"Victory in Defeat"#88-05
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on October 4, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Daniel: 1
What caught my attention about Coach Nicollerat wasn't his size. Although he was a big man, over six feet, thick arms, and a vein that bulged from the side of his neck. But that wasn't what got my attention. It was the fire that lit in his eyes whenever he got to talk about baseball. When my son was a freshman in high school, he tried out for the baseball team. And before the season started, we went to a batting clinic led by Coach Nicollerat. He was talking through the fundamentals of a good swing and talking about the difference between technique and style.
As I listened to Coach Nicollerat talk, I began to realize that the fire in his eyes didn't come from baseball. It came from people, talking with the players, interacting with them. He told us later on in the seminar, he said, "Sports matter to me because they give an opportunity to use challenges and obstacles to help us grow into better people. And that makes the defeats as important if not more important than the victories."
Over the next several weeks on this program, we're going to be listening to the Old Testament book of Daniel. We're listening, not just to learn some technique, but to hear His message. Let me be upfront with you about what I believe about the book of Daniel. I believe that the events recorded in the book of Daniel are real events, that happened with real people, in real places, with a real impact on history. And I believe that the character that we meet in the book, Daniel, is also the author of the book. He wrote these events down with literary skill and artistic insight, not simply to record history, but to convey a message.
I believe that directing all of this was the God who created the universe and uses history as His vehicle to convey His message. Not everyone who reads the Bible believes this about the book of Daniel. For a lot of them, the biggest roadblock to receiving Daniel as history and not fantasy is the fact that Daniel accurately foretells the future. And because this is impossible, so they say, no one can do this. And so clearly the book was written years after the events took place by an author who was only pretending to be this fictionalized character named Daniel.
But if you believe that in the book of Daniel, you are dealing with the God who not only created the universe, but who uses history to convey His message, and that He not only knows the future, but He writes the future, then it is no problem for Him to reveal His plan to someone like Daniel. I listen to Daniel this way because I believe that Jesus of Nazareth crucified under the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate is risen from the dead, and that He is the One Daniel wrote about. He is the chosen human-divine King foretold in the book.
Five hundred years before Jesus was born, Daniel was blessed with a vision of God's plan unfolding in history. And it was a vision of a Kingdom—a Kingdom that will ultimately displace every other form of government; a Kingdom that will not pass away; a Kingdom that is open to everyone who trusts in the One, true God; a Kingdom that would come mysteriously through the loss, through the defeat, through the death of the Messiah. See Daniel 9:26. That's the message of the book of Daniel: God's victory in the Messiah comes through defeat.
The very first sentence of the book of Daniel tells of defeat. Daniel is a young man, probably 14 years old. He watches a foreign army of large, hangry men with veins bulging from the sides of their necks, surround his city Jerusalem. They capture the city and abduct Daniel and his friends. He doesn't even get a chance to kiss his mother goodbye. And for the next two months, they are marched barefoot through a barren wasteland in bondage to Babylon. Now, historical records tell us that it was the Babylonian custom when they took young men captive like this, to castrate them, to emasculate them, to make them into eunuchs. This may have been what they did to Daniel and his friends, especially since we are told in chapter one that they are placed under the charge of the chief eunuch.
Now, we don't know for sure. Daniel spares us of the details. But what we know for certain is that the Babylonians did everything in their power to hammer home a message to these people that they were defeated, stripped of their past, stripped of their prospects, stripped of their personhood. The book of Daniel begins in defeat in the strongest possible terms. And in the midst of that defeat, Daniel's message is of victory—victory in the coming Messiah.
Listen to Daniel 1.
Now, in the third year of the reign of your Jehoiakim king of Judah, around 605 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon came and surrounded, laid siege to, Jerusalem. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim, king of Judah into Nebuchadnezzar's hand, and also some of the vessels of the house of God. And Nebuchadnezzar carried them to the house of his god in Babylonia, and the vessels he put in the treasure house of his god.
Now the king told Ashpenaz, the chief of his eunuchs, to bring some of the sons of Israel, both from the royal family and from the nobility, young men, without any physical defect, good-looking with aptitude for wisdom, well-informed, quick to understand, and ability to serve in the king's palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them daily rations of food of the king's delicacies, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter into the king's service. Among those who were chosen were some sons from Judah, the tribe of Judah: Daniel, whose name means "God is my judge"; Hananiah, whose name means "the Lord is gracious"; Mishael, whose name means "who compares to God?" and Azariah, whose name means "the Lord is my help."
"God is my judge." "The Lord is gracious." "Who compares to God?" "The Lord is my help." Those were their names, but the chief eunuch set other names on them—names after his gods. To Daniel, he set the name Belteshazzar. To Hananiah, he set the name Shadrach. To Mishael, he set the name Meshach. To as Azariah, he set the name of Abednego. But Daniel set his heart not to defile himself. He set his heart not to defile himself with the king's food and drink. And he asked permission from the chief eunuch not to defile himself in this way.
Now, God had caused the chief eunuch to show favor and compassion to Daniel. But he told him, "I am afraid of my Lord, the king who has assigned you your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would have my head because of you." So Daniel, talked to the manager whom the chief eunuch had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah whose names mean "God is my judge." "The Lord is gracious." "Who compares to God?" "The Lord is my help." And he said to him, "Please test your servants. Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink for ten days. Then compare our appearance to the appearance of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants according to what you see."
So he agreed to test them for ten days. And after ten days, they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the other young men who ate the royal food. So the manager took away their choice food and wine, and gave them vegetables. Now, to these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding in all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel was able to understand visions and dreams of all kinds. After the time set by the king for them to enter into his service, the chief eunuch presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. And the king talked with them and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, whose names mean "God is my judge." "The Lord is gracious." "Who compares to God?" "The Lord is my help." And they entered into the king's service. In all the matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them to be ten times better than all the magicians and the enchanters in his whole kingdom. Daniel stayed there until the first year of King Cyrus, 538 B.C., 67 years.
The Word of the Lord, Daniel 1.
Daniel lived his entire adult life in apparent defeat. And yet he knew—"God is my judge. The Lord is gracious. Who compares to God? The Lord is my help." He knew the truth that let him live in the victory of the coming Messiah, even in the midst of heartbreaking defeat. For Daniel, living in defeat meant living as a cultural exile. Now, if you are a follower of Daniel's Messiah, or you are considering becoming a follower of his Messiah, then you will in some ways, be a cultural exile.
In our culture, there are voices that dismiss the story of Daniel and of Jesus as fantasy. And where these voices dominate and you follow Jesus, you will be a cultural exile. Let Daniel be your coach. In Daniel 1, there are at least three techniques that we can learn. Technique number one: Don't listen to hecklers. Number two: Appeal to the manager. Number three: Stay in the game, and let God make the play.
Number one: Don't listen to hecklers. What does a heckler want to do? He wants to get in your head. And that's what Babylon tried to do to Daniel and his friends. They called them names, other names—names after their gods. They in effect said, "Hey, you got nothing. This is our house. We own you." Coach Daniel's first technique is not to give heart to what the hecklers say. Let them call you what they want. Let them call you an evolved mammal. Let them call you human capital. Let them call you discount-driven consumer. Let them call you after the names of their gods, but don't give heart to what they call you.
Because you know the truth. You are created, image of God, once was lost, but now is found. You are someone for whom Jesus was willing to die. By Baptism into His death and resurrection, by faith in Him, you are an adopted child of God: a sister, a brother of the crucified and risen, ruling and returning King. You know who you are and who your Judge is. You know that He is gracious and that none compare to Him. You know that He will be your help in the fire. So don't listen to hecklers.
Technique number two: Appeal to the manager. Don't argue with the official. Arguing with the official is a surefire way to get yourself in trouble. That's why Daniel doesn't do it, even though he doesn't like the call. When the official was setting new names on them, did you hear it? Daniel was setting his heart on God. It wasn't just about food for Daniel. It was about embracing God's values rather than Babylon's. So he talked with the official about this, and when he realized that he wasn't going to go to bat for him, what did he do? Did he picket? Did he protest? Did he demand his religious rights? No. He appealed to the manager.
An appeal starts from a position of respect for authority, even deference to the authority, because it recognizes that every authority comes from God. An appeal is spoken reasonably and calmly. As the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey rather than vinegar. An appeal is best made, not at the top of the human power structure, but with the lower authority, with the authority that knows you and the one that you deal with on a day-to-day basis. We sometimes make a big fuss about winning national elections. But as cultural exiles, we can get a lot accomplished by gaining a hearing with the people and the authorities that we interact with on a daily basis. As the saying goes, "All politics is local." Technique number two: Appeal to the manager.
Technique number three: Stay in the game, and let God make the play. This game develops in unpredictable ways. You can't force a play. You have to respond in the moment. Living as a cultural exile, Daniel knew that he couldn't just make things happen the way he wanted them to happen. But he can stay in the game, and let God make the play. Daniel believes two seemingly contradictory truths about life. He believes that God is fully in control of every moment. He also believes that human beings are fully responsible for their actions.
In other words, the players play the game, and God makes the play, the decisive play. This hopeful outlook on life lets Daniel stay in the game, even though it looks like he's in a no-win situation. He stays in the game in spite of hecklers and bad umpires. He stays in the game and looks for the coming Messiah. Because God ultimately made the game-winning play for Daniel, for me, and for you—for everyone who believes by the death and the resurrection of Jesus.
During that batting clinic at my son's high school, the coach told us, "The most important thing we do is not baseball. Baseball is just the vehicle to talk to them."
He told us a story from early in his career. He was coaching his son's team, and his son was pitching. It was the ninth inning, and his son walked several batters. The other team scored, and they lost. And coach said he lost it on his son, and he laid into him because he didn't win the victory. In hindsight, he reflected that's the most ashamed I've ever been as a coach. But in that moment of personal defeat, he had new clarity. All of this, it's just a vehicle to talk, to build relationships, to let the victories and the defeats shape us into the people we were made to be.
Daniel lived through what looked to be a no-win situation. But he stayed in the game because he believed with all the fire in his heart that God uses history, your history, and world history—moments of victory and moments of defeat. He uses it all to talk us in Jesus, to grow us into the people He made us to be. Listen to Him and not the hecklers, because in Jesus God calls you His beloved child. Be calm and respectful under authority because every authority will answer to God. Stay in the game because, as Cubs fans say, "There's a lot of baseball left to play." Remember, God does His best work in defeat. Besides, by faith you already live in the victory of the coming King. Amen.
Reflections for October 4, 2020
Title: Victory in Defeat
Mike Zeigler: Ninety years ago, a group of lay people within the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod had a vision of spreading the Gospel message using the young technology of radio broadcast. Their plans culminated on October 2, 1930, with the very first broadcast of The Lutheran Hour, which has become the world's longest-running, Christ-centered radio broadcast. I'm the tenth Speaker to be called to this position of Lutheran Hour Speaker today, and I'm visiting with the seventh speaker, Dr. Dale Meyer. Welcome back to the program, Dale.
Dale Meyer: Thank you, Dr. Zeigler. And what an honor to be with you on this day. And congratulations to The Lutheran Hour for 90 years. And may God bless it for many years to come until we don't need radio, television, or any earthly things anymore.
Mike Zeigler: Amen. Dale, when we interviewed you back in August, you said something that stayed with me. You said that looking forward into the coming years for The Lutheran Hour and for the church that our message doesn't change. We still preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen to save sinners. But you talked about how the culture has changed, and how we cannot assume that people know now what they knew 90 years ago or even 30 years ago about the Bible, about God, about sin, and salvation. Say some more about that insight.
Dale Meyer: Well, thanks for the opportunity. Let me explain it this way. You put on glasses so you can see better. And a professor told me that in a similar way: we have lenses by which we watch life, lenses by which we understand life. And this applies to religion as well. The lens that we know at The Lutheran Hour comes from the Bible: right and wrong, sin, grace, and the forgiveness of God. That's a lens, and it's been at the heart of Scripture and our Lutheran understanding of the Bible's Good News for millennia. But there are other lenses by which people see and interpret what's going on. And one of the lenses, very common in the world, is shame and honor.
If you would speak to a shame/honor culture and tell them about right and wrong and the forgiveness of sins, they wouldn't know what you're talking about. On the other hand, if you address shame and talk about Jesus who takes away our shame and replaces it with honor, then you have an entrée to talk about the Gospel, Jesus, and the forgiveness of sins.
Michael Zeigler: Today, as I mentioned, we're celebrating the program's 90th anniversary. We've also started a series on the book of Daniel. The account of Daniel takes place at a time when God's people had lost their social and cultural power and were living as foreigners in a foreign land, among people who did not share their lenses—as Dr. Meyer was saying: lenses about belief in God and sin and salvation. Dr. Meyer, how is Daniel's situation similar to and different than ours? And why does this matter?
Dale Meyer: Being strangers in a foreign land is a theme that runs throughout the Bible. Hebrews says in chapter 13, "Here we have no abiding city, but we look for the one that is to come." The hymn says, "I am but a stranger here. Heaven is my home." Whether it was in old "Christian" America or it's now in 21st-century America where we've lost our cultural and moral dominance in society, our eyes are set on heaven. And in fact, I find this to be an energizing time. It refines faith and gives me a lot of get up and go for the work of ministry and the life of our congregations. Because in these times when, in many ways, we seem to be disadvantaged, we're learning anew, or we're learning for the first time, what faith is. And faith is setting our eyes on Jesus and following Him whatever the culture around us happens to be.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you for joining us and for being a part of this 90-year heritage of The Lutheran Hour.
Dale Meyer: It's my honor. God bless The Lutheran Hour.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)