First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sunday Sermon Notes (February 16, 2020)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
Daniel 1:1-17; 1 Peter 2:9-12
Daniel 1:8 is the heart of the Book of Daniel. In fact, it is impossible to understand the message of the Book of Daniel if we overlook Daniel 1:8. It’s a key verse and should be looked at as the foundation upon which the events of this Book are built. Daniel 1:8, says, “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.” The King James Version says, “But Daniel purposed in his heart…” Another translation says, “But Daniel made up his mind...” Everything else in the Book of Daniel flows from this.
Life is a series of choices. As mighty oaks from small acorns grow, we make our decisions and guess what, our decisions turn around and make us. You and I know that we are who we are today, because of decisions and choices we made years ago. Most of the time we don’t realize how important our choices can be. Where will I go to college? What will I major in? Who will be my best friends? What career will I choose? What music will I listen to?
And sooner or later, we will face the most important decision of all: Will I decide to follow Jesus? In Luke 27:22 Pontius Pilate had to face the same question: “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. We are the product of our decisions.
Choices and Decisions ~ Which way to go? As we come to our Old Testament Scripture this morning, we find Daniel, the teenager, facing a crisis in Babylon. The decision he is about to make will radically change his whole life. And when you read about it, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. But it turns out to be very big indeed.
Some Historical Background
Just to give you a short background: Daniel and his friends are in Babylon, having been torn away from their families in Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar and the mighty Babylonian army. Because these young men come from noble backgrounds, the king orders them special training to enter his service. Remember, these are God-fearing Jewish teenagers, ripped out of everything they have known, now being trained to work for a pagan king.
The training aimed to assimilate the boys into their new society. The king makes sure they get the best education Babylon can offer. For three years they will be immersed in Babylonian knowledge, culture, history, language, and religion. Their Jewish names are changed in favor of new Babylonian names. At the end of that time they will enter the king’s service and be assured of high-level government positions. It was a sophisticated form of brainwashing aimed at making them forget their past and form a new allegiance to the king and his pagan way of life.
Everything appears to be going smoothly until one teenager decides he is not going to go along with the program. “But Daniel resolved (purposed in his heart) not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.” In other words, Daniel fixed his eyes on His God in the land of captivity. This is the crucial event of his life. Although we might not see it today as a big deal, but what Daniel did, shaped the next 60 years of his life.
First: Daniel Knew No Excuses
Daniel could’ve come with many good excuses to go with the current, yet, the more we look at Daniel’s life, the more we see a man who knew no excuses. We can always find an excuse when you don’t want to do right. But Daniel didn’t need an excuse. He had already decided to do the right thing no matter what happened. Though exiled and powerless, He purposed in his heart to live for the Lord. He couldn’t decide for anyone else, but he decided for himself what he would and would not do. And that changed everything. I don’t know if he tried to convince anyone else or not. Daniel made up his mind, and his three closest friends decided to join him.
I want you to notice this: The Babylonians could change everything—his diet, his location, his education, his language, even his name—but they couldn’t change his heart. Why? Because his heart belonged to God. When your heart truly belongs to God, you can go anywhere and face any situation and you’ll be okay. You can even live in Babylon and do just fine because your body is in Babylon but your heart is in heaven. So the question for all of us is, Where is your heart? Does it truly belong to God? Or is your heart fixed on the things of this earth?
Second: Daniel’s Faithfulness is Rewarded
This episode of Daniel’s story comes to an end on a very positive note. In Daniel 1:18-19 we read, “At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, 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.” We discover in these verses that God always honors those who honor Him. In this case, the reward came very quickly. Often times it takes much longer than that. And sometimes, our reward doesn’t come until we get to heaven.
I know God is faithful and he will reward our faith and faithfulness. However, this doesn’t mean that every time we stand up for our convictions, we will be immediately rewarded. This passage proves that sometimes it does happen that way, but other times, we won’t see our reward until we see Jesus face to face. We ought to remember that God’s timing and ours are often quite different.
Friends, as I conclude, and before we leave this marvelous story, let me leave with you two short things to ponder this week. First: remember that the world continually tries to reprogram us into a different way of thinking. It happened to Daniel and his three friends through a course of systematic brainwashing aimed at separating these young men from their past. It involved a new location, a new education, a new diet, a new culture, a new language, and ultimately, new names. Twenty-six centuries have come and gone and nothing has changed. The world still attempts to separate us from our spiritual heritage.
Second: any renewal, any spiritual awakening, is born in our lives when you purpose, when you resolve in your heart to follow Jesus no matter what. Hebrews 11:33 reminds us to glance at the example of people like Daniel. But we must not stop there. We must fix our eyes on Jesus who, though righteous, experienced the ultimate exile on the cross. He was forsaken to bring us in, and abandoned so God might welcome us. Only by trusting and treasuring Him can we be holy in our times of suffering and exile. Only through Him can we conduct ourselves honorably in this world that cares less about Jesus. At the end of the day, we either resolved or reluctant. Amen.