Here’s what’s often picked up from Sunday School on the story of Daniel: if you stand firm against the idols of this world, you can come out of the fiery furnace or the lion’s den. But the fact is, throughout history, how many people have come out alive from the fiery furnace? Three. A hungry lion’s den? One. The real point of Daniel is about our God, his provision, salvation, and how we are to live no matter what kind of situation we find ourselves in—not only to survive but to thrive
1:1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. 3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 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. 5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. 6 Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. 7 And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.
8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. 9 And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, 10 and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” 11 Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king's food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” 14 So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king's food. 16 So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.
17 As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. 18 At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. 20 And 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. 21 And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.
All right, Mars Hill. Really excited to have preach for us my friend, Dr. Larry Osborne. I’ve known him for many years. He is the one who pioneered and created what’s now known as multi-site and video churches, like Mars Hill Church. We learned that from him. At various points in our church’s history as we were growing, I have flown down to San Diego, stayed at his house, eaten dinner with his family, asked him questions, gotten his help. He’s been nothing but a helpful blessing and mentor to me. He serves on our Board of Advisors and Accountability. He’s got one of the largest churches in America, a beautiful family that all loves Jesus. And I’m really, really honored that you get to meet my good friend, Larry Osborne.
How you doing? Good. Hey, I want to tell you how honored I am to be here today, and I also want to set one thing straight with this Dr. Osborne stuff. When our church was really small, I had just gotten my doctorate, and my oldest son was about four, and I was helping, I think it was, our third staff member find housing. And so the real estate agent somehow knew that I had received the doctorate, and so he was using it, like a good salesman, in every single statement. And so the next day, my son, again about four-and-a-half at that point, he’s at the top of the stairs and he’s hollering, “Daddy, Daddy!” And I said, “What, hon?” He said, “How come you’re the kind of doctor that can’t fix anything?” So, you’ll just all remember that, right?
Well, what we can do is we can open the word of God, and here’s what I would like to do today. I want to encourage you to find the book of Daniel in your Bible or on your app. Daniel. If you’re new at all at this stuff, Daniel’s toward the back of the Old Testament. God conveniently put a table of contents there right in the front, and it’ll make it a lot easier to find.
But find Daniel 1. And we’re going to look at the story of a guy where his story is really well-known, but frankly, the key to his story is not very well-known at all. If you had the privilege of growing up in a Christian home and maybe going to Sunday School, I can bet you think you know the story of Daniel. It’s all about his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abedwego—is what we said in our house, but Abednego is his real name—and the fact that they would not bow down before an idol that had been made, and they were therefore cast into a fiery furnace, and the end result of being cast into that fiery furnace was God protected them and they came out alive.
And then, there’s the story of Daniel in the lion’s den. As I heard it as a little kid, he was a strapping young man who was defiantly going to continue his prayer life instead of stop praying for a season because the king had ordered it. But actually, when you read the book of Daniel, he’s more grandpa in the lion’s den. It’s quite late in his life. But at that point, he obeys God. He says, “I’m not going to make a public compromise,” and they take him, and they put him in a den of hungry lions. Well, lo and behold, they’re all on Medifast diet, so the end of the day is he comes out alive.
Now, here’s what I picked up as a kid in Sunday School, thinking I knew this Daniel story: that if I would stand firm and refuse to bow down before an idol or the idols of this world, and just stand strong, and I was thrown into a fiery furnace, I would come out. And if somehow, I stood for my faith, and I was cast as a martyr into a den of hungry lions, they would all be on a diet.
But the fact of the matter is, you look throughout history at how many people have been cast into a fiery furnace or burned at the stake and come out alive. Little hint: three. How many people have been cast to the lions and they’re hungry and suddenly they weren’t very hungry. As far as we know, one.
So, the point of Daniel is not about those stories, though they are absolutely true—they’re genuine, real history—but the point of Daniel is a lesson about our God, about his provision, about salvation, and also about how we are to live no matter what kind of situation we find ourselves in, because Daniel found himself in an incredibly dark time and place, and yet he was able not only to survive but to thrive. In fact, in the wickedest of places, he led three national revivals during his lifetime. How in the world was he able to pull that off? That’s what we’re going to look at today, because all Scripture is given to us for instruction, occasionally for rebuke, correction, and training so that the man and woman of God might know how to live righteously. And that’s what Daniel teaches us.
Now today, we only have time for the first chapter, but you might, during the rest of this week, want to dig deeper and read through the entire rest of his book, through the lens of the things that we’re able to see.
So, with that said, let’s turn to Daniel 1 and follow along with me. Here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to walk us through the passage pointing out some things, then we’re going to come back and we’re going to make sure we really grasp how evil Babylon was, how deep the weeds that Daniel was stuck in were, and then we’re going to see the three secrets of his influence. They’re written all over this first chapter, and the rest of his life as well, and the teachings of our Lord Jesus.
So, we begin. Now, North Coast Church down in San Diego, where I have the privilege of being one of the pastors, is always teaching its folks to treat their Bible as a life handbook, as a textbook on life. And if you do that and you mark up your Bible, I want to encourage you to do something, or to mark it up on the app.
There’s a key phrase here—we’re going to see it three times—that I don’t want you to miss. I think many times, we miss, but Daniel also doesn’t want us to miss. It’s the beginning of verse 2. Take a look at it: “The Lord gave.” Underline that, because what we’ve got is God’s people being captured by a godless king. We have young men like Daniel and his buddies being kidnapped and taken to serve this godless king. And we have this godless king taking the holy vessels of God from the temple of God, carrying them to Shinar, where he puts them in the temple of his demon god as a display of the power of his god over the weak, impotent, powerless God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac—our God. And yet, who allowed it? “The Lord gave.” Don’t miss that. From the very beginning, Daniel wants us to understand and Daniel understood God’s sovereign hand in the affairs of man. And it changes everything about the way he views and the way he responds to what happens to him and to his people.
Now, I want you to grasp how bizarre this would have been to a Jewish reader, because the vessels of God were considered to be incredibly holy. You don’t mess with them at all. There’s a story when the children of Israel are coming into their promised land in the book of Joshua, and God had laid out this pattern. He said, “When you capture the land, the first fruits”—which is a biblical principle all the way through Scripture; the first fruits belong to God—“and after that, you’re stewards of my stuff, but enjoy it.”
So, they were to take all the spoils from the first city, give them to the Levites to put in the treasury of the temple. After that, the spoils of all the rest of their victories belonged to them. Well, God made it so the walls of Jericho, the first city, fell down, so none of the spoils were even destroyed, and they were able to get the best of the best.
They gave it to the Levites, just as they were told, and it was put into the temple treasury—except for one idiot, a guy named Achan. He decided that just one little indiscretion wouldn’t really matter. There was something so beautiful, he said, “I’ve got to have it. No one will miss it.” So, he took one of the things devoted to God, and he hid it under his tent.
Now, the children of Israel next went to capture a tiny little town. It was called Ballard, and they didn’t really send a whole army for it, so the Bible calls it Ai. And they sent just a small, little group there, and they were routed, and over thirty soldiers lost their lives. That means wives without a husband, children without a father, parents without a son, not because they had done anything wrong, but because Achan had taken just a little of the devoted things and hid them in the tent.
Long story short, God says, “You’re not winning any victories until this deal is taken care of”—and it’s taken care of.
Now, I’ve got lots of questions. I bet you do, too. When I read through the Bible, sometimes I go, “Man, I don’t understand that one.” I’ve got a notebook full of things I’m anxious to talk to Jesus about someday. And in this one, like, why did those innocent people die, and how does this work, and the unseen realm that we get little glimpses of.
Boy, I wish I knew a little bit more, but I want to tell you one thing I understand absolutely perfectly. You don’t mess with God’s stuff. That part, I get. Later on, there’s the Ark of the Covenant, and as it is being transported to one place, it begins to fall. Someone reaches out to touch it, as all of us would to keep it from falling, and he dies, because you weren’t allowed to touch that thing. Again, I’ve got questions, but I’ll tell you, I’ve got a lesson I get: don’t mess with God’s stuff.
And yet, what do we see Nebuchadnezzar doing? Messing with God’s stuff. And who gave him the victory? “The Lord gave.” Underline it, star it, circle it. Nothing in this story makes sense if we don’t get this foundational truth.
Well, let’s read on and see what happens. Verse 3: Obviously, they had to learn the language of the Chaldeans, a new language, and grasp how hard that would be. They wouldn’t know—there’s no Google Earth, there’s no Travel channel. The foreignness of one nation to the other is mind-boggling to us in terms of what it would be. But on top of that, he was to learn the literature of the Chaldeans. You know what that was? Primarily astrology and the occult.
As we’re going to see in just a moment, for three years, he and his buddies were supposed to study astrology and occult practices so they could be prepared to enter into the service of this damnable, evil king, a guy named Nebuchadnezzar.
Well, let’s read on. Verse 5: I want to give a little hot tip to those of you who are new in your journey of searching out Christianity or just recently have stepped over the line to become a follower of Jesus. At North Coast Church, we have tons and tons of those folks. We call them the “hell of a talk” guy, because they come up to church afterward and say, “That was a hell of a talk.” Right away, we know they’re new, OK?
But here’s a hot tip: Have you noticed the Old Testament is full of those names and places and you have no idea how to pronounce them? Well, when you’re in a Bible study or anything like that, just say it confidently and quickly, and they’ll think you got it. It works, even when you’re a pastor, OK?
But here’s what I want you to catch about those names. They’re not just unusual names like whatever; they have meaning. Daniel means, “God is my judge.” God is my judge. Belteshazzar means, “Bel’s prince.” It would be like today, someone who is a follower of Jesus Christ, and maybe had even changed their name to be Christian, suddenly having their name changed to be “Satan’s prince.”
So, when you catch that little verse there—well, his name was changed—that, folks, was a huge, huge deal, and clock that in your mind for what we are going to see as we go on. Well, in verse 8, we find that God gave him favor so the bad guys liked him. We’ll see why later this is so important.
I’m amazed at his response, because I know where I live, I know in my church, I’m betting for many of you here in this church, that there’s kind of this same response. If somebody in our workplace demanded that we do something that was against Scripture, we get all huffy and puffy about it.
I think if I were Daniel, I might have gone and said, “You don’t understand who my God is. You don’t know how I live”—and almost like there’s a chip on the shoulder or something. But I love—and you’ll see this all the way through the book—his attitude, his respectfulness for those whom he dealt with. He asked if he could be allowed to eat something different, and it was that respectfulness and the way he responded to all these things that is, on a human level, what caused that man to look at him with favor.
Well, unfortunately, that didn’t work. Verse 10 says, “The chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, ‘You know, I fear my lord the king.’” “Daniel, buddy, I really like you, but you need to understand how ruthless this place is and the low value of life it had. Why should he, the king, see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? You would endanger my head with the king.”
Now, I want you to look at that verse again—it’s one of my favorites: “They were better in appearance”—and what? Help the boy. “Fatter”—OK? For all of you, you know, big and tall shoppers, just a little bit of biblical background. Today, the rich people hire, you know, special diet, and a trainer, and get all skinny. Back then, if you were skinny, it meant you were poor, you had no money for food, so you walked around saying, “I’m a double-X,” “I’m a triple-X,” and you were proud of it.
So, my favorite verse. Some of you might want to underline that, mark it, memorize it. God gave them understanding, they applied themselves to the point that they graduated as valedictorians. But on top of that, they were ten times better than all the past valedictorians and ten times better than those who had even real life experience of serving the king.
That’s pretty impressive, but what’s more impressive is in the midst of the dark place, they not only survived, they thrived, and they changed it. The power of their influence was absolutely amazing.
Now, here’s what I want to do for a moment. I’ve walked through the passage. We’ve looked at some of the things here, but I want to touch us not in our head; I want to touch us in our heart and make sure we didn’t miss a couple things. In particular, how evil and bad Babylon was and how deep Daniel’s weeds were. So, let’s take a look at each one.
How bad was Babylon? Well, I can tell you this about Babylon. If there’s a conversation in heaven today about evil, the angels talking to one another don’t go, “Man, that place is as bad as Sodom and Gomorrah. That place is like Las Vegas. That place is like Nazi Germany.” They don’t do any of those places. You know what they say? “That place is like Babylon.”
Now, how do I know? I haven’t been there, but here’s how I know: In Revelation 18, we are told what the angels will shout out when the time comes for Jesus to say, “It’s over. Injustice is going to be dealt with; grace and justice are going to reach their fulfillment.” Here’s what they cry out: “Fallen, fallen is”—guess what? “Babylon.” Why? Because in all human history, Babylon’s the worse of the worst. It is the biblical personification of evil. So much so that it doesn’t exist now and will never be rebuilt, according to a prophecy of Scripture. And with all of these centuries and millennia having past, still it is the most evil thing they can think of when they cry out, “Thank you, Jesus. You’re coming back. Fallen, fallen is Babylon.”
How bad was Nebuchadnezzar? Oh my goodness. I have studied, I have been around all kinds of wicked people and leaders, but no one holds a candle to Nebuchadnezzar. You know, every now and then, our local officials, city officials, our national government will fund some area of the arts. And you know, one thing about artistic creativity is it’s all about no boundaries, kind of no limits, and they will fund something that ends up not only being offensive to Christians, but absolutely mocking our God.
And my goodness, when that happens, it’s all over the blogosphere, the airways, fundraising letters, everything like that. And I’m thinking, “Man, what we ought to do is go read Daniel 1 and see who this Nebuchadnezzar was.” He took devoted things—he carried them off to his temple as a display piece to show that our God is powerless. He is a ruler who raided God’s temple and mocked God as being weaker than his god. That’s who Nebuchadnezzar was.
And culture? You know, I’m from the land of fruits and nuts, California, and we do some weird things there. Our governors, our courts, our legislature, our school boards, our dog catchers, whatever—I just can’t believe some of the decisions over my lifetime that I’ve seen them make. I’m wondering, like, “What are you smoking?” Sometimes I know. But as bad as some of their decisions have been, some of them even overturned by the courts so they were so bad, none of them have ever brought our culture to this point, where astrology and the occult are the government-sponsored religion and the core curriculum of the schools.
Do you catch how bad Babylon was? And yet, Daniel thrived, influenced it, and led revivals for our Lord in it. By the way, how tough was it on him? Well, Daniel’s dilemma included this: He was kidnapped, castrated, and had his name changed to honor Satan. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s a bad week, really bad. We’ve already seen kidnapped. We already saw his name changed. Some of you are thinking, “Castrated? Larry, we don’t teach that in Sunday School.” There’s a lot of things we don’t teach in Sunday School. The Scriptures don’t explicitly say that, but they imply it.
Let me help you see where I’m going. In Jewish culture, it was very important to have children, particularly sons. Part of it was to fulfill legacy, to carry out the promise of God, and a whole bunch of reasons, but there was one that was just very mundane and very practical, and it was this. You needed sons to support you in your old age. There was no social safety net. There was no social security. You have no sons; you are dead meat. And that’s why in the Old Testament, it’s always talking about lineage and who had children. And sometimes, it’s very important, the genealogy of Jesus, the promise of Abraham, and all of that. But there’s a whole bunch of other passages, to be honest with you, I read them and I go, “I don’t really care and I can’t pronounce his name anyway.” Well, why is it there? Well, these are real books written to real people in real history, and it mattered to them big time.
And yet, here’s what we find out about Daniel: In his entire life of seventy-plus years, there in Babylon, there’s not one mention of a wife or a son or a child. Incredibly rare from the Jewish mindset if he had one, but something explains it. Today, if somebody is filthy rich or whatever, they might decide they want to have a trophy wife. Well, back then, if you were a king, you had trophy wives. You know what they were called? They were called your harem. Now, if you were the old king and you’ve got a bunch of really good looking trophy wives in your harem, the one thing you don’t really want around your court are a bunch of young men from cities you have conquered that are handsome, witty, intelligent, and all that. That’s a bad mix.
So, what do you do to take care of that? You turn them into what the Bible calls eunuchs. We saw the chief eunuch there, and that’s what would happen. And it’s almost certain that Daniel, along with everything else, lost his ability to have a family of his own.
There’s one more thing about his deep weeds. He was forced to study the occult and serve an evil and godless king. Not only the three-year class in the occult, but the end of the day, it was the enemy of Israel that he was serving. And he served him so well, he kept getting promoted. You know, you don’t get promoted when you do a bad job; you get promoted when you do a good job that makes a person more successful.
Again, I don’t know how evil your workplace might be, your city might be, your community, your country, whatever, or how evil we get—Babylon beats it. I don’t know how tough and deep the weeds are—Daniel’s situation beats it, and yet he thrived and changed it.
How? Well, what we discover is he knew the three secrets of influence, secrets that we see in Daniel 1, and secrets that we see throughout his entire life, and then repeated in the New Testament letters and the teaching of Jesus.
So, let me give them to you. They’re the secrets of influence in the darkest of times or the most difficult of times.
The first one is this: hope or optimism. I like the word “optimism” today because the biblical word is hope, but the problem is in the English language. “Hope” has come to mean, “Oh, I hope, I hope, I hope. I just wish it would happen.” Well, in the biblical sense of the word, hope isn’t, “I hope, I hope, I hope.” The word “hope” means, “I know, I know, I know.” Our blessed hope, confidence, that thing we’re banking on, is the return of our Lord, for instance, as it’s used in Scripture.
So, Daniel was a man of optimism, and that’s why I pointed out to you in verse 2, right at the beginning, when all hell is literally breaking loose, what does he say? “God gave Jehoiakim.” He understood the sovereign hand of the Lord in every bit of history, and that changes everything about his perspective and changes everything about his personal response. I like to put it this way: Even in Babylon, God is in control of who’s in control. Always has been and always will be, and he knew that. He knew that sometimes the short-term success of the wicked is God’s will, or things sometimes happen that we won’t understand until we ask him, but he knew that God was involved in it all. He was not up there going, “Oh Gabriel, help me out. What do we do now?”
And that leads to an important principle to understand in our hope: if we want to influence our world, we must be optimistic people. Now, by that, I don’t mean there’s never a place for hurt or despair. Jesus, as he looked to the cross, sweat, as it were, great drops of blood. The Apostle Paul talks about despairing of life and being discouraged. There are seasonal things in our life that can bring us down and appropriately be discouraged. We’re told to weep with those who weep, not give them a Bible verse and tell—you know, that’s OK. But you don’t live there. I’m sure Daniel wasn’t, you know, just skipping, singing a happy tune as he’s on his way to Babylon. But in the midst of it, he knew that he served a God who’s going to win.
A spirit of optimism is so key to influence because people don’t, and never will, join a loser. I catch it in my community among some of the folks at our church. When certain things happen around or whatever, they get so down, and I’m thinking, “If you’re acting like you’ve lost and the game is over, why in the world is anybody you’re rubbing shoulders with in the community going to want to follow your loser God?” We don’t sign up for losing teams, and we are blown away by people who have the confidence to stay strong in the midst of the darkest times. We go, “What do they have that I don’t have?”
Daniel had that. He knew the hand of God. You might write this phrase down, then: Panic and despair are never from God. This book we call the Bible is really a library of sixty-six books, and there’s one at the back that they’re always asking me and Chris Brown, our other teaching pastor—they always say, “Will you do a series on it?” It’s called the book of Revelation, and they always want—now, what they really want to do is they want to know who all the key players are and how it all works out. So, they want to know what the 666 means and this and that. And I tell them, “I can make guesses, but frankly, “I’m on the welcoming committee, not the programming committee.”
But I do know this. Like some of you who read the end of a book, you know, you kind of cheat. I’ve done that. You ought to do it if you haven’t, because guess what? We win. Did you know that? We win, and knowing we win, I think should kind of change everything. When I know my team is going to win, I don’t care what the score is in the first quarter. We win. Oh, I missed that early on.
I remember as a new Christian, I heard the promise of Jesus, that no matter what happens, the gates of hell would not prevail against his church as he built it. And here’s how I read that: I thought that meant whatever the enemy throws my way, that somehow I will be able to withstand it.
Now, I might be like somebody who was in a trailer park in Arkansas during a tornado hiding in the bathtub, and it’s all gone, and I peek up, and it’s like, “Thank you, Jesus. At least I lived.” But I have this promise of Jesus that whatever the enemy threw my way, I would be able to survive. The problem is that’s not what Jesus was saying at all, not even close.
But I didn’t understand because of the cultural shift. You see, gates are not an offensive weapon. They didn’t go and say, “Hey, let’s go attack that city. Everybody pick up your gate, and we’ll go after them.” Gates are a defensive mechanism, and Jesus does not say, “Whatever the enemy throws at us, we can survive.” He’s saying, “Whatever we go toward the enemy with, he can’t hold us back.” And that’s why whether we’re charging hell with a squirt gun or we’re barely on our last legs crawling toward there, the gates of hell cannot prevail and hold us back. We win.
Now, you’re going to have to give me grace, except for the Orange County campus—you’ll understand this—but the rest of you, promise you’re giving me grace before I go with this illustration? Come on, I can’t go there without it. OK. I’m a USC Football fan. I knew some of you wouldn’t really give me grace. I knew it. A few years ago, USC was on its way to—it looked like a second undefeated season in National Championship. And they were playing Notre Dame. Now, if you are a USC football fan, you understand this. The most important game to win is not the UCLA game, it’s the Notre Dame game. That’s the big game.
Well, they are playing a very pedestrian, not very good Notre Dame team at Notre Dame. Any of you who have played sports know this simple rule of thumb, and that is, if you have a chance to take down your opponent and you let them off the hook, you are likely to lose. You better get it when you can. And sure enough, they kept squandering opportunity after opportunity, and suddenly, out in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame goes ahead, and now there’s one minute left in the stinking game and USC is about to lose this undefeated season, National Champion hopes, all this. And Notre Dame stadium is going nuts. It’s one of those stadiums where the stands go right to the field.
And it is now less than one minute left, third and fairly long, and I’m just, you know, praying to Jesus, covering all my bases, you know, whatever it is, like, “Come on, help me out.” And USC’s quarterback fades back to pass. As he looks for somebody to pass to keep the drive going and maybe pull the game out, nobody’s open. A Notre Dame lineman breaks through the line and throws him for a thirteen-yard loss.
The stands go nuts. You know how the TV guys let you hear all the sound of the stands and all. The Notre Dame guys are high-fiving each other. A few of them are chest bumping. It’s now fourth and a kazillion yards, no time left in the game, the leprechaun’s doing his stupid little thing, I’m dying. I’m watching this game at home alone in my library on the couch. I get up—first of all, it’s like, I’m really upset because I’ve lost my sanctification like that. I’m wondering, “Where’s Jesus in all of this?” and I start marching around the couch with all these Christian euphemisms. That’s what pastors do when they’re upset, you know? And it’s like, “Life just stinks. It sucks. I mean, it’s horrible.” Don’t look at me that way; you’ve been there too.
And then somehow, on fourth and a kazillion, with the stands just going nuts, no hope of anything happening, Leinart fades back, he looks around, and he throws a pass down the sideline. It just gets over the fingertips of the defensive back, nestles in the receiver’s arms. He gets to the one-foot line, and his time runs out. A famous play called the “Bush Push” takes place, and God is back on his throne. I’m right with Jesus. Everything is good.
Now, here’s the weird part. I have a DVD of that game. I’m not that kind of fan. I don’t watch it weekly, but I have watched it. And you know what happens? When I come to that play where he fades back and he’s thrown for the big loss and the game is essentially all over in everybody’s eyes, guess what I do? I play it in slow motion, and then I play it again. And I’m watching the crowd go nuts, I’m watching the high-five, I’m watching the chest bumps, I watch the little leprechaun, and I play it back. I go, “Hey, happy leprechaun.”
What’s different? Only one thing: I know how the game ends. I’m watching the same stinking plays that had me upset, and now I’m watching them over and over again in slow motion.
Men and women, if we’re to follow in Jesus’ line, whether you’re in the front, the middle, or the very back in that line, you are following him to victory. All wrongs will be made right. The gates of hell cannot hold us back. And if we want to be used of God to have influence, the world we rub shoulders with must see that optimism. They can’t see the despair; they’ve got to see the optimism.
Now, the second thing that he had is humility. And I love it because we talk a lot about being humble, and not prideful and all that, but I don’t think we grasp what real humility looks like. Real humility looks like respect. Real humility is Jesus knowing where he came from, who he was, and where he was going, taking a bowl and a cloth and washing the feet of his disciples, including one he knew would betray him. It’s what Philippians calls putting the needs and interests of others as more important than your own.
You know, we love to talk about servant leadership, and I love doing servant leadership, as long as nobody treats me like a servant. What Daniel did, and you’ll find it through the entire book, is just incredible, real, genuine respect for everyone. In fact, you might write this phrase down: “Everyone deserves respect, even God’s enemies.” And Daniel does that with Nebuchadnezzar all the way through.
Now, here’s an interesting thing, because Nebuchadnezzar’s going to get his. He thinks he’s done all of this on his own. He’s looking around, “Look at this kingdom that I have built by my power and my might,” and God is like, “Dude, you are done.” “Dude” is in the Hebrew, but, “You’re over,” and Daniel gets to deliver the message.
Now, if I’m Daniel, I go like this—he’s no longer King Nebuchadnezzar, I’m, like, ready to drop the hammer. It’s, “Hey, Neb, baby, I’ve been praying for this day a long time and you’re going to get yours.”
That’s not what he says. He says, “O King, I wish it was anybody but you.” Wow. You see, he understood the heart of God and the heart of Jesus. Jesus is not into wiping out his enemies; he’s into winning them over. That’s his heart. That’s why the cross is there. That’s why people like you and me have received the gift of grace.
If we want to influence our world, they must understand that our deepest goal is not to see God sic them, and our deepest self image is not that we are God’s pit bull or watchdog for poor little Jesus who needs us to help him out, but we are his followers, his servants who have his agenda to win over the lost, not to see them wiped out.
I want you to see with your own eyes a passage that speaks to this in the New Testament, so take your app or your Bible and turn, if it’s a physical Bible, way to the right, and find 2 Timothy. This is a passage that just rocked my world at one point in my early days of being a Christian because I thought God needed me as a pit bull, barking and biting at everybody who got it wrong, protecting poor little Jesus. After all, I’d seen those pictures of him. He looked like he needed protection.
Daniel wanted Nebuchadnezzar won over, not wiped out, as bad as he was, and guess what? Nebuchadnezzar was won over. Pretty amazing, but it would have never happened without humility, never happened with a chip on his shoulder, never happened with the blogosphere of today.
Help me out for just a moment. Now, North Coast people actually, like, talk to me when I ask them a question, so let’s see if Mars Hill can do this, OK? How many of you have had someone in your life who just, flat out for whatever reason, didn’t like you or didn’t respect you at a pretty strong level? Help me out, raise your hands.
OK, have you ever found yourself inclined to listen to them when they give you advice? Not at all. See, if you don’t like me and you treat me with rolled eyes or disrespect or whatever, I put up my defenses—I don’t open my ears. And it was because of Daniel’s treatment to the chief eunuch, to the steward, to everybody throughout all the story that they were willing to listen to him. And when the time came, they didn’t have a wall that they had built up because, This guy doesn’t like me, and therefore I don’t like him.
They had an openness and respect. In the real world sense of how you talk to people, how you treat people, what you say behind their back, that has an incredible impact on who you can influence. Optimism and humility.
He had one other thing, amazing wisdom, something I wish I had had in my youth as a follower of Jesus, because he knew how to pick his battles. In light of a sound bite, you might write this one down. There’s a big difference between what we don’t like and what God forbids—a big difference.
Now, I want to tell you, early in my Christian walk, I did not understand the two of them. When I had a non-Christian in the cubicle next to me who did things that I didn’t like, I made sure I confronted them. I also lost all respect for them, and it’s kind of amazing: none of them came to Jesus.
I love how Daniel picked his battles so carefully. Where God has spoken absolutely, “You cannot eat this,” he politely said, “Hey, will you allow us to change it? No? OK, we’ll go down the food chain and ask, ‘How about a ten-day test? We’ll accept what the consequences are.’”
But when they changed his name to Bal’s prince, he didn’t care what they called him. I’m sure he didn’t like it, but he didn’t care as long as he wasn’t late to dinner. When it came time to study the occult and astrology, he was forbidden to practice it, but there was nothing that forbid him to study it, and if he was going to study it, he was going to work hard, and God gave him great understanding. He graduates as the valedictorian, and because of that, he has a standing from which to say, later on to Nebuchadnezzar, “This is a bunch of junk. Let me tell you about the Most High God.”
Because there comes a time when the magicians and enchanters can’t answer anything at all. Daniel comes forward and says, “You know, I passed. Remember, I was really good. I was ten times better. Let me tell you why this doesn’t work and why he does.” He has no platform, no ability if he decides to avoid all that that he doesn’t like and fight all that that he doesn’t like. He picked his battles wisely.
Even serving a godless king—I’m sure that wasn’t the great joy of his life to get up every day and help the one who had ransacked the temple and who mocked God succeed. But he understood that’s where God put him, and like a Joseph, another guy in the Old Testament, he did it so well he developed the right to speak of our God.
Let me tie this all together with a story from a family vacation. My wife is claustrophobic, not ridiculously claustrophobic, but close to it. And so, you know, you go to Europe, she won’t get in those little elevators. You go a lot of places where you’ve got to go through a tunnel that’s more than, like four feet long, she won’t go there.
Well, one year when our kids were little, we went to a place called the Carlsbad Caverns. Now, here’s what I assumed: She would stay up on top in the gift shop reading for a few hours while we took the tour, then we’d finish. But instead, when we got there—and maybe it’s the really big elevator, if you’ve ever been there, that’s at the top that takes you down, with people coming in and out. She said, “I think I’ll go down.” I’m like, “Sweet, family memory!”
So we go down. And if you’ve ever done it, it opens up into this massive cavern. And you can just feel the tension just disappear from her. And then she said, “I think I’ll go on the tour with you.” I’m like, “Thank you, Jesus! This is, like, so cool.” So, we get in line to get our tickets. And as we’re standing in line to get our tickets, people are coming out. And one guy says to another, “That was so cool when they turned the lights out.” Now, I’ve got a moral dilemma. Do I shoot straight with my wife or just, “La la la, la la la la, you know, didn’t hear it.” But before I had to solve that moral dilemma with the Lord, she heard. So she goes, “They turn out the lights?” And I said, “Oh, for just a second or two. Trust me, I’m a pastor.”
So we go on the tour. Everything is cool. At the very end, they set you on these logs. So, we sit on the log, and they give this talk about how dark it is, and you could wave your hand in front of your face and not see it, and all that stuff. And the guy reaches out, he takes the plug, and he unplugs it, and it’s dark. One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand twelve, and then suddenly, a bat bit me. I was like, “Ahh!” and I feel this cold, like, what is it, and realize it’s blood running down my arm. And the bat talked. It was a talking bat, and here’s what it said: “I will never trust you again.” And I’m thinking, “Great, there goes my marriage, probably, since I’m a pastor, my career,” and all of this.
And then I remembered, my youngest son had one of those Timex Indiglo watches on, like the one I’m wearing right now, but it was first iteration and you would push the button and a little light would come on, early LED kind of light, and you could supposedly tell what time it is at night. But that light was so weenie and weak that in reality, at night, when you pushed the button to see what time it was, you had no clue unless you got a flashlight to look. It was pathetic. But I’m desperate, I’m about to lose my marriage and my ministry, and the Lord reminds me, “He’s got his watch.”
So I said, “Nathan, push the button on your watch!” And he does, and suddenly we can see the ground, and we can see feet. The bat lets go, and somebody over here—it messes the environment up enough—says to him, “Turn that light out.” And I said, “If you do, I will kill you,” so he kept it on.
But here’s the lesson I learned: The darker it gets, the more powerful the tiniest of lights is. See, some of you think, “Well, if I know a lot more Bible, if I get this together, if I get that—” Listen, folks. If you have been called into and started in the following Jesus line, you would be shocked. Your light might not be very much at nighttime, but the darker it gets, that stupid little watch which we couldn’t read the time at night in his bedroom could have led us out of that cave.
What God asks us to do, to the best of our ability, wherever we are in our journey, beginning or you’re a bright halogen, he simply says, “Push the button.” Push the button called hope, in your inner life, in your spirit, and in your relationships with people. Push the button called humility, and push the button called wisdom. And it will not only show you the way out of the cave, it will give you the ability to influence and show others the way out of the cave. I love Daniel. I think it’s cool about the lion, it’s cool about the fiery furnace, but I want to tell you what’s cool off the charts: how to live in Babylon and how to thrive and how to be used of God to change a world that no one ever thought could be changed, and that’s our God.
Father, would you take these things and would you speak to each of us in terms of our heart and where we are, and not about someone else who gets one of these three things wrong, but where we personally can grow to be the men and women you’ve called us to be the influence that you’ve called us to have. Lord, build our hope. May we never forget the grace we have received, that we lose the humility you’ve called us to have toward others. And Lord, give us the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to pick battles wisely. And Lord, we’re stinking little first-generation Indiglo lights, and I’m just amazed you can use us, and I ask you to continue. To the glory of your Son, the Lord Jesus. Amen.
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.