CDPCKL · How To Campaign for Religious Tolerance (Daniel 1:1-30)

How To Campaign for Religious Tolerance (Daniel 1:1-30)

Very early on in the Book of Genesis we are told about a great conquering king named Nimrod, who was famous for his mastery of men and beasts, and famous for the cities he founded. 

And his most famous city was built on a plain in the land of Shinar, in what is today called the land of Iraq. And the reason this city is so famous is because of the tower at its center. This tower was designed to be a sacred temple, a stairway connecting earth to heaven, so that mankind could bring the gods down to live among them, or lift themselves up to live among the gods. 

And this towering temple, this religion, had a political purpose: it was designed to unite the people of that city around a single center of worship. And not just the people of that city: Nimrod wanted to unite the whole world around this single center of worship. He decided to build an empire centered around himself. 

Of course, even back then, this was not a new idea. It had been tried before, with disastrous consequences. So God intervened. He descended to earth and destroyed that empire by destroying its unity. He did not directly attack Nimrod’s false religion, he did not dismantle the tower itself, he struck at the fundamental software that runs at the root of every society: their language. It turns out their great tower was built on a foundation of baked clay. All God had to do was strike the clay and the empire collapsed under the weight of its own diversity. 

Now, I think most of us have recognized that this is the story of the Tower of Babel, on the plain of Shinar, the story of the rise and fall of one of mankind’s most ancient empires. 

And I think that most of us will not be surprised to discover that this particular pattern of events has repeated itself many times: the entire history of mankind can really be summarized as a succession of empires, each one rising up to rule their neighbors for a time only to grow brittle and shatter, making room for the next empire, each empire greater and more brutal than the one that came before it. 

So we should not be surprised now, as we continue in the Book of Daniel, to find this ancient pattern of the tower of Babel repeated here — but this time in much greater detail, so that we can understand God’s work in history even better. 

And just to make sure we do not fail to make the connections, the publishers of Daniel’s journals made sure, right at the very beginning of the book, to mention the fact that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, carried off treasures from God’s temple in Jerusalem and brought them back to the temple of his god in Shinar — the land where the original Tower of Babel was built. Nebuchadnezzar, just like Nimrod, was famous for his mastery of men and beasts, and famous for his building projects, especially his capital city of Babylon. 

And now, we are told, [1] King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 

So here we have a famous king setting up a tower on a plain in the land of Shinar. History is repeating itself. 

[2] He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. So all these guys show up from all over the empire…and they are all commanded to center their worship around this tower on the plain of Shinar. They can worship — or they can die. 

And of course they chose life: verse 7 tells us that all the nations and peoples of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 

We are supposed to understand that King Nebuchadnezzar has decided to reverse the ancient curse of Babel. He has decided to seize control of every language, every culture, and unite them once again under one centralized religion, one centralized government. 

But we have to wonder: why? Why has Nebuchadnezzar decided to do this now? Because, just last week, didn’t he acknowledge that Daniel’s Jewish God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings? Surely Nebuchadnezzar knows that the Jewish God does not have an image, a statue, right? 

Well…this is interesting: 

See, the ancient Greek edition of Daniel’s book says that Nebuchadnezzar set up this golden statue in the 18th year of his reign. So last week’s episode was actually 16 years ago. But that is not really the interesting part. This is the interesting part: it was during the 18th year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign that he finally destroyed Jerusalem. The city kept rebelling against his rule, so Nebuchadnezzar finally put an end to it. 

The prophet Jeremiah, who lived through those times, tells us that Nebuchadnezzar carried off tons of bronze and gold from the temple — and some ancient sources say that he used the temple’s gold to make this statue. 

Now, what is the significance of all this? 

Well, it seems that Nebuchadnezzar really took Daniel’s interpretation of his dream to heart. Daniel told him that the Jewish God had made him king of kings in order to rule over all men and all beasts and to lead all of creation into worship. The fact that the Jewish God has finally allowed him to destroy the Jewish temple just confirms for Nebuchadnezzar that the Jewish God has officially transferred his residence from Jerusalem to Babylon! Nebuchadnezzar now knows for certain that he is God’s king on earth, he is God’s representative on earth! 

So it makes perfect sense now, in Nebuchadnezzar’s pagan reasoning, to use the Jewish God’s gold to set up a statue representing the king and the empire and the gods — including the God of gods — and then force the whole world to worship it as the connecting point between earth and heaven! 

And the scene Daniel’s journal describes for us is one that we are actually quite familar with here in Asia. If you have ever visited Batu Caves during one of the great Hindu festivals, then you have seen with your own eyes what was going on here: millions of people gathered around a massive golden statue, practicing an ecstatic, chaotic sort of worship. 

How do we know? Because of the way Daniel’s book emphasizes the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music. 

First of all, these musical instruments are all pagan Babylonian instruments; Jewish people did not use these instruments in their worship. Second of all, when these musical instruments play all at once…it sounds terrible. The result is just noise, chaos. And then, just to reinforce the overwhelming, crazy effect, this list of instruments is repeated three more times in just a few verses. 

The point is this: the Babylonians are not just worshiping the wrong god, they are worshiping in the wrong way. This chaotic Babylonian style of worship is the opposite of the orderly, corporate worship the God of Israel desires. 

…just for reference, by the way, the statue at Batu Caves is about 40 meters tall; this statue is about 30 metres tall, only about 3/4ths the height, but much thinner. We should be aware, however, that these measurements of 60 x 6 are also meant to be symbolic. Because, for Jewish readers, the number six symbolizes imperfection, falling just short of seven, which symbolizes perfection. No doubt this statue really was much taller than it was wide. But by saying this statue is specifically 60 cubits tall by 6 cubits wide, Daniel’s journal is mocking Nebuchadnezzar’s pretentions, emphasizing his arrogance mixed with foolishness: he wants to unite the world in worship of an object that is obviously very unstable. 

But hey! if the God of gods is on your side, then it really does not matter how narrow your stairway to heaven is — right? So Nebuchadnezzar proceeds confidently. 

But [8] at this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews. [9] They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “May the king live forever! [10] Your Majesty has issued a decree that everyone has to worship this image or be thrown into a blazing furnace. [12] But there are these guys —Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.” 

Keep in mind that these astrologers are some of the wise men that Daniel saved from death last week! — or 16 years ago. 

But they are also the same astrologers who have proven to be ten times worse than Daniel and his friends…so professional jealousy is probably what motivates them here. 

However, even though they are ten times worse, they are still wise enough to personalize the insult: they make sure to point out that Daniel’s three friends are not just rejecting Nebuchadnezzar’s gods, they are rejecting Nebuchadenzzar himself: they “pay no attention to you, Your Majesty.” 

[13] Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, [14] and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up?” 

Notice how Daniel’s friends are being called by their Babylonian names, three times in just three verses? This is meant to emphasize how they are actually obligated to worship the Babylonian gods they are named after. 

And that is what Nebuchadnezzar goes on to make explicit in verse 15: 

Now, seriously, guys, I’m giving you another chance: when the worship music starts, if you fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” 

Nebuchadnezzar believes he represents the gods, all of them! including the God of gods. He believes that his will is God’s will, and who can resist God’s will? 

He just cannot believe that these three men — ten times wiser than everyone else in his cabinet — are refusing to participate in this wonderfully tolerant and unifying activity! Can’t they see that all the gods, including their Jewish God, have now been combined into One? Can’t they see that all the religions in the empire have been combined into one glorious, centralized, state-sanctioned religion? Can’t they see that the empire needs this, and that their God wants them to participate? 

But [16] Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.” 

They know how their God wants to be worshiped: not through chaotic noise, not through ecstatic trance, not centered around a golden image — but directly and simply: through prayer, orderly discussion, and songs — all centered around the Word of God. 

They are basically telling the king that all religions are not the same: their God is different. He is singular. He cannot be worshiped alongside any other gods, and he cannot be worshiped in ways that are acceptable to other gods. 

So, [17] “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. [18] But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” 

And, by the way, these three young men are not the first to face this penalty. The Book of Jeremiah tells us that at least two other faithful exiles — named Zedekiah and Ahab — were burned by the king of Babylon sometime during the last 16 years. So when Daniel’s friends admit, in verse 18, that God might choose not to save them from the flames…they know first-hand that this is a distinct possibility. They most likely witnessed the execution of those other two men, their friends, their fellow exiles. So this is a statement of extraordinary faith and courage. 

[19] Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. 

Until this point, he has been rather fond of these guys. He was being generous by giving them a second chance to obey. 

Now, his attitude changes. Literally, this verse says that his image changed — which is a clever play on words designed to highlight the king’s arrogance and his instability: he wants to control the world through this golden image…but he can’t even control his own personal image. 

So he loses it: he orders the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual, and does not even pause to strip them — which would have been a normal feature of execution. [21] So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. [22] The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, [23] and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace. 

Notice the irony here: Nebuchadnezzar has been saying that those who serve his gods will live, while those who refuse will die. Instead, the soldiers who worship the Babylonian gods die, while those who refused — 

Well, let’s change perspectives now and watch the scene through Nebuchadnezzar’s eyes: 

[24] Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” 

They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.” 

[25] He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” 

The king who thought that his will is God’s will discovers that it is not true. He thought he was the only representative of the gods on earth, but now he is seeing that there is at least one other representative right there, inside the furnace, walking around looking like a son of the gods — apparently reversing the king’s judgement. 

So [26] Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So they come out, [27] and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. 

[28] Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. [29] Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.” 

[30] Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon. 

And when we read this, really what we are hearing is the publishers of Daniel’s book laughing as they edit Daniel’s journals. Daniel probably wrote this down as a recital of bare facts. The publishers made sure to repeat and structure Daniel’s words so as to highlight how, through the faithfulness of Daniel’s friends, God brought order out of the chaos of pagan worship. 

For instance, we are supposed to notice how, in the end, people from every nation and language are centered around God’s people, marveling at God’s work of salvation…the golden statue completely forgotten. 

We are supposed to notice how, in the end, Nebuchadnezzar accepts the reality that his empire is not going to be united by one religion: he passes a law of religious tolerance. Nebuchadnezzar is still convinced that he is the primary representative of the gods on earth — that will be proven in the next episode — but he is at least willing to let the Jewish God be worshiped in his own way by his own Jewish people, without interference. 

 

Okay. That is today’s episode. 

But what does it mean? What was it intended to teach the ancient Jews who read it? And what does it teach us? 

Well, the ancient Jews who first read the Book of Daniel were living in Jerusalem. The city was rebuilt, the temple was rebuilt, they were back home from exile in Babylon. But in many ways they were still in exile: their land, their homeland, was occupied by foreign rulers: first by the Persians, then by the Greeks, finally by the Romans. 

And over the course of those centuries, the Jewish people experienced two political extremes: at first their foreign rulers were tolerant, they allowed the Jews to worship their God in their own way, and the Jewish people grew stronger, more prosperous and happy. They were not independent, but at least they had peace. Later, other rulers took over, who tried to seize control of the Jewish religion and force the Jews into worshiping their gods. And then the people faced a terrible choice: they could submit — or die. 

And the years of peace that came before the years of persecution made that decision more difficult. Just like Daniel and his friends in Nebuchadnezzar’s court, early on the Jewish nation had a secure and respected place among the nations ruled by the Persian empire. They found that they could be faithful to their God while also living in peace with their political neighbors and overlords. It was pretty good! and they got used to it. 

Some got too used to it. They began to adapt too well to the cultures of the empires that ruled them. They began to live as if their whole purpose in life was to get along with those around them, to maintain the conditions that lead to peace and prosperity and ever growing power. Tensions began to rise within the Jewish nation: there were the conservatives on one side, who believed in political isolation and the preservation of traditional worship; and the progressives on the other side, who believed in cultural engagement and adaptation. 

And so, when real persecution began under the Greeks, when the choice became ”practice false worship” or ”die”…the progressive leadership decided they were unwilling to give up the prosperity and power they had accumulated over so many generations: they compromised and allowed idols to be installed in God’s temple. The conservatives rebelled, and started a civil war against their progressive Jewish government, that turned into a war with the Greek empire that ruled them. 

Now, the conservatives actually won that war, and took control of the Jewish nation for themselves! in part because they made a treaty with some distant city called Romulus — Romula? Roma? Rome? something like that — a city that was just beginning to squeeze the Greek empire from the other side, way far away across the sea. 

Unfortunately for those conservative leaders, about 100 years later that faraway city of Rome decided to really take over the Greek empire, and decided that they wanted a return on their little investment in the Jewish nation. Basically, they showed up saying, “Hey, we supported you for the last century, now you support us.” And that is what happened: the old conservatives became the new progressives; the old hardliners became the new compromisers, and the Jewish leadership submitted to the Roman empire. 

If those old conservative revolutionaries had been reading the Book of Daniel — really reading it — they would have seen that starting a war and seizing power is not the right way to resist persecution. It is especially not the right way to establish and enforce the pure worship of God. 

Unfortunately, those old conservatives were exactly the kind of people we talked about last week who tend to get distracted by the details of Daniel’s apocalyptic prophecies. Daniel is all about teaching God’s people to trust in God’s control over history. But many of them treated Daniel like a handbook of future history, written to help them take control of history — or, at least, help them help God take control of history. Many of them thought that, by going to war against the Greek empire, they were fulfilling Daniel’s prophecies! fulfilling God’s will. 

— and, in a way, they were, as we are going to see in a few weeks. But actually they were not! as we are going to see in a few weeks. So make sure to come back for that! 

The Book of Daniel is all about teaching God’s people how to remain faithful in exile. Faithful in the face of seduction by power, and faithful in the face of persecution by power. 

The book’s first two episodes, while Daniel and his friends were still in university, demonstrates how they responded to seduction by power: they stuck close to each other and deliberately gave up power where they could; they prayed for God’s wisdom and they preached it when they could. 

This third episode, 16 years later, while Daniel and his friends are well established in their careers, demonstrates how they responded to persecution by power. They did not compromise. Nor did they boast about their disobedience to the king’s command. But, when they were reported and put on trial, they admitted the truth. And they publically put their trust in God. 

Through Daniel’s writings, God was teaching his ancient Jewish people that, between compromise and revolution, there is a third way to live in exile: quiet, stubborn, daily faithfulness. If God’s people can practice quiet, stubborn faithfulness in their daily lives, then, when times are good and power is offered to them, they will know how to use that power wisely, without destroying themselves by trying to seize control of history! — and, when times are bad and power is retained only at the cost of submission to godless earthly empires, then God’s people will know how to let that earthly power go and embrace the powerlessness of total faith in God that is actually the greatest power of all. 

But we need to notice that God is not just standing at a distance, telling his people, “Hey! When I ask you to walk through fire for my sake, you just do it!” No. In this episode God fulfills a promise he made almost 200 years earlier through the prophet Isaiah. And we read that promise together today in our worship: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed, you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with youwhen you walk through the fire, you will not be burned.” 

Throughout the Book of Daniel there has been a developing revelation of God’s character. In the beginning the Babylonians declared that their gods had conquered the God of Israel and his people! — but then we found out that God actually allowed this defeat for his own purposes in history. The Babylonians declared that their gods do not share mysteries with pathetic mankind! — but then we found out that the God of Israel does share mysteries with his own people. The Babylonians declared that the gods do not live among us! — but now we have discovered that the God of Israel does walk among his people. 

The ancient Jews who first read Daniel’s book did not know how to explain this fourth man. Nebuchadnezzar said he looked like “a son of the gods,” and later on called him God’s “angel” that rescued God’s servants. But Neduchadnezzar was a pagan, not a Jewish theologian. And Jewish theologians knew that God does not have sons — like: literal, flesh-and-blood sons — so they decided that Nebuchadnezzar was correct the second time: this must have been an angel, representing God, but certainly not God himself. 

However, on the other hand, God did say, through Isaiah’s prophecy, “I will be with you” — and it is hard to tell how literally to interpret that: did God mean he would be present in Spirit? or present through representation by an angel? or did he mean he would sometimes actually take on physical human form? 

Well, the wisest Jewish theologians decided that the answer must be ”yes” to all of these possibilities. They knew God was spiritually present with them in the rebuilt temple; they knew that sometimes — at very special times — he was represented by angels. They knew that God had even appeared as a man and had eaten lunch with Abraham once. 

What they did not know — what they could not know — was that this event, this appearance of one “like a son of the gods” was especially intended to be a promise, a prophecy of a time when God himself would live on earth as one “like a son of man”. 

The ancient Jews who lived through those centuries were longing for God’s Messiah to appear and deliver them once and for all from earthly seduction and earthly judgement. This fourth man in the furnace is a preview of that Messiah! — but we are supposed to notice that he does not deliver God’s people from the flames of earthly judgement, he delivers them through the flames — and that he passes through the flames alongside them. 

It is easy for us, looking back, to see clearly what was not obvious then: God himself did live among us as one like “a son of man”. A woman gave birth to him. His Father gave him a human name: Jesus of Nazareth. There were moments during his life on earth when he did look like “a son of the gods” — but for the most part he lived the quiet, stubborn, faithful life of an ordinary man. He had the all power of God, but he did not abuse that power, and when the time came for him to give it up and submit to judgement by earthly powers, he did not compromise, nor did he start a revolution — he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He entered the flames, and like Daniel’s friends, he died: he was dead to the world. No one comes back from that! 

— except that he did. Like Daniel’s friends, when he was called, he got up and walked out through the doorway of the furnace of death and so earned the right to be worshiped by people from every nation and language. He became the center and the source of God’s salvation. 

And he did this by refusing to compromise and refusing to revolutionize. 

This was God’s message for his ancient Jewish people as they passed through the flames of those centuries of waiting for their Messiah: he wanted them to understand that he is with them, that he will be with them. And because he is with them, they do not need to fight back and win against the foreign powers that rule them, they only need to endure and let God rule the currents of history. 

The Jewish people needed to understand that they were reliving the story of Abraham and his family. God saved Abraham from the confusion surrounding the Tower of Babel, leading him to a new homeland; God also saved the Jewish people from the confusion surrounding Nebuchadnezzar’s Tower of Babel, leading them back to their homeland. Some generations of Abraham’s family experienced times of peace and prosperity; some generations experienced terrible oppression and slavery. In the same way, the Jewish people experienced times of peace and times of oppression. Abraham’s family had to wait for hundreds of years before they finally gained the freedom to worship God without persecution, without opposition — and God wants his Jewish people to understand that they are going to have to wait centuries also. 

God’s message is the same for us: wait patiently, dear children. Put your faith in me, not in yourselves. The road is long, but we will arrive someday. And look: I am with you always, to the very end of the age! 

And we need this message. Because, just like the ancient Jewish people, we are tempted to put our hope in winning religious tolerance for ourselves. In some areas we are tempted to compromise, thinking we can earn freedom from our earthly rulers. In some areas we are tempted to fight, thinking that we can seize and enforce freedom of worship. 

What we need to see here is that Daniel’s friends only received religious tolerance after they passed through the flames of earthly judgement and death. They did not get there by compromising or by fighting, they got there by submitting completely to God’s plan for them: not just during the times of power but even more during the times of powerlessness. And the only reason they were able to submit so completely is because they were absolutely convinced that God would be with them, no matter what happened to their bodies. 

Friends, God’s message for his people is even more relevant today than ever. We, in these generations, are experiencing both power and powerlessness in ever increasing measure, seduction and oppression in ever increasing measure: 

For instance, we all enjoy instantaneous access to a universal library of information greater then anything ever conceived by the wise men of ancient Babylon. The nations of our world are beginning to experience a unity of knowledge never before seen in the history of mankind — and knowledge is power! 

By almost every possible measure, we are the most unified and powerful generation of human beings that have ever lived. 

But this kind of unity through knowledge demands a unified worship. Just like Nebuchadnezzar’s empire, our global system can only hold together if everyone agrees on the same interpretation of the same set of facts. As long as everyone agrees on the foundational nature of the universe, the system will continue to provide peace and prosperity for all — especially for the guys at the top. 

But if even a small group of people refuse to accept this arrangment of the facts…this creates cracks in the system. Questioning the status quo introduces doubt into the system. And doubt destroys. 

And this is why our modern global secular culture is demanding, with greater and greater insistence, that we all submit to one, centralized set of ideas about the nature of the universe and the nature of mankind. It does not matter how narrow and unstable this interpretation of the facts really is, we are not supposed to question it! we are not supposed to look at the fragile foundation! we are supposed to look up at how tall it is! — and then we are supposed to bow down and worship. Worship, or be silenced. Worship…or die. 

Well, we Christians are those who question the status quo, who refuse to accept the world’s arrangement of the facts without a better explanation than we have been given so far. 

Nebuchadnezzar took gold from God’s temple and rearranged it into a form that served his ideas about reality. But Daniel’s friends were not fooled: that may have been God’s gold, but that was not God’s design! In the same way, we can see that the empires of our world are taking God’s facts and rearranging them into a form that serves their ideas about reality. But we are not fooled: we know that this is just another Tower of Babel set on a foundation of baked clay. 

We disagree with this idea that history just runs by itself like a machine that can be manipulated by the proper application of knowledge and power. We are the ones who say that God is not just distantly involved in guiding the movements of history, he is physically and intimately involved. 

And because we are the ones who question the status quo, we are also the ones who will experience an ever-increasing powerlessness in the midst of all this global power. 

For 2000 years Christianity has experienced times of peace and prosperity, times of oppression and poverty, but generally the trend has been one of slow and steady growth. For almost 2000 years Christian ideas have received an increasingly secure and respected place among the nations, just as Nebuchadnezzar welcomed the wisdom of Daniel and his friends for many years, just as the Jewish nation had an accepted place in the Persian empire for many years. 

But now, it seems, there is a growing sense that Christian ideas in particular must be silenced — while the ideas of every other religion are permitted to go forward. 

Why? Because the ideas of every other religion offer no real threat to the growing secular consensus: they are actually the same ideas. 

But Christian ideas are really different. Christianity, by its very name, reminds the powers of our world that they are not actually the masters of history — and this is something they cannot stand to hear. 

So, okay: what does this silencing look like? What powerlessness might we begin to experience that we are not used to? And how are we to respond? 

Well, many Christians in our world are experiencing the powerlessness of violent persecution and even physical death. By God’s grace we in Malaysia are not yet personally confronted with that — though there are some worshiping with us today who do potentially face the threat of physical violence from friends and relatives. 

But because our modern global secular culture is based on a unified interpretation of knowledge, what we are going to see is an ever increasing control over that body of knowledge, especially control over who is allowed to contribute to the conversation. 

In other words: we are talking about censorship. China is ahead of the world in this regard. We know a bit about censorship here. But even in countries that supposedly support free speech we are finding that there are individual global corporations that are able to silence dissenting ideas with the touch of a button. 

So, let’s get practical: how are we to respond when we find our posts deleted because of Christian content? When Christians are “canceled” from public discourse because our biblical morality is considered immoral? 

Should we compromise? or should we protest, and fight back? 

The answer, friends, is neither. According to Daniel’s book, the answer is quiet, stubborn faithfulness. 

And we would all see that clearly if, like Daniel’s friends, we were absolutely convinced that Jesus is with us, that history is held in the hands of our Father alone! 

Why are we modern Christians fussing about how unfair it is when Twitter or Facebook or some other global empire silences us? Of course it is unfair! Frankly, the fact that we think the powers of our world ought to play fair just goes to show how much we have already compromised, how much we have gotten used to the idea that we can live in true harmony with the nations! The last few generations of relative peace Christianity has enjoyed on the world stage have fooled us into thinking that the non-Christian cultures that surround us are our friends. 

Brothers and sisters, my fellow keyboard warriors: the Church survived for centuries without Twitter, without Facebook, without publishing houses, without freedom of speech, without freedom of worship. The end of net neutrality may be a sign of the end of the world, but it does not mark the end of our faith! 

All this means, friends, is that we are going to have to go back to the basics: talking to each other face to face, meeting together day by day, practicing the same quiet, stubborn faithfulness that God’s people have practiced for thousands of years. 

 

So, in closing here: it appears that we stand at one of those turning points where God’s people experience a shift from a time of relative peace to a time of oppression, powerlessness, and unpopularity. We are about to be reminded that we are in exile here, not at home. We are refugees, not citizens. The nations see us as threats to their peace and prosperity, not as friends and contributors. 

How should we respond to this shift? Should we compromise, or start a revolution? 

Through Daniel’s writings, our Father is teaching us that, between compromise and revolution, there is a third way to live in exile. Through quiet, stubborn, daily faith in God’s presence with us, we will pass safely through the flames and emerge in one of three places: in God’s presence. On a new earth. Or into a new season of earthly tolerance, with the world gathered around the Church and marveling at God’s salvation. 

So let’s just keep on encouraging one another with this Good News. Let’s just keep on repeating the statement of faith that Daniel’s three friends taught us: no matter what happens in the world, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us, one way or another. Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 

Amen. 

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