“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 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. 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…” (Daniel 1:1-3)
Imagine what it must have been like to be one of those Jewish exiles. Babylon was a beautiful city, a powerful city, overflowing with the wealth of the nations as the capitol of the largest empire in the world. No parents. No rabbis. You’re isolated. You’re alone. You’re immersed in a foreign land with foreign gods that seem so strange and so real all at the same time. Is Yahweh really the One True God? These people sure don’t think so and they seem to be getting along just fine without him.
I’m convinced that what these young, Jewish boys in the beginning of Daniel experienced in the 6th century BC is not unusual. They were in exile. But so are we. You might live in Midlothian, but if you’re a follower of Christ, this world is not your home. You’re a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, which means as long as you live on earth, you’re an exile. You’re a pilgrim. Everything broken around us reminds us that we’re not home yet.
To be a faithful Christian in the world and culture we live in is not an easy thing. There are enormous temptations and pressures to compromise, and if you don’t compromise, to simply disengage and retreat into our little Christian community, our little Christian house, our little Christian bubble and try to ride out the storm. Compromise is tempting. Isolation is alluring. Fear is knocking at the door. I see it in the church at large. I see it in our church. We’re living in exile.
But even saying that, acknowledging that we’re living in exile as Christians in a fallen world and a secular society, begins to bring a glimmer of hope. Why? Because it helps us understand what’s going on. And it reminds us that we’re not the first of God’s people to be thrust in this sort of situation. The Bible is full of exile stories. Adam & Eve were exiled from Eden. Jacob and his family were exiles in Egypt. Daniel and his companions were exiles in Babylon. First century Christians were treated like exiles in the Roman empire. It’s always been part of what it means to be the people of God in a fallen world.
And in every situation, God came through. He saw. He heard. He had mercy. He rescued. And while his people waited, He spoke – comforting words, challenging words, life-giving words designed to turn our gaze away from the trials of this life and onto our faithful God who promises to protect his people, preserve his people, and rescue his people until he brings us home. God used Daniel and the book he wrote to help his fellow exiles remain faithful in the face of intense persecution and suffering. He’s eager to do the same work in us today.
The Lord wants to teach us how to be a faithful exile, a God-fearing exile, an exile that seizes every experience of brokenness this side of glory as an opportunity to trust and exult in the One who rules over all things. I love how Daniel 11:32 captures the entire message of this book in a single sentence, speaking of the kings and kingdoms of this world:
“He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.”
I believe that’s exactly what God wants to do in our hearts through this series – teach us how to replace compromise for conviction, isolation with engagement, and fear with trust.
We need to remember that God is in charge of everything in a way that is stronger, deeper and more beautiful than we could ever imagine. We need to remember that God’s ways often don’t make sense to us because his timetable is different than our ours. We need to remember that God’s final triumph over every evil power is assured, promising salvation for the righteous and judgment for the wicked. We need to remember that God calls his people to testify to the reality of his kingdom long before we see it in all its fullness. And we need to remember that all of human history is moving toward the fulfillment of God’s purposes.
For that reason, we’ve decided to call this sermon series, Dominion. Over and over again, Daniel acknowledges that it seems as though the kings and kingdoms of this world are controlling everything, including God’s people. Yet, time after time Daniel never fails to assure us that they’re not in charge. God is. Their dominion is temporary. His dominion is eternal. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than Daniel 7:13-14, where Daniel has a vision of the pre-incarnate Christ, the Son of God:
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
The plan is to take roughly 1 chapter each Sunday, beginning next week with Daniel 1. I encourage you to read ahead and come ready to hear God’s word every week. We’re also going to continue posting discussion questions on our blog to guide your conversations about Daniel in community groups. I’m really excited that we have begun this series and hope to see you next Sunday morning.