Dare to Be a Daniel (Introduction to Daniel)

5/18/2008

Audio Version

There was a test conducted by a university where 10 students were placed in a room. 3 lines of varying length were drawn on a card. The students were told to raise their hands when the instructor pointed to the longest line. But 9 of the students had been instructed beforehand to raise their hands when the instructor pointed to the second longest line. 1 student was the stooge. The usual reaction of the stooge was to put his hand up, look around, and realizing he was all alone, pull it back down. This happened 75% of the time, with students from grade school through high school. The researchers concluded that many would rather be president than be right. This illustration is from Chuck Swindoll. It illustrates the stories of the book of Daniel very well, in that Daniel and his friends had the courage to stake their lives on the truth, even if everyone else in the whole world was telling them they were wrong. What we will see is that this is true of Jesus Christ as well. Daniel is a type, or forerunner, or shadow of the One who was to come, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ also did not care what the world said about Him. He was going to practice the truth. Even when the whole world thought He was wrong for dying on the cross, God said He was right. And the way the Father said that Jesus was right, was by raising Him from the dead. Death and resurrection is a recurring pattern all throughout Scripture, and we will see it in the book of Daniel, as well. It takes courage to face death. Even more importantly, that courage must spring from faith in the God of resurrection.

We live in a world where courage is almost unknown. It is ironic, isn’t it? The world would tell us that we are supposed to “be ourselves,” and that everyone’s belief is right for them. Of course, they don’t really believe that, since they would say that Adolf Hitler was wrong, even though Hitler thought that what he was doing was right. But the reality of the situation is that today’s world is desperately striving to stifle all courage, all originality, all true independence. Why is that? Because the world wants everyone to walk lockstep with the world!

The buzzword today is “postmodernism.” This is a word that describes the mindset of today’s world. Today the world wants everyone’s beliefs to be right for each person. The world says woe to anyone who believes that there is any truth that is true for everyone. Postmodernism says that there is no such thing as absolute truth. In other words, postmodernism says that there is no such thing as a truth that is true for everyone. Of course, postmodernists have to believe that that very statement is true for everyone! So, they kind of shoot themselves in the foot that way. And this is only a Western phenomenon. If you were to ask a Muslim if there is truth that is true for everyone, he would say yes. In fact, most of the great world religions are exclusive. All the great world religions believe that they are right and the rest of the world is wrong. And this is what is so helpful for us about the book of Daniel. The book of Daniel tells us that we must have faith in the one true God, the only God who can resurrect us out of sin and death, who does that by pure grace, who gives us the courage to worship and serve Him only, and no one and nothing else, and, who strengthens us to stand up for what is right.

Why is the Christian faith the only true faith? There are several reasons. Firstly, we have God revealed to us in the infallible pages of the Bible. Secondly, Christianity is the only religion where God saves us, and we do not save ourselves. We are saved by grace. Thirdly, Christianity is the only faith where it is even possible for our beliefs to match up consistently with what we practice. Every other religion has a fundamental contradiction between what is believed and what is practiced. A few examples will have to be sufficient here.

Take Islam, for instance. Islam is a very works-oriented religion. You have to do the five pillars, which are the confession of faith that there is only one God and that Mohammed is his prophet, three-fold prayer every day, giving alms, celebrating the yearly feast of Ramadan, and going once in one’s life on a pilgrimage to Mecca. If you DO these things, then maybe God will have mercy on your soul. But therein lies the problem. They want mercy and grace. And yet, they have to do these five things in order to get grace. That is a contradiction. Works are the opposite of faith. In the Christian religion, works are important, but only as a response to the grace of God. We don’t do works in order to earn God’s grace. Otherwise, grace would not actually be grace.

One other example of how a world religion contradicts itself: Buddhism believes that there is no god per se, but that the world itself is god. The idea of Buddhism is to escape suffering by achieving nirvana. However, there really is no such thing as evil. So there is really no hope that evil will ever be eradicated. And yet, Buddhists hope to achieve nirvana, which is their equivalent of heaven. How can that be, if there is no such thing as evil in this world, and there is always suffering? They live as if they can get rid of evil, and yet they do not believe that there is any such thing as evil. And so there is the contradiction. It is only the Christian faith that is consistent in life and practice. Now, many would accuse Christianity of being hypocrites. And there are many hypocrites in the church today. However, just because someone calls himself a Christian does not make him a Christian. A true Christian will be consistent with regard to what he believes and what he practices. Everyone sins. However, a Christian does not believe that he is sinless in this life. He believes that he is not controlled by sin, and that his sin is forgiven, and that his life consists of a continual process of becoming more righteous. And that is, in fact, what happens. So the Christian is consistent. And this is also part of the message of Daniel.

The book of Daniel is in two parts. The first part consists of chapters 1-7. This is definitely the more familiar part of Daniel, since it has all the famous stories: Daniel and his three friends not eating the king’s food (chapter 1), the vision of the image with all the different metals (chapter 2), the three friends not bowing down to the image that Nebuchadnezzar made, and being thrown into the fiery furnace as a result, and yet not being burned (chapter 3), Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation (chapter 4), the handwriting on the wall (chapter 5), Daniel in the lion’s den (chapter 6), and the vision of the four beasts (chapter 7). Chapters 2-7 are written in Aramaic, which is very similar to Hebrew, but a different dialect. Aramaic was the language of Babylon during this time, and was the language that everyone used if they were going to interact with another nation.

Chapters 8-12 consist of visions that describe the history of the world from Daniel’s time (during the exile in the 6th century B.C.) all the way to Jesus Christ (first century A.D.). Daniel was given a picture of what the history of the world would be. This proves that God is sovereign over the world. Indeed, God’s sovereignty could be called the major theme of Daniel. God’s sovereignty should result in our courage to have faith in that Sovereign God, who is sovereign even over death itself. We can be faithful, because we know that our God will protect us and vindicate us in the end. That is the message of Daniel.

So here are some practical applications of that message. Going back to the illustration I opened with, even if everyone else is telling us that we are wrong, even if everyone else is bowing down to the god of postmodernism, we cannot. Even if everyone else is brainwashed into telling us that the shorter line is actually the longer line, we must stand on the truth. We know the truth, and the truth will set us free. Hold fast to the truth. The world right now is seeking to undermine anyone’s faith in the one true God. They will ask us how we can be so narrow-minded as to suppose that there is only one way to heaven. Nowhere is this challenge more difficult than in college. College is aimed at changing the person into the mold of the world. You cannot even assume that so-called “Christian” colleges are actually Christian. My college called itself Christian, and yet had a Hindu professor teaching students about how to implement postmodernism in the world today. They didn’t even question whether postmodernism was correct or not. They assumed it. And this has filtered down into the high schools as well. Don’t be surprised if you find this at Strasburg High School. I don’t know whether that school is postmodern or not. But it wouldn’t surprise me. It starts out as saying that that we must allow everyone to believe what they want to believe. And actually, our country was founded on that principle of religious freedom. However, the step that people have taken is to say that no one can say that anyone else is wrong.

So, dare to be a Daniel. Dare to stand alone in affirming the truth. Dare to have the firm purpose of worshiping God alone, and dare to make that known to the whole world in the face accusations of religious bigotry and narrow-mindedness. And remember that God outnumbers the world.

Unsatisfied Children

Matthew 11:16-19

5/4/2008

No Audio Available

I’m sure you know people like this. They never smile at parties. They never cry at funerals. They are never impressed with something incredible. Instead, they wear a stone face all the time, as if to say, “Don’t you have anything better than that?” They will not be shown to love any part of life. Because if they did show something any emotion in life, it might be an indication that they might be, you know, human or something. I know and have met an enormous number of teenagers who are like this. They are bored with life, and they aren’t even 20 years old yet! They are a little bit like the Jews of Jesus’ day.

Now, Jesus is coming to the end of His talk on John the Baptist. We have seen that John the Baptist is a prophet of the coming Kingdom. That is stupendous. He is the Elijah whom people were expecting! People should have been excited about this, and should have started confessing their sins, and repenting of their sins, because the Kingdom of heaven was at hand! And yet, that was not the reaction of the people to John. However, it was not just John they rejected. It was also Jesus Christ Himself! Jesus tells us a very pointed parable to illustrate just what He means. Let’s follow the details closely.

First of all, Jesus wants to make a comparison. So, He compares the present generation of Jews to children sitting in the marketplace. However, there is a difficulty here. Is Jesus saying that it is the Jews themselves who are calling out to the other children? Or is it Jesus and John who are calling out to the other children? I believe that the children who are calling out in verse 17 are meant to represent John and Jesus. Jesus tells us a little allegory. The main point of this allegory is that it doesn’t matter how the Gospel is presented. It can be forcefully presenting judgment, a “fire and brimstone” sermon. Or, it can be a gentle, winsome sermon. If people do not want to hear it, they will not hear it.

So, Jesus is the one who played the flute, trying to get the Jews to dance. Flute-playing here means playing at wedding. On the level of the story, then, the children are playing a make-believe wedding. Yet the other children won’t play along. They don’t want to play wedding. So, the first children say, “You don’t want to play wedding? Okay, how about playing a funeral?” The other children won’t play that either. We are to understand that everything in between is also included. The first children tried everything to get the other children to play along, but the other children would not.

Jesus explains the meaning of the story. John came as an austere man, who did not go to parties. He was a Nazarene. He lived a life very similar to a monk’s life. His message was a dirge, a funeral song. He preached judgment on the people. But the people didn’t like that message. “It’s too depressing! Play something else!” they said.

However, when Jesus came along, He went to parties. You will remember that the first party He went to was the wedding at Cana, where He turned the water into wine. Jesus was no monk. In fact, He went to enough parties that He got accused of being a glutton and a drunkard! Furthermore, He obviously kept the wrong company, in contrast to John the Baptist, who hardly had any company. Here is the point: John and Jesus preached the same thing! They both preached the kingdom of God. So, Jesus is here saying that the form of how it was preached makes no difference if the substance of the preaching is the same. This is extremely important for us to remember as we listen to sermons. We should not let ourselves become distracted by the manner of presentation. There are good preachers and not so good preachers. But many of them are faithful to preach the Gospel, and that is the important thing. We should listen for the Gospel. If we don’t hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, risen and ascended into heaven, then we should stop listening. However, if we do hear that Gospel, then we should be all ears in order to hear what God has to say to us. This is the main point of application for us. Listen for the Gospel, and do not be distracted by the form in which it comes to us.

There are several other very interesting applications to draw from this passage as well. For instance, (as a second application) the fact that gluttony is mentioned in the same breath as drunkenness ought to be very suggestive to us. It is not difficult for us to see that drunkenness is a sin. It is to be enslaved to alcohol. However, it is just as easy to be enslaved to food. Now, not every person who is overweight is a glutton. We need to remember that. However, gluttony is a sin. And it is a sin no less enslaving than drunkenness.

Thirdly, notice that alcohol itself is not evil. Jesus would not have been accused of being a drunkard if He drank no alcohol at all. Indeed, Jesus turned the water into wine at Cana. And that was His very first miracle! The Bible is clear on this issue: alcohol in and of itself is not evil, and it is not a sin to partake of alcohol. The Bible is equally clear, however, that drunkenness is a sin. We need to be very careful not to be judgmental about this issue. Unfortunately, many Christians rush to judgment. On the one hand, many will say that if someone else drinks at all, then they cannot even be a Christian at all. Such people judge Jesus Christ Himself not to be a Christian. If you think that it is a sin to drink alcohol at all, then you are saying that Jesus Himself sinned in this very way. There is no getting around the text of Scripture. Jesus did drink on occasion. Jesus never got drunk. And that is the proper balance, if one is going to drink. It is perfectly okay if someone does not drink, however. There are many very good reasons for someone not to drink, the most important being if they have a problem with alcoholism. If a person cannot restrain themselves to moderation, then they shouldn’t drink at all. However, it is also possible to judge people wrongfully from the other direction. People who think it is okay to drink alcohol often pass judgment on teetotallers, saying something like this, “Well, they are impinging on my Christian freedom. How dare they! And how dare they think I am not a Christian just because I drink every now and then!” Read Romans 14:1-4, 9-15 on the weaker and stronger brothers.

A fourth application has to do with evangelism. It is often thought that we should not keep bad company. We are told that bad company corrupts good morals. This is true to a certain extent. However, this is not always what Jesus did. Yes, He had His twelve disciples. That is where He spent a great deal of His time. But when it came to evangelism, Jesus went where the people gathered. He ate with tax collectors and sinners. He was a friend of sinners. Isn’t this ironic? For the Jews reproached Him for doing the very thing that is so wonderful for us! He was our Friend. He is the only such true Friend, who will take upon Himself our sin and guilt. What a Friend! I wonder what would happen today, though, if a minister you knew walked into a bar in order to evangelize. What would you think? Would you be scandalized? Would that cause you problems? You see, there is a difference between engaging in sinful activity at a party, wherever that party happens to be, versus going to a party in order to evangelize. Of course, any principle can be stretched too far. It is not appropriate to go to a place where you know that great sin is going to take place, because you are going to “evangelize,” when what you really want is to join in with the others in their sinful practices. A rule of thumb here is if you are tempted to the kind of sin you know is going to happen at such a party, it is best not to go there, lest you be tempted as well. However, in our churches, I suspect that this is not our difficulty. Our difficulty is that we will not go where the people are at all. We will not go and evangelize. And that is often just an excuse on our part. We use the fact that there might be sinful people there as an excuse not to go share the Gospel. In other words, we are too good for Jesus. We are not willing to do as Jesus did. I can hear someone saying, “Yes, but Jesus was perfect, and did not have to worry about sin. I am not perfect, and therefore I shouldn’t go where the people are, because I might sin.” By that argument, no evangelism would ever get done. We are always tempted to sin everywhere we go, not just parties. The question is whether we will love the people enough to go. Jesus thinks we should.

Lastly, Jesus tells us that Wisdom is proved right by her actions. In other words, even if John and Jesus don’t have very many visible signs of success in their ministry, they still did the right thing. It is easy to get discouraged when we don’t see results. But who knows what that seed will do when once planted. Do we not plant in hope and faith the physical seed we put in the ground? Then let us plant with hope and faith the spiritual seed that we plant in people’s hearts. This is the proper reaction to what Jesus has preached about the Kingdom of God.