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Wisdom: Choosing Principle Over Pressure
Scripture: Daniel 1
Track 2 of 11 in the Living Lives That Leave People Speechless series
Running time: 49 minutes, 34 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

"Wisdom: Choosing Perseverance over Pressure" January 13, 2008

That's it, isn't it? The appeal of the world, be just like us, be drawn in by the culture, just do what they tell you to do. So easy to get drawn into that, to be sucked into what the culture wants from you.

Maybe you saw this recent article this past week or so from the New York Times. It takes place in India. I probably should just remind you that India is one those places where there is lots of folks, somewhere about a billion people. They get around mostly by riding bicycles and motor scooters and elephants, but they have just recently introduced cars.

This came out in the New York Times. "A few weeks ago the traditional Indian family household of Vineet Sharma achieved a long-deferred dream. Having ferried themselves on scooters all these years, the Sharma's bought a brand new silver gray hatchback. Never mind that none of the six adults that were in the household knew how to drive. No sooner had the car arrived than Mr. Sharma, 34, took it out for a spin and knocked over his friend. His brother slammed into a motorcyclist, fortunately not injuring anybody. The brother was so scared he decided not to get behind the wheel again until Sunday when the roads were a little freer of traffic."

If everybody has got one, you have to have one, right? Even if you don't know how to drive it, you ought to have one, because everybody has one. That's the challenge that we are faced with as we come to the place that we begin to look at the book of Daniel. One of the things that we are going to encounter very quickly, Chapter 1, before we hardly get started is here is the challenge to be just like everybody else, the challenge to be like the culture, to be drawn in, to become what everybody else is.

Before we go, however, to Daniel Chapter 1 we probably ought to set the stage for why this is happening, because, as I said in the introduction as we were getting ready for your worship time, one of the things that is true about the old testament in its teaching was that God honored the obedience of his people, and if they were going to choose to be disobedient, he was going to choose to bring discipline into their life to try and draw them back to himself.

Well, in this particular case in the days just before Daniel there was a significant season of disobedience. If you come back into the middle of your old testament to the book of Second Kings, we will pick up just a brief passage here in Chapter , Second Kings Chapter 20, which sets the stage for what we are going to see in this first chapter of Daniel. This comes right on the heels of King Hezekiah. Hezekiah has been ill, and he has prayed that God would give him some extra time in his life, and God has done that. God has honored him with extra season of life, and Hezekiah's life shortly after that there are visitors from the country of Babylon who come to Jerusalem to see the king. We pick that story up in Second Kings Chapter 20, Verse 12.

"At that time Merodac-Baladan, son of Baladan king of Babylon, sent Hezekiah letters and a gift because he had heard of Hezekiah's illness. Hezekiah received the messengers and showed them all that was in his store houses, the silver, the gold, the spices, the fine oil, his armory, everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all of his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them." Does that strike you as foolish, the opposing nation, a warring people, they come to visit and you show them where everything is?

"Isaiah, the prophet, went to King Hezekiah and asked, 'What did those men say, and where did they come from?' 'From a distant land,' he replied. 'They came from Babylon.' And Isaiah said, 'What did they see in your palace? Hezekiah says, 'They saw everything. There is nothing among my treasures that I didn't show them.' And Isaiah said to Hezekiah, 'Hear the word of the Lord. 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. And some of your own descendents, your own flesh and blood that will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.' 'The word the Lord has spoken is good,' Hezekiah says. For he thought, 'Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?'"

Well, you talk about a self-centered arrogant rascal. I don't care what happens to my children, I don't care what happens to the people born in my household, I don't care what happens to the nation of Israel after this, just so long as there is peace during my lifetime.

We come over a couple of books further to Second Chronicles to where the story continues. In second Chronicles we are going to see a bit further the development of what happened after Hezekiah's disobedience and his foolish disregard for the future of Israel. In Second Chronicles Chapter 36 we will just pick up a few verses. Second Chronicles Chapter 36 starting with Verse 5. "Jehoiakim was 25 years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem 11 years. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord his God. Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon attacked him and bound him with bronze shackles to take him to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar also took the Babylon articles from the temple of the Lord and put them in his temple there. And other events of Jehoiakim's reign, the detestable things he did are all found written in the record."

We'll come back to that treasure being stolen later in the book of Daniel, but you are going to begin to see there is a pattern that is beginning to happen. That's the first of three exiles that Israel goes threw. You come down to the next section, verse number 9. "Jehoiachin was 18 when he became king. He reigned in Jerusalem for three months and ten days. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord. In the spring King Nebuchadnezzar sent for him and brought him to Babylon together with articles of value from the temple of the Lord and he made Jehoiachin's uncle, Zedekiah, king over Judah and Jerusalem."

And then we drop down further to Verse 11. "Zedekiah was 21 when he became king. He reigned for 11 years. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord his God, did not humble himself before Jeremiah, the prophet. He rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar who had made him take an oath. He became stiff necked, hardened his heart and would not return to the Lord. Furthermore, all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful following all the detestable practices of the nations and defiling the temple of the Lord, which he had consecrated in Jerusalem." Do you hear what's happening, how the culture has sucked them in?

And so you come to Verse 15. "The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through its messengers again and again because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place, but they mocked God's messengers, despised his words, scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians who killed their young men with a sword in the sanctuary and spared neither young man nor young woman, old man or aged. God handed them all over to Nebuchadnezzar."

"He carried to Babylon all of the articles from the temple of God, both large and small, the treasures of the Lord's temple and the treasures of the king and his officials. They set fire to God's temple and they broke down the wall of Jerusalem. They burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there. He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons."

Disobedience wrought discipline, a series of exiles. 605 BC that first wave included young men of leadership ability, including the three that we are going to be introduced to here in Daniel Chapter 1. We know them as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. We are going to see their story. A few years later 597 the second wave of exiles are brought. 587 the final wave of exiles come, and Israel is turned into a wasteland with no temple, no grounds, no palace for the king, no remnant of people left to be Israel any longer.

And in the midst of that we begin to pick up a story about Daniel. Had to be a young man. I don't know what kind of an age to put on him. I'm guessing he had to be in his early teens. The book of Daniel lasts for 70 years, and Daniel is at the other end of the book praying that God would keep his promise that the captivity would last no longer that 70 years. And he says to him in his prayer, it's now been 70 years, which means he has got to be in his 80's looking back. So the age of some of you sitting right here when Daniel was taken from his homeland, taken from his family, and he is exiled in the king's palace along with three of his friends, and they begin the process of turning them into Babylonians, taking Jewish culture out and putting Babylonian culture in.

That's where we pick up in Daniel Chapter 1. We are going to look at this story. What I would like you to do is listen for lines of resolve. Where do you hear the deep resolution within Daniel and his friends, and then listen for the places where God is active in his providence because both things are critically important. We pick up Daniel Chapter 1. "In the third year of reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim 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."

"Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of the 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, qualified to serve in the king's palace. He was to teach them the language and the literature of the Babylonians. 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. Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: To Daniel the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego."

You begin to see what's going to happen. These young men, men of intelligence and appear to be healthy, men that had potential, are drawn into the king's palace, and they are about to start on a three-year process of having Babylonian culture inflicted on them. Everything that they have known about the ways of God, everything they have known about being Jewish is about to be removed, and everything Babylonian is about to be imposed upon them. And here is where you begin to hear from the very beginning that there is going to be this process whereby God is going to have to somehow get involved because, if not, Daniel and his friends are in big trouble.

It is the allure of the world. This shouldn't surprise any of you, because that is the nature of every culture. When you move into it, when you live in it, the challenge is to try not to let it totally become you. We face it everyday in American culture, thrust at us in the media, in our life, the way we do business, and it challenges us down to the very core of who we are to try to decide whether or not we are going to be the people that God calls us to be or if we are going to be just like everybody else. Are we going to stick an oven mitt on as a hat or not?

We come he a little further in the book of Daniel, and we take this story the next step. What you hear is this. Very first thing, Verse 8, "Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine. He asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself in this way. Now, God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel, but the official told Daniel, 'I'm afraid of the Lord my 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.' Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 'Please test your servants for ten days. Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink and 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.' So he agreed to this, and he tested them for ten days."

I confess to you every time I read that text I'm absolutely amazed at the resolve of Daniel. Here is this 12-, 13-, 14-year old young man facing the king, facing the king's official, living in a culture where he is totally out of place, ripped out of his roots, and he has the courage to say, I don't want to go that way. I don't want to be like that. I'm not going to succumb. Let's try something else, shall we? Wow. What kind of a person of courage does it take to stand up against a culture when the culture is doing everything it can to turn you into something else?

And the fascinating thing is that Daniel is not only tested by his culture at this point, but he puts God on the spot, because underlying this assumption is God is going to do something here. If we are faithful, God will be faithful. You try it and see what happens. Let us give it a go and see what God ends up doing in this situation.

So we see. Verse number 15, "At the end of the ten days" -- you know what's going to happen. "At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. And so the guard took away the choice food and the wine that they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead. 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. 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 of his entire kingdom."

You see it? Verse number 8, Daniel resolved not to succumb. And then you begin to see the activity of God. Verse 9, and God did. You noticed, right? The resolve came first. Long before there was evidence that God was going to come to his aid, Daniel had already made up his mind, this is the choice that I'm going to make and I'm going to trust that God is going to come and God is going to do what God is going to do. But the principle is you resolve first, not later. You don't wait for God to prove himself and then you say, okay, well, in light of that I think I'll try to do better. The resolution is you choose to do what God wants you to do to be the person that you are supposed to be and then God comes to your aid when God is ready, and not until.

But that runs so against who we are, because we desire to see God's activity right up front. We want some kind of a guarantee that this is all going to turn out right. Because, see, you know, that as American christians we have already made up our mind that life is supposed to turn out right. I mean, that's the whole point, isn't it? You become a disciple of Jesus and then everything gets better. Everything turns out the way it's supposed to.

Thirty years ago there was a phenomenon going on in the Philippines that struck a cord in the United States and brought literally hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors to the Philippines. There were healers there, and this is an unusual kind of healing. It's not the kind of thing that you've seen on American television where somebody comes and they lay hands on them and supposedly their diseases disappear. This was a healing service where you would go to the Philippines, you would go to the healer, and they would literally take their hand and they would cut your body open, reach in, and pull out what was supposed to be these malignant tumors, spread their hand over you, and you would walk away with hardly a scar. They proclaimed that there was all kinds of evidence that it worked. Supposedly they had brought back to the United States pictures of the surgeries they had produced, the tissues that had been taken out and it was said to be cancerous and these people were said to be healed.

Well, we like our health. So one of the guys in our church, Clarence, decided that he was going to go. He was a man who had some illnesses that he wanted to have healed. The leadership of the church, the elders and I, were convinced that this was not a healthy situation. This was not a kind of place he should be. We did our homework as best we know how, and given the information that we were able to find these healers were involved in the occult. They were satanic. I don't know where their power came from. It certainly was not from God. And we tried to advise him that this was not the place for him to go, that it was just not safe spiritually.

His response was classic. Well, I have prayed and I have told God that if he doesn't want me to go to stop me. Well, how would you like him to do that? Like not give you a ticket when you ask for one? To not validate your passport? Maybe the bus will break on the way to the airport. Do you think it might be possible that the reason that your leadership from your church who cares about you deeply is sitting in your living room telling you not to go could be God trying to stop you?

You see, we've already made up our mind. We are not going to put our resolve to do what's right ahead of what God is going to do. We are going to force God to do his thing. So, God, you stop me. I'm sorry. He is not going to do that. We are so convinced that everything is going to turn out right.

Last fall we mentioned to you a preacher in Azerbaijan, Zaire. He was arrested, if you recall, and in prison for preaching, a bunch of trumped up charges. They put him in jail. They sentenced him to a minimum of two years. In the intervening time literally millions of people around the world have been praying for his release, that somehow the government in Azerbaijan would respond in a humane way. There have been people who have appealed to the government. There are been people who have gone on behalf of human rights to try to get him treated with some dignity and some fairness.

This is the most recent report that has come out of Azerbaijan. The family and friends of prisoner of conscience Zaire have told Forum One news service that officials at his new prison are demanding high payments before they will give him food or allow him to meet relatives. They won't even feed him unless the family bribes the prison guards. Millions of people are praying asking God to intervene, and it's getting worse. He has lodged a second appeal. Sometime in the not too distant future the Azerbaijani supreme court is to take this into consideration. If they don't choose to release him, he has no choice but to stay in prison until they are ready to let him go.

So what's wrong with the prayers of a million people? Not a thing. Life just does not always come out the way we define life. It does not always turn out the way we think it should. And the question is not whether God is providentially alive and well and acting. The question is only whether or not we have the resolve to live in it faithfully for as long as God calls us, even if it means being in Babylon for 70 years. Because I think what you are going to see in the book of Daniel is that this absolutely sovereign God empowers us to be faithful. He doesn't necessarily take us out of the difficulty, he does not necessarily move us out of the world in which we have been taken captive, he does not necessarily make life easier, but he does empower you to be faithful in that context if you're willing to resolve to do that. And that is the challenge, isn't it? The challenge is to resolve to be the person that God is calling you to be no matter what.

There is a text that's tucked away in the new testament that you may or may not have run across, but you certainly should; and if you haven't, I want to introduce it to you today, First Corinthians Chapter 10. It is this marvelous text, First Corinthians Chapter 10, Verse 13 that says, "There is no temptation that has seized you but such as is common to man." And don't stop there. While he says nothing ever comes into our path to tempt us that hasn't been in somebody's path, we are not unique, the temptations that we face have been faced before, they are hard temptations, they are difficult temptations, but look at the next line. "There is nothing that has come to tempt you bigger than you are." Here is the line. "God is faithful and will make a way." God is faithful.

You resolve to live for God and he will be faithful. There will be a way out if you choose to take it. See, the world is going to appeal to you, the world is going to come to you and it is going to make claims on you to be just like the rest of us, be cool and wear an oven mitt. And while the world says to you, be like us, God says, be like my son. While the world comes to you and says, everybody is doing it, God says, be faithful to me. The world is going to come along and say, it won't hurt you, and God is going to say, maybe not today, but what about tomorrow. And while the world says to you, it's fun, God asks the question, is it worth it?

Can you imagine -- can you imagine what it would be like if five rows of young people decided to be faithful, resolved to live like christians, what kind of impact that would have at the school systems? I wonder what it would be like if a wrestler or a cross country runner or a volleyball player would just say, I'm living for Christ, I don't care what the rest of you do. I wonder what kind of difference that would make. I wonder what kind of a difference it would make in your work place if every believer in the work place just stood up and said, I don't care what happens, I'm going to be faithful, because I have resolved to trust that God is going to do what God does.

I wonder what would happen if families in our community, if every father, if every mother, if every young person said, we are going to be faithful to what God has called us to, we don't care what anybody else does and we don't care what anybody else says. I wonder what would happen if every christian teacher just resolved that they were going to live their faith as fully as God could get them to live it in a context of that place. What would happen if God's people just resolved to be faithful and then let God do whatever God wanted to do and just trust him?

You know, you have an incredible model of one who has already done that, who resolved to hang in there to the end, even though it was going to cost him his life? And if Jesus could do that for you, can you not turn around and do it for him? That's the challenge we are going to be asking you to make all through the day is to resolve to be faithful followers of God. We are going to stand and sing this song as a statement of our resolve, as a statement of our commitment to be faithful.