************ Sermon on Daniel 1:8 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 21, 1999
"Christian Teens' Place – To Be Different"
Subtopic: Conformity to the World
Title: Don't be like the eagle
There is a legend among Native Americans in the west about a brave who found an eagle's egg and put it into the nest of a prairie chicken. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them.
All his life the eagle thought he was a prairie chicken, so he did what the prairie chickens did. He scratched in the dirt for seeds and insects to eat. He clucked and cackled. And he flew in a brief thrashing of wings and flurry of feathers no more than a few feet off the ground. After all, that's how prairie chickens were supposed to fly.
One day he saw a magnificent bird far above him in the cloudless sky. Hanging with graceful majesty on the powerful wind currents, it soared with scarcely a beat of its strong golden wings.
"What a beautiful bird!" the eagle exclaimed to a prairie chicken who was his neighbor. "What is it?"
"That's an eagle — the chief of the birds," the neighbor clucked. "But don't give it a second thought. You could never be like him."
So the eagle never gave it another thought. And he lived and died thinking he was a prairie chicken.
On this Youth Sunday, how does this apply to our lives? The eagle, made to soar in the skies, was conditioned by his surroundings to stay earthbound. There, he pecked at seeds and chased insects. Rather than trying to achieve his full potential as an eagle, he adopted his neighbor's standard for life: "Hey, don't worry about flying ... let's scratch around in the dirt and find us some bugs." So he never attained the life of an eagle, even though he had the capability of doing so.
Young People, you wanted to know your place in the church. You wondered how you fit in. I want to tell you this evening that your place in the church is the same as the place of every other member – your place in the church is to be different from the world, your place in the church is to NOT be like the eagle.
Young people, let me ask you, where do the standards for your life originate? Are you being conditioned by others, by society as a whole? Oscar Wilde, a great nineteenth century author, accurately observed that "Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation."
Don't be like the eagle. The eagle missed the good life intended for him because he adopted others' standards, which were wrong for him.
Instead, live by principles that are designed to produce not just the good, but the best, for you. Those principles are God's principles — not those of other people, what you see on TV, or read about in the newspaper or books or magazines, or hear on the radio or CDS. Make sure that you, like every other member, are different from the world.
I The Resolve of Daniel and His Friends
A We all know the story of Daniel in the lions' den. We all know the story of Daniel's three friends in the blazing furnace. I want to tell you, the same resolve and determination displayed in the lions' den and the blazing furnace is evident, according to today's passage, in the dining room of Nebuchadnezzar's palace. In fact, as much resolve and courage is required in the dining room as in the lion's den or the blazing furnace.
B We are told that Daniel was on his guard. He "resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine" (Dan 1:8). You need to realize that Daniel and his friends were only young lads around 13 or 14 years of age. Somehow they recognized what was at stake here. They knew that even there, in the king's dining room, their enemy the devil was prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Pt 5:8). And, if Daniel and his companions had not been faithful to God here, seated at the king's table, they would never have survived the lions' den or the blazing furnace.
This incident in front of us this evening, this matter of choosing the daily menu, gives us our first glimpse of the resolve and the faith and the courage of the four young Hebrew boys. They show us how to put godliness into practice. They show us how to live out our faith. They show us how not to be like the eagle. They show us how to be different from the world.
C Daniel and his three friends "resolved not to defile themselves with the royal food and wine" (Dan 1:8). They asked for "nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink" (Dan 1:12).
Why? Why was it so important for Daniel and his friends to live on vegetables and water? What was wrong with eating the king's food and drinking his wine?
Daniel knew that the food and drink of the king's table was, by Jewish law, forbidden to him: the food was not prepared according to the ordinances laid down by God; furthermore, the food undoubtedly consisted of the flesh of animals which to the Israelites were unclean. Daniel and his friends knew that to eat of this food they would be making themselves ritually unclean and therefore unfit for the worship of God. So Daniel and his three friends "resolved not to defile themselves with the royal food and wine" (Dan 1:8). They resolved not to be like the eagle. They resolved to be different from the world.
D But there is more at stake here than ritual cleanness or uncleanness. Far more!
Let me make my point by asking you a question. What were Daniel and his three friends doing there in Babylon, in the palace of King Nebuchadnezzar? The Bible has this to say:
(Dan 1:3-4) 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.Ashpenaz, in other words, was told to pick out the cream of the crop; he was to pick out those young men who someday would hold positions of leadership among the Jewish people. These young men were the future judges, governors, mayors, rabbis, generals, and kings of Israel.
Notice what Ashpenaz was to do with these young men, these future leaders. He was "to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians" (vs 4). Do you know what this really means? This means that Ashpenaz's job was to inject the heathen Babylonian spirit into the hearts and minds of the Israelite youth who had been imported from Jerusalem. These children of the covenant were supposed to become totally Babylonian in their outlook and conduct. They were to be completely captivated by the Babylonish culture, religion, language, thought forms, and ways of life. Their wills were to be bent, their minds were to be shaped or reshaped. Those of you who know history realize that the Nazis and Communists tried the same thing with children.
The minds of our children and youth are so important. Everyone wants to control what they think so that they can control what they become. That's why we believe so passionately in Christian schools and Church School and programs like Cadets, GEMS, and Young Peoples — because what is at stake are the minds and souls of our children.
The king's intention in forcing his menu on the Jewish youths was but a part of his plan to bend the wills and reshape the minds of the four boys; this menu was but a part of his plan to make the boys Babylonian in every way; this menu was but a part of his plan to make the boys forget and abandon the culture, religion, language, thought forms, and way of life of their fathers; the way of life of these boys, down to the smallest detail, was to be transformed until they became totally Babylonian. Thus for King Nebuchadnezzar the new menu was no minor detail.
Daniel and his friends knew what Nebuchadnezzar was trying to do. They knew that if they joined in Babylon's meals, they would be standing with their feet in two worlds, they would be trying to have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons. If they joined in Babylon's meals, they would take the first little step in separating themselves from their own faith and the one only true God. So Daniel and his three friends "resolved not to defile themselves with the royal food and wine" (Dan 1:8). They resolved not to be like the eagle. They resolved to be different from the world.
A The lesson we are to learn here is that we should not give in to the customs, forms, and manners of this world. Like Daniel and his friends we should struggle against the patterns of this age that would pull us away from Christ. We should resolve not to be like the eagle. As church members, we should resolve to be different from the world.
What are the ways of the world we are not to conform to? Let me tell you young people. One of the temptations that face you is alcohol. And, let there be no doubt about it, you conform to the ways of the world when you drink alcohol. No teenager can use alcohol without abusing it: for one thing, it is against the law; for another, look at all the heartache and tragedy alcohol-abuse causes. So many lives, careers, and families have been ruined because of alcoholism. So many accidents happen while driving under the influence that end up either killing or maiming. Or, remember the Exxon Valdez — a huge oil spill on the Alaskan coastline because Captain Joseph Hazelwood operated the oil tanker while under the influence of alcohol.
Another temptation in today's world is drugs. Christian young people, you conform to the ways of the world when you experiment with drugs.
Christian young people, you conform to the ways of the world when you listen to certain kinds of music. You know the kind of music I am talking about — music that glorifies violence or that encourages immoral living or that uses God's name in vain or that mocks religion.
Having non-Christian friends — a boyfriend or girlfriend — is another temptation for many Christian youth. Let me tell you what usually happens when you date and marry an unbeliever: they drag you down to their level instead of coming up to yours.
A final temptation I can mention is pre-marital sex. All around us the message is given that pre-marital sex is okay. It has come to the point where many girls do not get a date if they do not "put-out" in the first date already. But to go along with this is to conform to the ways of the world.
I do not want to give the impression that it is only Christian young people who can conform to the ways of the world. All of God's people conform to the world when we uncritically read worldly magazines and books, or watch most of the trash that is on TV or in movie theaters today. We conform to the ways of the world when we no longer observe Sunday as a holy day — so easily, for instance, taking on jobs or careers that involve Sunday work that keeps us from worship; or making a point of doing most of our traveling on Sunday; or so easily missing worship services when we are on vacation.
All of these are dangerous in and of themselves. But they all lead to an even greater danger: that we adopt the mindset, the norms, the standards, the mores of the world. You see, to conform to the world is to adopt the world's outlook. And once that has happened God's people are no longer holy, separate, and different; they no longer live out the faith; in fact, they no longer have a faith to live out. They are just like the eagle. They are no different than the world.
B There is something terribly sad about this first chapter of Daniel. Remember, many young men of Israel from the royal family and nobility were taken to Babylon. Yet Scripture records only four standing up to the ways of the world — Daniel and his three friends. Where are all the other sons of Judah? We are left with the impression that many fell quickly into line with Nebuchadnezzar's intentions.
I'm reminded of the story of a young man who spent a year in a logging camp — a rough place with a lot of cursing, drinking, gambling and womanizing. When he came back home his minister expressed sympathy for the tough time he must have had in standing up for his faith. "It wasn't hard at all," said the young man. "They never found out I was a Christian." This young man, I'm afraid, was like the bulk of the Jewish youths taken from Israel to Babylon. He failed to stand up for his faith.
Is this true for us too? Have we too given in to the ways of the world? Have we too failed to practice our faith in day-to-day life? Are we like the eagle? Are we exactly the same as the world?
This episode does not and cannot end on this note. "At the end of the ten days," says Scripture, Daniel and his friends
(Daniel 1:15-16) 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.
This tells us two things. First of all, the world notices when God's people are holy and different. The king's official certainly noticed the difference in the lives of Daniel and his three friends. He certainly noticed the result when God's children do not mindlessly conform to the ways of the world. This reminds us that our very lives are a testimony to God and His grace and His power.
Secondly, we see the triumph of God's kingdom in Babylon. Think about this for a moment. There is no earthly way that a diet of vegetables and water could make a discernible difference in appearance after only ten days. That a difference was visible can only be attributed to the grace, power, and strength of God. And, it was only by God's grace and power and strength that Daniel and his three friends did not conform to Nebuchadnezzar's plans. It was only by God's grace and power and strength that Daniel and his three friends lived as God's children while surrounded by a pagan and heathen culture.
Young People, I want to ask if your lives show the triumph of God's kingdom? Does the world notice that you are holy and different? Does the world notice that you are part of the church of Jesus Christ? Or, are you like the eagle? Do you mindlessly conform to the ways of the world?
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