Note: This is an edited version of my final sermon preached at the Westmoreland Church of Christ on Sunday, 15 September 2013.
The prophetic book of Daniel is a fascinating book for a number of reasons. There are the stories of profound faith in a secular society. There are the apocalyptic visions that continue to plague the minds of scholars. There are the unique historical comments that give both validity and texture to the narrative. Yet, as is often the case with prophetic literature, we often miss the lessons related to spiritual development and leadership that are present in Daniel. As we walk through the text, it seems to me that there are four lessons that Daniel teaches us:
1. Take advantage of opportunities (Daniel 1-2)
Daniel and his friends were stellar young men, spiritual and political leaders in the making. However they soon found themselves being carted across the sand to the massive capital city of the Babylonian empire. Daniel and his friends were quickly enrolled in a leadership training program, preparing them to be governors and administrators. Yet, part of the training meant eating food from the king’s kitchen. This was unthinkable for Daniel and his friends. They chose instead a kosher vegetarian diet and were ultimately judged “better than all the magicians and enchanters in [the] whole kingdom” (1:20). As a result of his faithfulness, Daniel was granted the opportunity to interpret the king’s dream. Daniel’s words were so pleasing that Daniel was promoted all the way up to the king’s chief advisor. What opportunities are being presented to you that you need to take advantage of?
2. Stand up for your convictions (Daniel 3)
How strong is your commitment to God? It’s a question that all of us think we know the answer to. “I would be willing to die for you,” and, “I swear that I do not know Jesus!” came from the lips of the same person. This same man, the apostle Peter, would late write that we must be confident in our commitment so that we can answer those who challenge us about our faith (1 Peter 3:14-17). This happened to three of Daniel’s friends. The king set up a big statue of himself that could be seen for miles around. When music played, everyone was to bow down and worship the statue. Daniel’s friends, however, did not. When questioned, they stood firm in their convictions and told the king they only worshipped God. Upon failing to bow a second time, they were tossed into a scorching furnace. However, an angel was sent to protect them. When the king saw this, he asked for forgiveness from Daniel’s friends and made a proclamation that their God would be worshipped instead of the king.
3. Endure Suffering (Daniel 6)
And while worshipping God was allowed in Babylon, it would not last forever. Eventually a new king came to power who did not recognize Daniel’s God. And although Daniel served this new king as faithfully as he had the previous king, he was once again forced to worship God in secret. Well, sort of. Some of this new king’s advisors knew that Daniel was religiously different. They came up with a plan to remove Daniel from power. They would propose that the king sign a decree that states that people can only worship the king (sound familiar?). If they did not, they would be thrown into a den of hungry, angry lions (again, sound familiar?). The new king agreed, and Daniel was arrested almost immediately. The king’s hands were legally tied. Daniel must die for his faith. Yet, during the night, Daniel was protected from the lions. When the king discovered this miracle the next morning, he proclaimed that Daniel’s God was the only true God! Jesus said that we should count ourselves blessed when we are persecuted for our faith (Matthew 5:10-12). It is not fun. Yet, in enduring suffering, we proclaim our faith.
4. Stay Faithful Until the End (Daniel 12)
The book of Daniel ends with a prolonged report from an angel that reminds the reader that “mortals are not in control of their destiny but God, who alone determines times and seasons.” This report ends, as does so much of the Old Testament writings, with a hopeful message regarding the future. We often miss it amongst the chaos and crisis that we often see. Yet it is there. “Blessed are those who persevere. . . .But you, go your way, and rest; you shall rise for your reward at the end of the days” (12:12-13). The theme of reward and resurrection are interwoven throughout Scripture. It is a comforting reminder that all of this stuff that we endure is worth it. We may never face a furnace or a firing squad, yet we are still commanded to remain steadfast in our faith.