambulance” on TV at the moment following Paramedics around London. As calls come into the frantic command centre there is a great flying drone (birds-eye) view of the city with markers where the 999 calls are being made from. When you see things from that perspective it suddenly makes loads more sense of the size and scale of what is going on.  So far in this passage we have been looking at truths from Daniel’s perspective and from our perspective. But framing this chapter, beginning, middle and end, are sentences that allow us to see the wonderfully encouraging big picture of what is really going on all the time. Verse 2, verse 9 and verse 17 should fill us with confidence that as we plan for purity and the consequences it brings, we can trust God to be at work for His name’s sake.

     

    Look at verse 2: The Lord delivered Jehoiakim into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand.’ From a merely human point of view, Daniel is in captivity because the King of Babylon crushed the King of Judah in war. But the real explanation of why Daniel and his friends are in Babylon is that the all-mighty creator sovereign one true God had great purposes that He was working out, purposes that include Daniel and his purity but purposes that go far beyond Daniel both in scope and in time. Purposes that lead to the Salvation of countless souls across the ages.

     

    Verse 9: “Now God caused the official to show favour and compassion to Daniel.” Yes, Daniel was as polite and respectful as a child of God should be, but that was not the reason this official listened to him. As he took what looked like a huge risk that could have led to his execution, Daniel was not alone. The God of the ages was with him and we will see later in Daniel that He was working through these men’s purity so that God’s name would end up being lifted high in Babylon by Kings who were brought low.  

     

    Verse 17: “To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding.” Ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in Babylon in every matter of wisdom and understanding. How many times wiser is God than you or me? A billion times? A trillion times? His wisdom is infinite and so it is a trifling matter for God to use these men’s purity to shame the wisdom of Babylon around.

    This is how God works; 600 years after Daniel as the completely pure Jesus Christ surrendered his entire will to his Father and died upon that cross, it may have looked like a defeat to those around, but instead it was the climax of a Salvation plan that God had put in place before the creation of the world. If you aren’t a Christian yet, that salvation is offered to you now – come and benefit from the purity of Jesus Christ. And if you already belong to Him then know for certain that your purity matters – depend upon him and resolve to live for him and God will use you to save others, and to demonstrate his wonderful wise Kingship to a watching world. Amen.

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