The story of Daniel, and his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego:
Let's get a quick backdrop for our story, to get the full impact of our study in context. Internal rebellion had caused the Hebrew people to split into two kingdoms. (The Kingdom of Israel in the south, and the Kingdom of Judah in the south). Each kingdom had been warned by God, through His prophets, that if they did not return to Him as their one True God, He would allow them to be overtaken. They did not listen. In 722 BC, the Kingdom of Israel was taken over by the Assyrians, never to return. In 605 BC, the southern Kingdom of Judah was invaded by the Babylonians. They took captives back to Babylon (including Daniel). The Babylonians controlled the Kingdom of Judah with puppet kings, and attacked again in 597 BC to suppress a rebellion. Then, in about 587 BC, they finally came in and destroyed the city, its houses, its walls, and took everyone into exile. Later, (539 BC) while the Hebrews lived under Babylonian control, the Medes and Persians defeated the Babylonians, and eventually allowed the Hebrews to return home under their rule. All together, the Hebrews lived in exile for 70 years as predicted. [Ester, Ezra, and Nehemiah are all written during this exile] We pick up with Daniel shortly after the first siege. He has been forcibly taken from his family and country, as a prisoner and slave to a foreign land: Daniel 1:1-4. Daniel and his friends are probably between 13 and 17 years of age. Babylon would take the best of the youth from their conquered enemies, bringing fear of further revolt, and filling his ranks with the brightest and most capable of his enemies. The Babylonian King had a system of indoctrinating these young ones completely into his culture: Daniel 1:5-7. He made them leave their own culture, beliefs, and God behind. He changed their names to Chaldean names. He made them feel special and comfortable with the best of provisions. He educated them in the ways of his world. [This is exactly where we, as Christians, find ourselves right now—we are living in a land that is hostile to our way of life. This world is trying to make us change our identity (name). This world is trying to feed us the best of what it has to offer, so that we will feel special and comfortable where we are. This world is educating us in its ways, so that we will forget the Truth of where we came from and where we belong. Many of us are falling for the assimilation, and don't even know it.] These four young men, give a beautiful model of how we should live our lives trapped in a foreign and very dangerous land, that is committed to assimilating us as well.
Here is their first example to us: What if you were in your mid-teens, you have no one to see you or influence you, you are offered the best life possible (better than old, or those around), your refusal of this great life could mean cruel death? And all you have to do is eat the best of the foods and drink the best of the wines in the kingdom—but they go against your God? [because they are idols] Would you resist the best of life, when no one would even know, and it could mean your death? Do you realize that what you do when no one will ever know the difference, especially when you pass up selfish pleasure to do so, is the only time you truly show who you are at heart? [What do you do on trips alone? When home alone? In your own mind?] Daniel 1:8. One choice, when no one knows, can change the course of your mind and life forever. (Remember it’s not legalism—it’s love for Christ.) Later, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were told they would have to bow to a statue of Nebuchadnezzar in worship, or be burned alive. It was not to be a regular thing, but one time. Ten minutes and it would be over forever. They were in such a big crowd no one would even see them. (Nebuchadnezzar had to be told they refused to bow). [How easy to say: "It's only once, and it's only for a short time, I can ask forgiveness later." Or think “why take this risk for a God that let us get into this kind of a mess anyway?”] We know they chose the furnace over bowing even once to Nebuchadnezzar: Daniel 3:12-13. Why? Because it wasn’t what they could get away with—it was real love for God. [What do you knowingly bow to in your life today, with plans to ask forgiveness later?]
After the Medes and the Persians took over Babylon, the Persian King Darius was tricked into signing a decree, stating that all who prayed to any god or man for thirty days, except the king, should be thrown to lions. Daniel, one of three governors under the king, still made time to pray to his God three times a day, in his upper room, at an open window, facing Jerusalem. Not as a show, but as a private tribute and intimate time with his God. Daniel could easily have prayed in private for thirty days, or even waited thirty days. But Daniel knew the people already saw how he worshipped and prayed. To do any less now would be insulting and rejecting his God before men. So, what did he do? He loved God at any cost: Daniel 6:10-11. Daniel would not let the fear of a horribly death stop him from spending time with his God. [Yet we don't make time for our God even when it costs us nothing. We are ashamed to give thanks in our workplace or a restaurant.] The lesson we need to grasp is this: these four men were far from their homes, families and influences, and still they chose to honor God with their lives, just because they loved and worshipped Him. If we cannot even find the passion to do so in times of blessing, can we say we really love and serve Him? Can we ever believe we will serve Him if it begins to cost us dearly?
The second powerful and short lesson is simply this: "But, if not..." Let's go back to the three men about to be thrown into a furnace and burned alive for not bowing to a statue: Daniel 3:13-18. So many times we feel that God should make everything come out rosy when we decide to follow Him, rather than the world. And we often get angry, offended, or doubtful of His existence or goodness when things don't go perfect. We live in a hostile, foreign world that hates our God. 1) our doing right will bring consequences in this world. 2) we will often get no recognition, no immediate blessing for many of the things we do for God or others. 3) this is when our worship and love for God are most apparent to the world. The goal is not to escape trouble or be blessed; the goal is to glorify God and do His will. The goal is to step out and say, "but, if not..." if I am not blessed, if I do get hurt, suffer loss, get ridiculed, so be it—the die is cast, my goal is clear: Hebrews 11:32-40; 2 Corinthians 11:23-30; Job 13:15. Our goal, our mission, our pleasure is to give all for the King—every cost, every trial an honor, with no thought of what I will get on this earth—my reward is coming. This is what will show the world he is real and worthy. Look at the reaction that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego had on Nebuchadnezzar when they sacrificed for their God: Daniel 3:28-29. Does your risk, your cost of serving, ever show anyone the Truth of who He is to you? Our true test when living behind enemy lines, as to whether we are loving and living for God is: are we still doing it when no one is watching, when the world makes it pleasing and advantageous not to, when it costs us dearly—just because He is worthy? Daniel and his friends were living with the very people that destroyed their city, their homes, and took them away from their families. By every means possible, they should have hated and resisted the Babylonians, but God used them to show true concern and love for these people, resulting in God's Name being glorified to them, and eventually in the Hebrew's return to their land. So often we feel guilty or wrong for loving or helping someone who is obviously living in sin. That is completely against all Christ teaches. Relax, and know that it is God's will that you love and accept those lost and severe sinners around you. Jesus was condemned for doing this very thing—by the self-righteous, holy ones of His day. Love, help, befriend, get interested in those who are lost and broken—genuinely. You never compromise the truth you know about your God and His principles. When asked, when challenged, when facing a choice, or when someone seeks out Christ in their lost state, you must speak Truth, no matter the cost. You must speak it in confidence and unapologetically, but you must speak it with true concern and love for them, not condescendingly or accusingly. Otherwise, don't falsely claim that you love someone when you knowingly watch them hurt themselves and fall away from God. For the sake of avoiding a hard time, or for appearances of kindness. Letting someone hurt or miss Christ is not kindness or love—it's selfishness. Daniel cared for and served the king of Babylon from the heart, and when God showed Nebuchadnezzar in a dream, that he was sinning and in danger, Daniel revealed it to him in truth and sincere worry for him, risking everything in their relationship and with his own life: Daniel 4:19, 27. Daniel could have, and maybe should have allowed Nebuchadnezzar to be punished in his proud sins for all he had done to Daniel's people. But Daniel spoke Truth in love, and warned him of the danger in his sins. Do you have the genuine love, genuine faith, and genuine humility to speak Truth in real compassion? To speak Truth ACROSS to someone as a fellow sinner, and not DOWN to someone in pity or self-righteousness? To truly care enough to worry about what will happen in their lives, more than what they think of you? Look how it affected Nebuchadnezzar: Daniel 4:34-37. This foreign king, following false gods, and completely stuck on himself, changed after Daniel's warning in love, under God's grace and work. The Book of Daniel gives a powerful plan. God’s people stand firm in their love and convictions no matter the cost, God is honored and glorified before a lost world, the Truth of God's existence and the power in His Plan are accepted by those that would never see Him otherwise.
Stop living just to be seen. Choose right, even when standing alone, far away. Stop living just to be rewarded. Accept that loss will come from doing good. Stop living to hate those who sin or hate you first. Realize they are not the enemy, they are the very reason you are behind enemy lines.
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