This morning we are starting a brand-new series called “Stories of Courage” and we’re going to talk about standing out. How do we stand out in our time, in our culture, in our place in life; in the right ways, at the right time, and for the right reasons? If we can get a grasp on that, I believe it will change each one of our lives for good and for God’s glory.
We are all well aware of the fact that when we compromise and make the wrong decisions it can have a profound effect on the direction, the success, and the future of our lives. And so this is where were going to learn from the book of Daniel to take a stand for the things that matter the most. We’re going to look at five different stories as Daniel stands up to the king and stands for what he knows to be true. And so over the next five weeks we are going to look at standing out, standing up, standing strong, standing in, and standing firm.
Let’s get started and see how we can stand up for that which is true and for that which is right. First let me just give you a little background to the story before we read this chapter. Now for many decades, the prophets of God had warned the rulers of Judah that their sin would lead to the nations ruin. They saw a day coming when God would bring the Babylonian army to destroy Jerusalem and take the people captive to Babylon.
100 years before the fall of Jerusalem, the prophet Isaiah had proclaimed this message, “The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon” (Isaiah 39:6-7). That is the warning that God had given them 100 years prior to that fatal event.
Isaiah’s contemporary Micah shared the same burden, he said, “Writhe in agony, O Daughter of Zion, like a woman in labor, for now you must leave the city to camp in the open field. You will go to Babylon; there you will be rescued. There the Lord will redeem you out of the hand of your enemies” (Micah 4:10).
Now over the last several weeks, we saw how the prophet Habakkuk wrestled with God trying to understand how He could use the godless Babylonians to discipline his own people. And the prophet Jeremiah was one who lived to see these prophecies come true, he came to understand that God would rather have his people living as captives in a pagan land then living like pagans in the Holy Land. And what’s so amazing about this, is that our God is so wise and powerful that he can allow humanity to make personal choices, right or wrong, and still accomplish his purposes in the world. In the Scriptures today, we see him doing just that through king Nebuchadnezzar, an evil king who ransacked the temple of God, burned it down, and destroyed Jerusalem. And as if that wasn’t enough, he attempted to make the worship of God obsolete, by indoctrinating God’s people into the Babylonian culture and thereby destroying the faith of future generations.
So as we begin in Daniel chapter 1, Nebuchadnezzar comes to destroy Jerusalem, and in verse one we read: “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.
3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king's palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. 5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king's table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king's service.
6 Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.
8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel, 10 but the official told Daniel, "I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you."
11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 "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.
15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.
17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.
18 At the end of the time set by the king to bring them in, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king's service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” NIV
Now just imagine if you can, four Hebrew teenagers, being kidnapped from their homes in the palaces of Jerusalem, and moved far away to Babylon. This was a very intentional and strategic plan to indoctrinate these young boys into the Babylonian culture. In verse three, the king ordered the chief of his court officials, “to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king's palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king's table.” You see, Nebuchadnezzar wanted them to speak like he speaks, to think like he thinks, and to eat like he eats; so that they may be qualified to serve him. In other words, he wanted them to think like a Babylonian, to behave like a Babylonian, and to have the faith of a Babylonian.
So what we find here, is that these teenagers were facing a difficult time. You see, King Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t interested in putting them to work like slaves; he wanted these young Hebrews to become good Babylonians. And he uses the same strategy that our spiritual enemy, Satan, still uses today. As Christians today, we face the same difficulties as Satan tempts us to become “conformed to this world” (Romans 12:1-2). You see, the Prince of Darkness wants those who are followers of Christ to think like he thinks, to believe what he believes, and to behave like he would want us to behave. And let me assure you, that there is a full on spiritual attack against Christians today, as Satan lies, deceives, and tries to lure people away from God’s best in Christ.
It is for this reason that the Bible says, “See to it – that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:12-13). Therefore, we must remain firm and steadfast… we can’t compromise our faith and values… because it’s completely impossible to be a “sort of” Christian and have any spiritual success in this world. You’ve got to make the presence of God a priority in your life, where you seek Him and depend on him, where you’re living according to His Word, where it’s feeding you, renewing your mind; and you’re learning to walk by faith and not by sight. You cannot be a sort of, kind of Christian, and have the life of victory that God wants you to have.
In fact, that’s why the Bible says in Ephesians 6:11, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.” So “therefore” it says in verse 13, “put on the full armor of God” …You know, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes on your feet, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit… You put on the full armor of God, “so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground. And after you’ve done everything… Stand” (Ephesians 6:13). Sometimes you have just got to take a stand for what matters most, in the right way, at the right time, and for the right reasons.
You see, if you never take a stand, if you’re always bending, always blending in, then you’re not truly committed to following Jesus, because when you follow him you will be different; you’ll be set apart. Because the word holy means to be set apart. The Bible says it this way, “Do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14-16). So there are times when you have to face difficult times and stand out if you are truly following Jesus. And that’s what we’re going to see happening in the life of Daniel and his three friends.
Now they were no longer surrounded by the things of God in Jerusalem, no longer do they have the influence of godly parents and rabbis, from now on they would be saturated in the wisdom of the world, this deceitful wisdom of Babylon. And sometimes… now this is important… sometimes God’s people have to study things that don’t agree with God’s word. Sometimes you need to learn the wisdom and the language of the world, but like Daniel and his friends we also need to do our best to remain grounded in our faith. As Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).
King Nebuchadnezzar’s goal was to take these four boys, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, and brainwash them, strip them of their identity, and force upon them a diet that was contrary to the laws of the Hebrew people. And so the first thing on his agenda, in verse seven, is that they were given new names. They were given new names because their Hebrew names were connected to the worship of Yahweh, the One true God. As a matter of fact, each of the four boys had God's name in their own name. Daniel which means "God is my judge" was changed to Belteshazzar after the Babylonian God named "Bel". Hananiah which means "Jehovah is gracious" became Shadrach after the moon god; Mishael which means "Who is like God?" became Meshach after “Aku" another one of their gods; and Azariah which means "Jehovah is my helper" became Abednego after “Nego" another pagan god.
And so now all their new names were tied to the worship of these false, pagan gods. You see, the king hoped that these new names would help them to forget their God, to remind them that now they’re serving pagan gods, that they don’t serve Yahweh anymore, and so they were stripped of their identity. Nebuchadnezzar’s intention was that they were to gradually become more like the Babylonians with whom they were living and studying. But the problem was, they could change their home, their textbooks, their menu, and their names, but they could not change their hearts.
These boys made a daring decision… look at verse eight… it says, “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.” He and his friends resolved, they determined in their hearts, that they would obey God and they refused to go along with the crowd, they refused to compromise their faith, and they refused to become conformed to the world around them. They were like, “You can call me names, you can call me whatever you want, but I know who I am and your name doesn’t define who I am. Inwardly I will always worship and serve my God, but my name is not worth standing up for.” But right here, this is where they draw the line, they take a stand when their actions, when the food that they eat, might dishonor their God. And so Daniel said, “I will not disobey my God. I’ve resolved not to defile myself with the royal food and wine.”
And I love this, because he could’ve done what I’ve done so many times, where I’ve compromised, where I have rationalized and done something that I know wasn’t really right. But what Daniel did, was that he made his decision beforehand, he resolved in his heart ahead of time, before he was faced with the temptation… he determined what he would do and what he would not do. He determined beforehand and that’s why he was successful; he had already resolved to do what is right.
And I’ll tell you, for followers of Christ, your success in your walk with God, will be determined by what you decide ahead of time. Maybe today there are some things you need to determine in your heart. You know, where you need to decide now that no matter what happens I will always do this or I will never do that. Today you make that daring decision to serve God and honor him.
Now look at the wisdom of Daniel in verse 12. I love this; instead of making a big scene, instead of claiming a religious exemption, instead of throwing a big fit, Daniel presented a plan to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over them. "Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 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."
Now 10 days wasn’t very long considering that they had three years of training ahead of them, but God showed them favor. You know, in the Proverbs the Lord says, “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him” (Proverbs 16:7). And so the head servant agreed with their plan even though it was contrary to the king’s orders. And verse 15 tells us, “At the end of the 10 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.”
Now it’s easy to read through to the end of the chapter and miss the importance of this one little verse. This wasn’t just a one-time event. We need to understand that they stood out from the other students, day by day, week by week, and month by month for three years. For breakfast they stood out, for lunch they stood out, and for dinner they stood out. They made one decision that set them apart again and again and again.
And this is important, because if you’re fully following Jesus Christ, you’re going to find the closer you get to him, the more often you’re going to be standing out. You’re not going to be ashamed because of what he’s done for you. And all of us have opportunities to stand out for Christ. Each one of us can resolve in our hearts that this is where I’m willing to be different. Each one of us can draw a line in the sand and say this is where I’m making a choice to be different. I don’t care if people make fun of me, this is what God is calling me to do, and I’m going to stand out in the right ways, at the right time, and for the right reasons.
And Jesus promised, “My father will honor the one who serves me” (John 12:26). We see that here in verse 17, “To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. At the end of the time set by the king to bring them in, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king's service” (Daniel 1:17-19).
God gave them supernatural understanding, he gave them the ability to interpret visions and dreams, and they literally redirected the course of history because they stood up for what mattered most. Now had they compromised, had they not had the courage to stand out, nothing historical would of happened; but they cared about the honor of their God and determined to serve him, standing out in the right ways, at the right time, and not to draw attention to themselves, but to honor God.
Today as we close, would you take a stand with me for God and his Word? Would you be willing to stand out rather than blending in? You see, this is a super important question, because if you’re always blending in, then you’re not fully committed to following Christ. The bottom line is this, we don’t stand out to make a statement; we stand out because Christ has called us to be different. We stand out because Jesus Christ stood and died for us, and he’s called us not to be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). So we stand, because Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to earth and took a stand to show us God’s love. He mingled with those that the religious people rejected: the sinners, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, and he loved them. He forgave their sins and invited them to change.
In the same way, when we call on him, he makes us new. Every sin is forgiven, we’re filled with the Holy Spirit, and we’re changed. We stand for Jesus because we need him, we need his grace, and we need his forgiveness. You see, Jesus said, "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). Today you get to take a stand, to draw the line in the sand, and to determine to stand out. Would you make a public statement that you don’t care what anybody says, you don’t care what the person you’re with thinks, you don’t care what your neighbors say, you just know that you need God’s grace, you need His love, because only he can save you. Are you willing to stand out this morning?
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
July 19, 2015