One of the popular ideas we hear nowadays is about ‘leaving a legacy’. Whether it’s the legacy after a spectacular event such as the Olympics, or the legacy of an outgoing government or a politician, it’s something that significant people expend much time and effort on. Leaving their legacy, making their mark upon history. Sometimes very positively, sometimes not so.
Let’s read Chapter 3 of Daniel and meet King Nebuchadnezzar once more, a very significant leader in the ancient near east. He too wanted to make his mark.
Neb was reminded that human kingdoms come and go, and as such Neb suddenly becomes very concerned about the strength and unity of his kingdom. He didn’t want his kingdom to fall and be crushed.
Neb planned to cement his kingdom together by forcing all people to bow down before the image he’d built. If they did not, there would be fatal consequences. But surely, no one would put themselves in that position, would they?
The big point here is that this King is encouraging the worship of something other than God – creator of the earth and everything in it. And the challenge to us is to be more aware of the things that we choose to worship instead of worshipping God. So, here’s a question to think over: what are our idols?
In the New Testament idolatry is not just a failure to obey God by turning to the worship of a created object or man-made god – it is anything that causes us to set our hearts on something besides God. Idolatry is anything that causes us to think less about God. The most common idols, certainly in Western society are pride, money, popularity, body image, hobbies, and the like. But even if we know this, it can be difficult to recognise the idols in our own lives that keep us from worshipping God with all our hearts. As with many negative things – it’s just so much easier to recognize them in other people!
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had refused to bow down before this golden image. To bow down to it would be to break the commandments God had given Israel to live by –commands that explicitly stated:
Their mind was made up, they would obey their God. Put yourself in their position for a moment. You know the consequences are clear. Wouldn’t it be easier to just follow the crowd on this occasion? Is this really worth risking your life for?
For these three, the issue was not what was best for their safety or prosperity. Their concern was not for their comfort or convenience. Their concern was doing what was obedient to God. They had a faith that was prepared to face the furnace. Does yours?
Today we're going to turn our reflections on Daniel 2 to prayer - make sure to read the Bible day and Journal day on Daniel 2 first!
One writer once said,
“Your prayer life is like an internal barometer of your soul.”
In other words, how regularly we pray reveals whether we genuinely believe that God can make a difference in our lives. The same could be said of our praise. How regularly we turn to praise reveals the genuine state of our hearts before God.
If there is little evidence of prayer or praise - is it because you have unwittingly begun to bow down at the altar of a different god.
The god of Netflix, the god of pleasure, the god distracting ourselves with the meaningless and trivial when the God of wisdom and power, the one who reveals deep and hidden things, the only true God beckons us to draw near to him for the love and comfort and happiness we crave.
Being a Christian won’t be hard - if you keep your head down and look to conform. But that's not a picture of Biblical faith.
Rather we will live out radically different lives in a permissive society because Jesus Christ is King and his kingdom is one day coming in all its fullness when he returns as and every knee must bow before him.
“The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
- for strength to stand up for Jesus
- for faithfulness to continue living for Jesus
- for faith - to believe in the promises of God when it would be easier not to.
Yesterday we began thinking about Daniel 2 - today some questions to think and journal over.
READ: Daniel 2
King Nebuchadnezzar’s has had a dream. Of a colossus, a huge statue, with pretty dodgy feet.
Daniel is given wisdom to speak of what God is going to accomplish in human history.
The four parts of the statue are four kingdoms. Nebuchadnezzar is told that his own, the Babylonian Empire, is represented by the head of pure gold. You can imagine at this point Nebuchadnezzar is puffing himself up. But after you…other empires will come.
The dominant view is that chest represents the Medo-Persian empire that came afterwards, followed by the Grecian Empire with Alexander the Great and finally the Roman empire - iron mixed with clay.
But the most significant thing, in the dream, is this little rock, made not by human hands that appears on the scene. It seems to be almost insignificant yet it smashes the statue into pieces and grows to become a great mountain.
In the time of the Roman empire the God of heaven will work in history to establish a kingdom that will never be destroyed. Whilst the statue once looked good, it is dwarfed by this huge mountain that fills the earth. And, by the end of the dream, the statue ends up as chaff that is blown away in the wind.
Enter Jesus in Mark’s gospel, who, at the time of the Roman Empire, comes bringing news of another kingdom, and a new king,
“The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
Now, back to Daniel, and imagine what being given understanding of this dream was like for him...
Q. How would Daniel have felt delivering this news to King Nebuchadnezzar - 'After you will come...'
Q. Why do you think Daniel was given this understanding?
Q. How does Daniel respond BEFORE he speaks to the King? What does this tell us?
Q. How would Daniel have been encouraged in his situation to continue to live for God?
What our world needs is something to hope for that will not let them down. That is what as Christians we uniquely have to offer. The people of God have always had a theology of hope. That is what enabled the exiles to survive the Babylonian captivity, that is what we must hold out to an apathetic and increasingly directionless world.
Q. How does confidence in God's eternal kingdom give us confidence to live for Jesus today?
Q. What will it look like for you to hold on to this hope?
As you think through the last month and year, I wonder if you feel like it's just not been that great!
It's important to have a similar perspective as we continue in our new series in the book of Daniel. It's not been a great few years for Daniel or for the Israelites either.
Jerusalem, the city of God: invaded.
Followed by: National humiliation - anyone who is anyone ends up being deported to Babylon.
The temple of God is sacked and its contents end up in the treasure house of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon and the most powerful man in the ancient near eastern world.
As our book begins then, it seems that not simply has a nation failed, their God seems to have failed too. If he has let all of this happen, disaster upon disaster, he can't be much of a God, can he?
It's a long reading today, but take time to read the account before moving on.
Read: Daniel 2
The King has a dream, so he calls for his advisors. Just the one problem, he's not letting them in on the dream. He's asking for something impossible! So, they stall for time.
O King if you’ve dreamed you’re falling, or have forgotten to revise for an exam the next day, or have found yourself in an out of control chariot with no brakes, we can look these things up for you in our manuals O King and tell you what they mean.
But Nebuchadnezzar is having none of it.
And so they summarise the situation in verse 10,
“There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans.”
Daniel and his friends have been carted off to Babylon. It seems that everything has gone wrong for them. The big question at the beginning of the book is that it seems their God has also failed them. How and why would they continue to live for his God...when he doesn't seem able to do anything for them?
Only as they come to see that all other 'gods' are no gods at all.
They’ve come to Babylon, they’re learning about the gods of Babylon, but when the going gets tough, those in charge of the university admit that it’s all a sham. Their gods are good for nothing, there’s no point enquiring of them.
For us, today, my question is - what is it that, should it already have gone wrong for YOU in 2016 or were it to go wrong for you in 2017, would cause you to drift away from wholehearted worship of the one true God? What 'disaster' would tempt you to think - surely my God has failed?
We must continue to remind ourselves that by nature we worship and we can be quick to substitute worship of God for worship of other things.
If a human relationship becomes your god, your husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend will always be a disappointment to you. You will find yourself longing for another.
If happiness becomes your god, you will sacrifice at it’s altar and try to fit God in around the periphery.
If comfort becomes your god you will never experience the sort of life that God desires for you Because comfort has become important to you than sacrifice.
We must remember this: all other gods are no gods at all. The empty promises of love, money and power will always let you down.
Over the past few days we’ve read about how Daniel stood up for God despite being in an environment where God wasn’t welcome.
I certainly know how difficult it can be to not conform to the world. But God calls us to be Christ like, and that sometimes may be opposite to what our friends or family want us to do.
What things do you conform to in society? Are they contrary to how God calls us to be?
Let’s pray over these things now,
Ask for God to identify the areas in your life where you aren’t putting him first.
Let’s pray that he can help us re prioritise him.
Thank God that he is in control.
The book of Daniel is intended to give us encouragement in the face of great difficulties. Despite how bleak things may appear now, God is still in control – even when it appears on the surface that he isn’t. It’s an important thing to remember especially with the increased ridicule by atheists who try and make us believe that God is past his sell by date. Whenever we see churches closing or more people saying they don’t believe in God it makes it seem like the world is winning.
However, lets read back over Daniel 1 and find out how God was in control.
If you want to dominate someone you need to rob them of their identity. King Neb did this by first changing Daniel’s name. The Hebrew name Daniel means “God will Judge” for example. And so, to rename Daniel with a Babylonian name will have had a huge psychological impact. It’s taking away Daniel’s Jewish identity.
Daniel was now surrounded by a culture that did not honour God’s standards or values and he was expected to comply.
We too, like Daniel, are surrounded by a culture that does not possess God’s values or standards. We are living in a world with a culture which is not only alien to God’s way of living, but is at times downright hostile towards it. People in this world want you to live their way rather than God’s.
When we conform to the world, we imply “God is not bothered about that way of living, those moral choices, how I conduct myself, or what I say”.
That’s what the world wants - people of conformity rather than people of distinction.
God, on the other hand wants people of distinction rather than people of conformity.
We need to stand up for our faith like Daniel. Instead of complying and indulging on the royal food and wine, Daniel choses to rely on God’s provisions. Daniel needed to demonstrate that God was still the Lord of Daniel’s life and not Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel did not want the king to be credited with his healthy appearance, but God. This was his stand and God honoured it.
God rewarded Daniel for turning to him and so God will do the same to us in our life. We need to put boundaries in place which we will not cross. For some of us that may be saying no to getting drunk, or for example saying no to sex until marriage.
Examine your heart right now and ask yourself is there some of the ‘King’s food’ which is taking the edge off your appetite for God. Just one sin that we want to keep?
God will one day honour the stands and the decisions we made for him. The Lord blessed Daniel, he lived to see the Babylonian empire overthrown by King Cyrus of Persia and he outlived his conquerors.
Let’s be encouraged by Daniel and motivated to stand up for God.
They had been in training for years for this moment, the whole nation was full of excitement believing that they could be in the final, but then came the earth-shattering blow. The whistle went, the red card came out and the ref sent off the captain of the Welsh rugby team after only 15 minutes. Their nation’s hopes and dreams of being in the final evaporated in an instant. The captain was hopeless, looking on from the sidelines only yards away, but he might as well have been hundreds of miles away as he was powerless to do anything and just wished he were back on the pitch.
And that’s just a game of rugby.
Losing one’s leaders has a powerful effect on morale; today, as we start a new series in the book of Daniel, we’re going to see this effect in action in chapter 1. It all starts with some significant sieges and some impressively long names. Let’s take a read now.
Read Daniel 1.
King Nebuchadnezzar (try saying that one backwards) of Babylon knew this tactic of keeping morale low. He began a series of attacks on Jerusalem. By this point in history, the nation of Israel had split into two, with Israel in the north and Judah in the south – now only Judah was left, after the north was conquered 200 years earlier. In Nebuchadnezzar’s first attack, they replaced the Judah’s king with a puppet king of their own, but following a further uprising the Babylonians returned and besieged the city again. Jerusalem surrendered and around 10,000 Jews were taken as captives.
In much the same way that the Welsh fans and players had all their wind knocked out of them when they saw their captain being sent off, so too the hearts and hopes of the people of Jerusalem sank to a low. They were demoralised as they saw the very best of their leaders carried off to Babylon. How would we feel if our royal family or top sportsmen were carried off by an invading army? It would devastate us. The Israelites too lost their fighting spirit and wondered what future they had.
But worst of all, they wondered where God had been and if he really was still in control.
But God is still in control despite how things appear. This was part of his plan.
God had warned the people through the prophet Isaiah that this very exile would happen because of their continued disobedience. Sin has a consequence and God needed his people to see where their rebellion would lead them.
Tomorrow we are going to look more into how God was in control of this situation. But I just want to leave you with a question to ask yourself. Do you ever doubt that God is in control? Well let me reassure you,
Psalm 37:23 says, ‘The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way.’