We are living in a world beset by many problems. The beginning of a new century does not bring hope to our future. What has happened in the last century seems to be repeating here and now. The ghost of the cold war seemed to come out from its grave and starts haunting the world. The long-buried nationalism shows its ugly head again all over the whole world. The world economy, fed by human greed, becomes a giant with an unsatiated soul, heading into an unknown future and bringing many into ruins along its path. Uncontrollable global warming tells us that humanity will be wiped out in the not too distant future.
As Christians living in this troubled world, we are facing additional predicaments associated with the secularism happening in our society. Christian faith is pushed out from the public space into the private sphere. Finally, the actual sins committed by the church as well as the false accusations levelled against it makes the whole society turn against evangelical Christianity as well as its moral teaching. Looking into what has happened around us, we feel helpless to do anything. Does this mean that we have no future? Does this mean that from now on we must do things privately? Does this mean that the good news can only be confined within the walls of our church? The event recorded in Daniel chapter one tells us otherwise.
The event recorded in Daniel chapter one told us otherwise. In the beginning of this chapter, we saw that Judah was ran over by the Babylonian army. Its king and many nobles became captives. Even the vessels set apart for the Lord in the Jerusalem temple were captured. They were brought back to Babylon and stored in its pagan temple. The God of Israel appeared to be powerless. He was neither able to save himself nor to prevent his chosen people from exile. The world appeared to be controlled by a mere human being. Yet in verse two, the author used the words “the Lord gave” to remind us of a very different perspective. The God of Israel was not powerless to save. What had happened to Judah was under God’s sovereign will. The world was controlled by the God of Israel. Even the mighty Babylonian king was just a pawn in the hands of God.
As the story unfolded, we learned that among those exiles, Daniel and his three friends were chosen by the king to be trained in the Babylonian court so that they could eventually serve this king. Because of this, they were forced to go through intensive enculturation. Their Jewish names were changed into Babylonian names. They were forced to learn Babylonian wisdom as a way to unlearn their Jewish past. They were forced to eat Babylonian food. In other words, they were forced to live, to speak, and to think as a good Babylonian. Facing the mighty king, these four young men appeared to be hapless. Yet by knowing that their God was in control, they used their limited freedom to request not to eat meat and wine provided by the king but to eat vegetables instead. By making this choice consciously, they wanted to preserve their true identity, the chosen people of God. They wanted to remind themselves that their loyalty was to God and God alone.
This story reminds us that Jesus Christ is not just our Savior but also the Lord of this world. Despite what the world told us otherwise, Jesus Christ is in control. Nothing is outside of his sovereign will. Moreover, he did not leave us as orphans living alone in this world. He come to us through His Spirit. He is for us and with us. In His Spirit, we are set free so that we can choose to be obedient to Him. We have the freedom to choose to bear the cross and live a way contrary to what is accepted by the society. In facing the nationalism, we can choose to live as a communion of saints consisted of different race. In facing materialism, we can choose to sacrifice our right so as to help those who are poor and needy. In facing the accusations, we have the courage to admit our wrongs and the willingness to ask for forgiveness. In facing the mounting pressure to conform, we dare to proclaim the gospel openly. Most importantly, we are set free to have a hope that one day He will come again to recreate everything new. Indeed, we are not hapless and without freedom. This is not because we are strong but because the One who calls us out from the darkness into the light is the Lord of the World.