Introduction: Why Daniel?
Some of you might wonder why or how the leadership of the church chooses which books of the Bible we need to go through together. We have not always done it the same way, but the most common denominator is by listening to God through the Spirit and by listening to the needs of our people. This is primarily done through prayer. The leaderships strives to listen to the prayer request of our people, praying over the Word of God, and asking God, “What Word do you have for us?”
God did some really awesome things in our church in 2016. We set out to grow in our identity as worshipers of the One True God. We sought to help better equip each other to live lives of worship. We wanted to see the first part of our vision statement happen—“Our desire is to see the glory of God increase.”
One practical way we sought to do that was through prayer. We asked God to provide us with a mature unified leadership, some time to assess our leaders, more people, radically reshape some of our life habits, grow partnerships with people in the community, increase our finances, a new place to gather together, and give us wisdom to be unified on what we believe about the sacraments. Everything we asked for God has done and some of them He is continuing to do. God heard our prayers and answered them.
But 2016 was not without its challenges. In the midst of all the growth, and display of grace, there were growing pains. Like the Israelites in Ezra and the Christians in Corinth we faced both external and internal opposition. Therefore, the newly established elders put our heads together and said, “LORD, what would you have us do now?” We sought to live out Philippians 2.2, “being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” As a result we thought we needed to renew our affections for one another and embrace each other as family. We are a family who has experienced wonderful and challenging things in 2016. In the book of Daniel we see these same themes. We see the family of God, the nation of Israel, facing real adversity, but their leaders wanted to unify them around faithfulness—faithfulness in the midst of opposition. They did not want them to lose sight of Daniel 4.1-3:
To the nations and peoples of every language, who live in all the earth: May you prosper greatly! It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me. How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation.
The elders hope and pray many of us will be able to say, “It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.”
Theme: The Family of Faith and Hope.
Why call this series, “The Family of Faith and Hope?” We will explore this more in the weeks to come, but the answer is fairly simple. The first half of Daniel is about remaining faithful in a foreign land. Daniel 1-6 is showing us what faithfulness looks like in the midst of some real intense adversity. But in Daniel 7-12 there is a major theme shift. The people in Daniel 1-6 were able to remain faithful because they had real hope. In Daniel 7-12 God reveals to Daniel there will be a cycle of adversity for the family of God for many years. But God also wants to encourage Daniel that there is hope. The family of God is full of hope, not because of our faithfulness, but God promises He will be faithful to fulfill His promises and accomplish His purposes.
1. Biblical Background.
Whenever you begin exploring a new book of the Bible it can be helpful to get some big ideas down before you focus on the details. For instance, if you want to study algebra it is helpful to understand addition and subtraction. If you do not understand those mathematic principles then you will not get algebra. As we consider Daniel it can be helpful to know a little bit about where we are in the story of the Bible.
The Hebrews placed Daniel in the final third of their Bible or Canon. The Hebrew Canon is broken up into 3 parts—the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. When you are raising a child much of what you are teaching them is law. As they grow up they need correction to help them remember or understand those laws. But as a parent you hope some day you have instructed them well enough so that they can make wise decisions on their own. There are many times when I want to help my kids see that some issue has several good options, but their small minds are not ready for that. They still need clear instruction.
Israel was at one time a child, a young nation, who needed a great deal of instruction, and they got this in the Law. The Prophets came along and reminded the Israelites of what was “right” and “wrong” in the sight of God. By the time we come to the Writings the authors were building on what was in the Law and the Prophets. The authors of the Writings want us to make wise choices based on the Law and the Prophets. These authors want us to move out of biblical childhood and live like mature believers.
2. Literary Features.
Next I would like to look at the literary features of Daniel. We have discussed one literary feature—Daniel is wisdom literature. With that in mind, we must be careful to take everything in the book as literal instruction. The life of Daniel and his friends are not giving us direct commands, but living in light of previous commands already given.
The book of Daniel also includes several other literary features. One of those is historical political narrative. This means a good portion of the book takes place during real historical events. The time was full of political unrest. There were nations rising and falling during the time of Daniel. This is told through use of “story.” It is not just some history textbook, but told through the use of narrative.
Another feature in Daniel is apocalyptic prophecy. It is prophetic in the sense that it is encouraging and correcting its reader in their present and future circumstances. The apocalyptic literature means it will use graphic grotesque symbolism to talk about the present and future.
The book breaks up into two major parts: Daniel 1-6 is essentially the historical political narratives, but Daniel 7-12 has more of the features of apocalyptic prophecy.
3. Daniel Through The Years.
These features in Daniel have made it a very controversial book throughout the history of God’s people. Many of the Israelite and Christian theologians have been heavily influenced by Daniel. If any of you grew up in a more conservative or fundamentalist Christian traditions then you ran into this. All the movies, books, or Sunday school lessons we had about the apocalypse, anti-Christ, rapture, or that stuff in the “Left Behind” series comes from things people believe about Daniel. Sadly for many this has resulted in them not really caring about the “end times” as important to their faith, or for others this has been another thing piled onto to the list which has turned them off to seeing Christianity have any real value in the world.
4. Theology of Daniel.
Some of you when you hear the word, “theology” are immediately turned off. And trust me friend, when I first entered seminary I felt the same way. But there are two problems I noticed. FIRST, I was not willing to look at the heart of what theology is, which is growing in our understanding of who God is and how He do things. Everyone has theological convictions it just a matter of whether or not they are good. SECOND, many times my desire to understand theology was tied to how good my teacher was. Thankfully I had a wonderful theology professor who helped me grow in my appreciation for theology. As I have thought through that over the years I have learned what I appreciated about him was his humility. He was very careful how expressed opinions he did not agree with.
We will discuss more of the theology of Daniel throughout the series, but I want to give you a few things. When see the mercy and grace of God on display in many ways throughout Daniel. We see His grace and mercy are very personal. For instance, it would be striking to an Israelite reader how personal and favorable God was to Gentile kings. But God was also listening and intervening on behalf of His people, the Israelites. Therefore, this shows God can choose to be merciful and gracious to whoever He wants.
There is one statement that I feel summarizes the book of Daniel and it is—God rules everything and will overcome all human evil/oppression. I think for now this statement can feel very distant and rigid, but as we explore this book and do life together these next few months my hope and prayer is this statement will become very real and personal to us. Once again I hope we can say, “It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.” In fact I hope to see people express this in their own unique ways. That could be through blog post, tweets, photos, music, poetry, how they relate to others, how they view their work, and so much more.
5. Reading Daniel A Christ-Centered Way.
Not only has Daniel been historically full of rich theology, but has also shaped what many Christians believe about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are phrases and images that help us to better understand who Jesus is. Some of these phrases and images include the “Stone” in Daniel 2, and the “Son of Man” and “Ancient of Days” in Daniel 7.
We must never lose sight that God always stands as the central character in every piece of Scripture. But the Bible is also telling a story between God and humanity. Jesus Christ is the “God-Man.” Daniel and his friends will serve as examples that will point us to Jesus. But Jesus will be able to do something they could not, which is show us what a world looks like with God dwelling right here with us.
6. How Do We Grow During Daniel?
With all that said, some of you might be asking, “John, what can I be doing during this journey through Daniel?” That is a wonderful and appropriate question. There are many rhythms we do every Sunday: sing, listen and learn, fellowship, eat a meal together, read Scripture together, and etc. Some of you realize this, and others do not, but the reason we do these things every Sunday is to empower and equip you for life during the rest of your week.
But if you do not want your Sunday experience to turn into entertainment then you must realize you are a part of the experience. We watch football for entertainment because we are not striving to become professional football players. We cannot treat our church experience the same way. We all have a part to play. The church experience does not work properly unless we are all doing our part. We must learn to see that our scattered habits (what we do during the week) are connected to our gathered habits (what we do on Sundays). We put some principles and instructions to help you with your scattered habits in the Daniel Study Guide. I am not going to list them here today, but encourage to read, learn, and practice them throughout this series. I pray we all will grow as family full of faith and hope.