THRIVING IN BABYLON
These are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone on Sunday, October 4, 2020.
Part 1 of Thriving in Babylon.
In our current cultural environment, Christians are being told that if we want to get along, we should shut up and go along with the sweeping changes in the moral and spiritual climate. Shut up about the Bible. Shut up about standards of truth and goodness. Shut up about the definition of marriage and the sanctity of life. Shut up about God's moral standards. Shut up about Jesus being the only way to God. Just shut up!
This is why the Lord led me to begin our new teaching series, Thriving in Babylon. We'll explore how to be faithful to God in a godless culture. Daniel did it, so can we.
I've been looking forward to this series for two years, ever since I came across Chris Hodge's book, The Daniel Dilemma: How to Stand Firm and Love Well in a Culture of Compromise. I recommend the book and sermon series by the same name:
Before we go any further, let's read Daniel, chapter one.
It is possible to thrive in a culture that is not friendly to Christianity. It is possible to stand firm in faith, to be friends with God, and to be friends with people who don't know God. Daniel did it, so can we. The first chapter of the book of Daniel points to two keys to thriving in faith. The first is:
KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON - Daniel 1:1-7.
We learn from Daniel that to stand firm in faith, we have to know what's going on around us. Understanding the times helps us navigate the challenges to our faith. There was something going on in Daniel 1.
THE MORAL AND SPIRITUAL COLLAPSE OF JUDAH - verse 1.
The first clue to the times was the moral and spiritual collapse of Judah. In 605 BC, the king of Babylon captured Jerusalem, raided its temple, and deported its best and brightest young men to serve in his royal court. Babylonian armies returned in 597 and again in 586, at which time they burned Jerusalem to the ground and deported the survivors.
How did the nation that belonged to God collapse in such a dramatic fashion? For over a century, Isaiah and other prophets warned God's people that they were in trouble because the leaders of Judah were unfaithful, idolatrous, immoral, and unjust. They broke covenant with God over and over again. Finally, God removed his hand of protection and the armies of Babylon swept in.
Warren Wiersbe writes:
"God would rather have his people living in shameful captivity in a pagan land than living like pagans in the Holy Land ..." (The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, 2007, p. 1344).
The moral and spiritual collapse was not the only sign of the times. There was also the power and purpose of Babylon.
THE POWER AND PURPOSE OF BABYLON - verses 2-7.
The city of Babylon began its rise in 620 BC and soon became the dominant power in the region. Under Nebuchadnezzar, its empire stretched from the Arabian Gulf to the border of Egypt. The goal was world domination.
Nebuchadnezzar had a two pronged strategy: 1) military conquest and 2) worldview conquest - capture of the hearts and minds of captured leaders and use them to run the empire. We can see the program for worldview conquest in verses 3-7:
Give the captives a new religion: verse 2. Nebuchadnezzar put articles from God's temple in Jerusalem in the temple of Marduk in Babylon. The message was clear, "My god has captured your god. So, its time to change who you worship."
Give the captives a new education: verses 3-4. The goal was to put the teenagers through a three year program of re-education in the Babylonian worldview.
Give the captives a new loyalty: verse 5. Show them that the king was good and generous and would provide for them in return for their allegiance.
Give the captives a new identity: verses 6-7. Daniel and his friends had names that reflected their faith in Yahweh, the God of the Bible, so Babylon gave them new names that reflected the Babylonian worldview; for example, Daniel means God is my judge, but his new name was Belteshazzar, meaning Lady - goddess -, protect the king
WHAT'S GOING ON TODAY?
In order to stay faithful to Jesus, we must understand what's going on in the world around us. Otherwise, we'll be blindsided and our faith may be shaken. As we look around at our own culture, there are many parallels with ancient Israel and Babylon. Here are three examples:
THE CULTURE IS HOSTILE
There used to be a cultural consensus about what was true, good, right, and wrong. Not any more. We live in a world very similar to Daniel's. Our culture does not support our faith and in many ways tries to undermine it. Rod Dreher, author of The Benedict Option (2017), wrote about this:
"Today we can see that we've lost on every front and that the swift and relentless floods of secularism have overwhelmed our flimsy barriers. Hostile secular nihilism has won the day in our nation's government, and the culture has turned powerfully against traditional Christians (p. 9).
Wikipedia on nihilism: "Most commonly, nihilism refers to existential nihilism, according to which life is believed to be without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. Moral nihilism asserts that nothing is morally right or wrong. Among others, nihilism may also take the form of epistemological nihilism, according to which knowledge is impossible ..."
Dreher believes we've lost the culture war and we've lost the public square. He is blunt:
"American Christians are going to have to come to terms with the brute fact that we live in a culture in which our beliefs make increasingly less sense. We speak a language that the world more and more cannot hear or finds offensive to its ears" (p. 12).
You know what this means for faithful Christians? You are viewed as a threat to society. You are a bigot and a hater. We're told: "Believe whatever you want in your mind, but don't you dare speak publicly about your beliefs. Don't even teach your faith and morality to your children. Shut up and bow down to the new gods of secularism." Religious liberty is at risk.
THE COLLEGE IS DANGEROUS
There are faithful Christian college administrators and faculty, but they are outnumbered by aggressive secularists who are on a mission, not to educate our kids, but to indoctrinate them. A 2007 survey of 1300 college faculty members reveals what our students face:
The proportion of faculty who self-identified as atheist is over five times the proportion of people who self-identified as atheist in the general public.
The American public is much more likely to say that religion is very important in their everyday lives and to attend religious services more frequently than faculty.
Among faculty, secular/liberal is clearly the dominant ideology as compared to religious/conservative.
Faculty have positive feelings toward Jews, Buddhists, Catholics, and Atheists. However, faculty feel most unfavorably about Evangelical Christians. This is the only religious group about which a majority of non-Evangelical faculty have negative feelings.
Faculty are far less likely to endorse Evangelical Christians ex- pressing their beliefs in American politics.
Found in: Religious Beliefs & behavior of College Faculty, by Gary A.Tobin and Aryeh K. Weinberg. Copyright © 2007 Institute for Jewish & Community Research.
THE CHURCH IS COMPROMISED
Many churches have compromised on the centrality of Jesus Christ. In an attempt to fill seats, they have shifted their focus away from the person, work, and radical teachings of Jesus, to shallow self-help talks. Their message is: God is your life coach who makes your life better, easier, and healthier. Consumer faith has replaced committed, cross-shaped, faith.
Many churches have compromised on worship. Essentials such as prayer, serious Bible teaching, and Holy Communion have been replaced by smoke machines and emotionalism. The church has drifted from its mission and no longer forms souls but caters to selves.
Many churches now reject the moral teachings of the Bible in order to fit into our godless culture. Al Mohler, in his book, The Gathering Storm, comments that many churches are happy to "capitulate to the secular agenda" (p. 7).
That's what's going on. Does it seem overwhelming? Yes, the tide is against Jesus-following, Bible-believing, holy-living Christians. We should not be surprised. The apostle Peter explained this to the first Christians and it still applies today:
(1 Peter 4:12) Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
We can stand firm. Don't let events rock your faith. Stay tuned in to Jesus through it all. In the face of a flood of Babylonian indoctrination, Daniel found a way. He was a sixteen year old student who showed remarkable faith, character, and commitment. He kept covenant with the Lord. How did he do it?
Daniel knew what was going on and he also knew how to get along under any circumstances.
KNOW HOW TO GET ALONG - Verses 8-21
That's the second key to living to thriving in Babylon. Daniel figured out how to get along in without compromising his faith. How did he manage that? He relied on three principles that he learned from Israel's history with God. We can rely on these also.
EVERYTHING CHANGES, BUT GOD REMAINS
The first principle is everything changes, but God remains. Daniel was from the city of God. His tribe was part of the people of God. His name reflected his faith in God. His life was shaped by the Word of God. All his life he'd lived under the covenant protection and provision of God. Until now.
Did Daniel wonder, "Does being far from home means being far from God?" New city, new name, new language, new knowledge. New god? Absolutely not. Everything changes, but God remains. The proof?
(Daniel 1:17) 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.
God was there with Daniel through all the changes, including through three years of a hostile education system.
No matter what happens, remember this: God is still here. He remains on the throne. God is always powerful and active in our lives.
1 Peter is guide book for living in changing times in a world that does not welcome the Christian faith. It's written to "exiles" and its full of truths and principles that we can rely on. Peter assures us of three realities that never change, no matter what:
(1 Peter 1:3-6) Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
Jesus is alive. God is powerfully shielding us. Salvation is real. Everything changes, but these realities remain. Hold on to them.
EVERYTHING CHANGES, BUT PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE
The second principle is everything changes, but people are people.
Everyone needs love and everyone want respects. So, that's how Daniel treated his captors; for example:
(Daniel 1:8-9) He asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel,
Daniel was respectful. He didn't bully or demand anything. Daniel got along with his enemies. He made friends with opponents. And God helped him do it.
There's a lesson there for us. Let God fight your battles. Don't be combative or argumentative. Do your best to remain friends with people you disagree with. Show respect. Love your enemies. Earn a good reputation. Peter again:
(1 Peter 2:12-17) Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
(1 Peter 3:15) Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
The final principles for standing firm in faith is:
EVERYTHING CHANGES, BUT WE LIVE BY FAITH
Everything changes, but we don't put our hope in this world, in programs, and politics, in things being the way we want. No, we live by faith in Jesus Christ. Psalm 37 gives us confidence:
(Psalms 37:39-40) The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; he is their stronghold in time of trouble. 40 The LORD helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.
This was why Daniel asked to change his diet because he had confidence in God's help. Verse 8 reminds us that, "Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine ..." How would the king's food have defiled him? No one knows for sure, but maybe Daniel believed that eating the king's nutritious food was living by sight and eating a starvation diet of veggies for three years was living by faith. If he was strong and healthy at the end, the Lord would get all the credit.
I believe that Daniel lived by faith in God and his promises, such as:
(Isaiah 41:10) So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
And Daniel's faith was rewarded. After three years of malnutrition, he graduated and was presented to the king. Had his plan worked?
(Daniel 1:18-20) At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, 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.
The rest of the book shows us that Daniel stayed in faith through every twist and turn, obstacle and challenge, threat and danger, for more than sixty years in exile.
Daniel did it. Can we? Peter says we can:
(1 Peter 3:14) But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened. 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.
To revere Christ as Lord is to set him apart as Lord of our lives. He's the last Word on everything. He's the Leader. He's the Provider. He's the Champion. He is the Risen and Exalted One. He's the Ruler from heaven.
You can't see Jesus, but you can trust him anyway. When everything changes, when the world is against you, when you see no way forward, put your hope in the Lord Jesus Christ who has brought us to God:
(1 Peter 3:17-18) For it is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
Daniel lived faithful in the Babylon of his day. We can too.