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Sunday, January 7
The Book of Daniel Sermon Series, Week 1
Scripture: Daniel 1:1-21
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon
Happy New Year to all of you! I trust that you enjoyed Christmas and New Year’s. We had a chance to see some family over the last week and to enjoy some rest. We even had the chance for boys to learn how to ski at Mulligan’s Hollow, which, I’m fast learning, is one of the perks of living in this town – skiing five minutes away!
Over the next six weeks we are going to turn our attention to the book of Daniel for a series we’re calling “Between Two Worlds.” Daniel is a captivating and strange book located among the prophets in the Old Testament. It’s weird in a lot of ways. First, it reads like two distinct books. The first six chapters are six distinct stories of Daniel and his companions living faithfully in exile. These are stories that any Sunday School worth its salt has told over and over again. These are stories of dreams, of fiery furnaces, of dinner parties disrupted by a mysterious finger writing on a wall, and of lions’ dens.
The second six chapters are really strange images of apocalypse that John incorporates into Revelation but that seem not rooted in reality at all. What’s even stranger is that Daniel is written in two languages – Aramaic and Hebrew – but these languages don’t line up cleanly with the story/apocalypse distinction. Chapters 1 and 8-12 are written in Hebrew, and chapters 2-7 are in Aramaic, a language that is closely related to Hebrew, but a different language nonetheless. To be honest, it’s just weird.
So, why Daniel?
Because Daniel is a story about what it means to live at home while not really at home. It is a story of faithfulness in exile. It is the story of people living between two worlds, and if we’re living our lives shaped by God’s Word, then we know that we continue to live between those two worlds. This connects well with ideas from Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy that we studied this fall, and so we’re going to take some time to live into Daniel to see what it has to say to us today.
One more note before I dig into Daniel 1 – Daniel is a series of six stories of faithful heroism. I suspect that many of us don’t feel heroic in our faith or in our life. We’re just trying to live our lives to the best of our abilities, but just because you don’t feel heroic does not mean that these stories aren’t for you. If the Bible really is relevant to life, then why are there no stories about grocery shopping or paying bills or dieting in the Bible? How do we relate? It’s like watching the Marvel Avengers movies, enjoying them for being diversions, but leaving the theater thinking, “Well, I’m glad Captain America can defeat evil, but was he ever worried about whether he had enough liability insurance?” But when you stop to think about it, you can see that the underlying narratives of these stories of heroism can be strongly influential in how we perceive the world and live in it.
So, let’s dive into Daniel together. This book takes place early in the sixth century before Christ as the Babylonian empire is conquering Judah and Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon doesn’t just defeat foreign peoples and leave them where they were living. No, his practice was to take many of the people away from the land to serve him in Babylon. Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael are among the Jewish nobility taken into the king’s service, and they will spend their lives serving within the Babylonian government.
Daniel takes place in a real place and time. There are historical markers all over it – Babylon and Jerusalem, Jehoiakim and Nebuchadnezzer. Just like Daniel, we live in a real place and time. People telling the stories of our lives would study about who is president, what the laws of the land are, who taught us, and so much more because these are all pieces of the puzzle that makes each of us who we are. Real people in real places with real lives here on earth.
But the witness of Scripture is that God’s kingdom is a reality among us right now. It is a real thing, visible to those with eyes to see it, but invisible to many.
You’ll notice that our series logo is a Venn diagram. Venn diagrams take two independent things and show where they overlap. I’ve provided a couple of examples of these for you on the screen…
In our logo, you have blue shade on the left that represents your very real and important life on earth, and you have the yellow shade on the right that represents God’s kingdom. You live in the space where these overlap – between two worlds – and living there takes attention and intentionality.
So the question today and for the next couple of weeks is this: How do you live in this space?
Today I’ll offer three brief examples from Daniel 1 that show how Daniel lived between two worlds and how his life can guide us as we do the same today. First, Daniel had to trust that God was in charge even when things weren’t going his way. Daniel 1:2 says that the Lord delivered the king and Judah into the hands of Babylon. Imagine with me that you were a citizen of Jerusalem when this happened. You’re living in the center of your political and social life, and you believe that God is in charge and wants what’s best for you. Nowhere on your consciousness would be the idea that God would undo your peaceful reality, right? We’re all like that, I’m sure. When life is humming along the way we want, it’s easy to trust in God’s goodness, but life often has some serious difficulties – things we wouldn’t even wish on our worst enemies – and we wonder where in the world God is when those things happen.
Babylonian captivity for Daniel and others could have been the end of the story. They could have thrown up their hands and wondered if believing in God was worth it. After all, the signs sure were pointing against God being worthy of their attention. But when Daniel gets to Babylon, he doubles down on his trust in God. When the king demands that Daniel have a specific diet, Daniel demurs, and the Lord intervenes in Daniel’s favor, allowing him to be faithful and prospering him even in this foreign land. And God continues to work among Daniel and his four friends, granting them knowledge and understanding, traits that would be necessary for their successfully living between two worlds.
One of the ongoing themes of Scripture is learning how to trust that God is at work even when all signs point otherwise. In our world today filled with despair and hopelessness, filled with unwanted diagnoses and unexpected news, Daniel teaches us that God is at work even there – even in the places where it seems least likely. Perhaps God is especially at work in the unexpected places.
Second, from Daniel we learn how to be patient. We can read these first six chapters of Daniel in less than half of an hour, but those chapters span Daniel’s life, which means even in his final years, he did not return to his home. Yet, Daniel used his time wisely. He learned how to be a part of the Babylonian court, but he remained faithful to what God wanted for him even while he was there. He learned. He watched. He prayed. He listened for God to speak. He spoke up when God prompted. But most of the time, Daniel was just waiting to see the goodness of the Lord in a foreign land. I can imagine that he had many days and weeks where he wondered what God was up to and when things would change.
So we must learn patience. In our world of instant gratification, patience is difficult and hard to come by. Our waiting rooms are filled with TVs to distract us from waiting. We’ve learned how to make lines not seem as long by providing distractions and entertainment along the way. I’d venture that many of you are like me – when I have a few moments of down time, the phone is out to make my time not feel wasted.
Daniel is not alone in this. When Paul is writing to the churches in Rome, he encourages them in this way. “We also have joy with our troubles, because we know that these troubles produce patience. And patience produces character, and character produces hope. And this hope will never disappoint us, because God has poured out his love to fill our hearts” (Rom. 5:3-5, NCV). While we yearn for things to be better, to be made right, we also must be patient because God is at work even when we struggle to perceive it.
Finally, be discerning. Daniel will spend decades in the Babylonian Court. Surely he is seeing and experiencing things that pushed against his own faith and upbringing in Judah. Yet I find it truly interesting that Daniel doesn’t run around the court filled with criticism and contempt, constantly telling the Babylonians how they’re getting it wrong or how evil they are. Rather, Daniel quietly preserves his integrity and witness by choosing the opportune times to assert himself. Daniel has learned the art of being in the world but not of it.
His vegetable-only diet is a great example of this. This dietary choice goes way beyond the kosher laws of the Hebrew Bible, but he had discerned that this was a way God could be glorified in his own life, bearing witness to his captors about God’s goodness. We all need to learn how to be in the world but not of it, and, frankly, this will look different from one person to the next. Some can handle more exposure than others. Some have a calling into harsher mission fields than others. As a church, we should be watchful and encouraging to each other in our following Jesus about how we are in the world but not of it. It’s part of living between two worlds.
So, my friends. God’s got this. Even if it feels right now like God has let it all go, know that God has a purpose and a plan for your life and for human history that ends well for you and for the whole creation. Be patient. Persevere in trouble. Pray when you’re worried. Trust when you’re doubting. Leave space for God to work. And encourage one another in living faithfully in every mission field to which God sends you.
 New Interpreter’s Bible, p. 1232.