Sermon – Being Christ’s People

Imagine for a moment that the nation of Mexico went to war against the United States and that Mexico won. Then imagine that they intentionally traveled around the country seeking out the best and brightest of our young people, gathering them up and taking them back to Mexico, where they began an intensive training program to indoctrinate them with the language and culture of Mexico in order that the government could benefit from their gifts and abilities. When they came here, they took all of our young people. And did I mention that they had to walk to Mexico?

We’re not sure what happens to the rest of us. We might be dead or we might just have to watch our children being taken away, having no idea what will happen to them or if we’ll ever see them again.

This gives you a pretty good picture of what happened in Judah when, 600 years before Jesus was born, the Babylonian army invaded and conquered the tiny nation of Judah. The temple was destroyed and the city of Jerusalem was left in ruins.

Even worse, however, Daniel 1:3-4 tells us that the king brought people “of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.”

King Nebuchadnezzar brought the best and brightest of the Israelite young people back to Babylon, thus causing even greater pain and suffering among the Israelites even as he ensured that their ability to recover from the catastrophe that they had experienced would be greatly hindered by the removal of their best candidates for future leadership. At the same time he was enriching his own nation by bringing in all this new talent.

Among those taken into captivity were a young man named Daniel and three of his friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—almost certainly they were still in their teens, probably only fifteen or sixteen years old. After making the trip to Babylon, which would have been an 800 or 900 mile journey on foot, taking at least 3-4 months, they were informed that they’d spend the next three years being educated and then “they were to stand before the king” (Daniel 1:5).

Nowhere is there any mention of their families, who probably were either killed in Jerusalem or had been transported to a different area. So these boys are alone in the midst of this foreign country—a country that was as different as anything could possibly be from the Israelite culture they’d grown up in. Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar was the largest city in the world up to that time and it was famous for its magnificent architecture as well as being a city of great learning. But throughout Scripture we find Babylon used to represent the worst of pagan living, the worst of glorified sin.

And yet, in a manner reminiscent of Joseph in Egypt, Daniel and his friends seem to excel at whatever they do—because somehow they’ve managed to hang onto their relationship with God. Somehow, in spite of all the pain and suffering they’ve experienced, they continue to trust in God.  Daniel 1:17 clearly says that it was “God who gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom,” so much so that 1:20 says that when the king spoke with Daniel and his friends, “in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.”

Like Joseph, Daniel rose to a position of great authority in the nation and, like Joseph, he, too, was given the ability to interpret dreams. But while we saw that Joseph knew and trusted God, we find that Daniel is much more willing to speak out, to teach others about His great and awesome God.

Daniel was also a great man of prayer. The prayer that we heard earlier is the longest prayer recorded in his book, but over and over again, we find him praying to God, giving God the glory—and doing so in a bold and fearless way. Never do we see Daniel worrying that he might offend someone by giving God the glory, never do we see him trying to take personal credit for anything. Daniel’s relationship and trust in God was so well known that when King Darius announced that he planned to place Daniel in charge of his entire kingdom, Daniel’s enemies quickly hatched a plot in which they persuaded the king to pass a law that no one could pray to any god other than the king for thirty days.

Not only did Daniel refuse to obey this law, but he went to the top of his house and opened all the windows before he began to pray to God in full view of anyone who happened to be watching.

He was thrown into a den of lions as a result—but God miraculously bound up the mouths of the lions and saved him. Daniel’s work had not yet been completed.

As the angel Gabriel told Mary, “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

Daniel’s prayers were so powerful that clearly they were still reverberating in this nation 600 years later. Still reverberating, giving some of these pagans hope in the God of Daniel. The God of Israel.

Because Daniel, in his time in Babylon, was not just a Magi, but he was the head of the Magi. And clearly he shared his God with the other magi—because when they arrived in Jerusalem 600 years later, these Magi were not only following a particular star, but they knew that the star was leading them to the king of the Jews, to the Messiah.

How many generations have passed in 600 years? if we use the common idea that we have a new generation about every 40 years, that’s 15 generations. So for 15 generations, the word of God that Daniel shared has been being passed down to at least some of the next generation. Passed down in such a way that when that star appears, “wise men from the east came to Jerusalem”—they made a 900 mile journey to discover the infant king of the Jews.

Clearly, nothing is impossible for God.

There are many amazing things about this story: there’s the fact that at least some of the reason why God allowed Judah to be conquered by the Babylonians, at least some of the reason why He allowed these teen-aged boys to be taken into captivity, was so that there would be Magi who would come hundreds of years later to worship the baby Jesus. For generations the Magi must have been watching for the sign—for the star in the heavens.

And when they had come and worshiped the infant Jesus, “they departed to their own country” (Matthew 2:12). Departed, we can be certain, to tell what they had seen.  And Matthew, who ends his gospel with the Great Commission, with the call to “Go and make disciples of all nations” is letting us know that already, perhaps before Jesus is even able to walk or talk, the process has begun.

Nothing will be impossible with God.

Nothing can stop the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ from going forward—not King Herod, not any earthly king, not any power that we can ever come up with.

Long after the Babylonian Empire had fallen to the Persians who fell to the Greeks who fell to the Romans, Daniel’s work was still impacting the world—because Daniel had lived his life for God. He’d lived his life abiding in God.

And because he did, his prayers changed the world. Because prayer is the primary means by which God moves His kingdom forward here on earth.

When Daniel’s enemies got the king to forbid prayer to anyone other than himself, Daniel could have argued. He could have gotten angry. He could have said, “God, what’s wrong with you? How could you have allowed this to happen?”

He did none of those things. He simply prayed. And when his prayer resulted in his being thrown into the den of lions, even the king prayed: “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you” (Daniel 6:16). Which He did.

Daniel didn’t know that God would deliver him from death by lions. Daniel didn’t know that not only would he not die that day, but that God would use King Darius. Daniel, like Abraham when he took his only son Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him to the Lord, trusted God above all else. Trusted God even when everything around him looked utterly hopeless.

Daniel knew that nothing is impossible with God.

Knew it not just in his head—he really believed it.

Daniel 6:25-27 says, “Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: ‘Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth.”

King Nebuchadnezzar also issued decrees praising the God of Daniel. Surely these decrees were recorded and used in future years to remind the Babylonians of the great God of Israel. Surely they are a part of the reason that Magi showed up in Jerusalem searching for the king of the Jews.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we live in a world that seems to get darker every day, a world that is so broken that it seems impossible even to stop the spread of darkness, let alone begin to turn it back. This past week a 14 year old girl from our school was buried after taking her own life. What could be more heartbreaking than a child who is so utterly hopeless that she can see no solution other than death?

Daniel knew that nothing is impossible with God—do we? Do we really believe that?

And if we do, what are we doing about it? Are we on our knees crying out to God night and day?

Do we even know how to cry out to God?

Do we even know how to pray? Or is prayer mostly about maintaining our own Christian lives? Because I think we’re all good at that. “Lord, I need help. I need your help with my children, my marriage, my job, my finances, my health.” “I need you to solve this problem in my life or in the life of someone dear to me.”

Most of us probably pray these prayers every day. But what about prayers of intercession? What about prayers that the Church will find and wield its highest power, that each member will prove his descent from Israel, who as a prince had power with God and with men, and prevailed. Prayers of intercession are prayers for the world—prayers for children whose lives are unbearable, prayers for our government, prayers for every government, prayers for all the problems of this world.

Even when those problems aren’t affecting us directly right now. What might happen if every time we were tempted to complain about something, we prayed instead? Prayed for that neighbor that we find so irritating, prayed for the politician that we disagree with on pretty much everything; prayed for the children who right now are dying from a lack of food or a lack of clean water in countries around the world.

What if instead of complaining about our school district, we began to pray for it? What if instead of worrying about war with North Korea, we began to pray for that nation? What if instead of criticizing or complaining about our boss or our co-worker, we began to pray for him or her? What if, when we listen to the evening news or read the newspaper, we were to be praying for all the problems that we hear about or read about?

And what if our prayers weren’t prayers of “Lord, I don’t like this situation. Please change it.” Or, “Lord, here’s what needs to be done. Please do it.” What if our prayers were cries of, “Help!” “We don’t know what to do about this, Lord, this problem is way to big for us to even begin to try to solve—we need you! We need Your direction, Your mighty arm to be at work!”

What if our prayers, like Daniel’s, regularly acknowledged how undeserving we are, of how “we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled”? What if our prayers, like his, were pleas for mercy?

What if we really believed that nothing is impossible with God? And what if we really believed that God is God and we are not?

Have you ever cried out to God in desperation, knowing that your problem was far beyond your ability to act? Cried out with a heart that was broken?

Psalm 34:4 says, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” Verse 6 says, “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.”

Do you believe that God can do that for you? And if you do, how much time are you spending seeking Him, crying out to Him.

Samantha illustration

It was just amazing—answered prayer always is. It never becomes routine. No matter how often God answers our prayers, it’s still stunning—every single time. The God of the Universe is actually listening to us. Even more, He actually cares about the smallest details of our lives.

But He is the God of all creation—so why do we so rarely bring the big troubles of the world to Him? Why are we not interceding continuously?

Have you ever noticed that the only thing that Jesus taught the disciples how to do was pray? He didn’t give them lessons in how to preach or how to heal. Sure, they watched Him and learned from that, but when it came to prayer, He gave specific instructions.

Because it is only through prayer that we can bring down the blessings of His work and love on the world around us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we must become a people of action—not just a people who gather here on Sunday morning and then go off to live like the rest of the world for the rest of the week. Children are killing themselves because no one has ever told them how precious they are to God. No one has ever told them that the most important thing about them isn’t how they identify sexually.

Other children and young adults are so angry with the world that they take guns and shoot other people.

How do we save these children? How do we reach out to those who desperately need someone to reach out to them? One person at a time. How do we know who that one person is that God is calling us to reach out to? We ask Him. We pray about it. We pray night and day.

We pray for God to act—not according to our will, but according to His mighty plan. His plans that are beyond our imagining.  We need prayer in the workplace, prayer in the home, prayer wherever we are.

Let us look at Daniel not as just an encouraging story, but as a model for our own lives. He was a mighty man of prayer long before that baby was born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. We have Jesus—we have His life, His example, His instruction, His command, His promises. And we have His life, His Spirit, living inside our hearts. Let Him be at work in you. Let Him teach you to pray.

Let us pray.