April 4, 2024

Living in Exile Manuscript

SERMON TITLE: Living in Exile
‌TEXT: Daniel 1:1-21 (NLT)
‌SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
‌DATE: 4-7-24

Sermon Discussion Guide
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As always it’s a joy to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And there’s one thing I want you to know — and this is true if you’re worshiping with us for the first time, if you’re joining us at our North Main Campus, or are with our friends at First Presbyterian Church in Bucyrus — I want you to know that God loves you and that I love you too.

Sometimes I’m asked why I always say God loves you and I love you too. Years ago, I was reading a book written by a retired pastor. And in the book he said, “No one hears the words God loves you or I love you enough.” And — from that moment on — I decided that I’d always tell people that God loves them. And that I love them too.

So — if you forget everything else from today’s sermon — remember that God loves you. And that I love you too.


We’re beginning a new series today. We’re going to spend time in the book of Daniel from now through most of the summer. Last year I asked the elders if there was a book of the Bible or a biblical theme that they felt I should preach on this year. And the consensus was the book of Daniel along with the theme of living in exile. But — before we turn to the book of Daniel — let’s first talk about this idea of living in exile. 

There are two ways we can interpret the spiritual state of our country. One interpretation is to view the US to that of Israel in the Old Testament. Many who hold this view consider the US to have a special relationship with God like Israel had in the Old Testament. Where it’s like God has established a special covenant with the United States — though this isn’t a covenant found in the Bible. This interpretation has given rise to ideas like Christian nationalism and making America godly again. 

But we must remember that even Israel failed at being a godly nation — as did Judah. And it would be the pinnacle of arrogance and pride to think that we — the US — is somehow able to overcome what the nations of Israel and Judah failed to accomplish.

Another way to interpret the spiritual state of our country is through the lens of exile. Where we — those who follow Jesus — are living in a land whose values, beliefs, and morals are like that of a foreign nation when compared to the values, beliefs, and morals of our faith. 

Now — if Israel is your interpretive lens of the US — I hope it’s obvious to you that we’re not living in the times of King David or Josiah — but are living in a time similar to that of Ahab or Manasseh. And this is no recent situation — there has always been biblical unfaithfulness in our country. Abortion for the past 60 or so years — the murder of unborn image bearers — and racism and slavery prior to abortion — the ungodly treatment and ownership of people made in the image of God. Our biblical unfaithfulness as a nation — like Israel — can be traced all throughout our history. 

And it’s insincere to compare us to Israel and not remember the many times when the nation distrusted God, failed to obey him, delighted in idolatry, practiced child sacrifice, and abandoned worshiping God alone. We don’t get to compare ourselves to their spiritual highlight years — without acknowledging how we’re also like Israel in her unfaithful years. Yes, there’s much good in both Israel’s and the US’s history but — we can’t forget that — in the end — Israel wasn’t saved because of her good works — she was destroyed because of her unfaithfulness.

Yet this same caution also applies for those who interpret the US as a land of exile. God’s people were just as faithful — and unfaithful — in exile as they were when they lived in the Promised Land. They worshiped other gods while living in exile and while living in the land God had promised to them. You see — ultimately it matters very little which lens you prefer to use to interpret the spiritual condition of our country. 

And this is why — regardless if your view is Israel or exile — I know you feel the pressure to value what our culture tells us to value — to chase after what everyone else is chasing after — to submit yourself to the idols and religion of the land. 

In our nation — politics is now a religion. Political parties demand that we submit to and worship its idols. This is why there’s just as much fighting — within the parties — as there is between the parties. For religions demand your absolute allegiance and we see this demand in our nation’s political parties.

But politics isn’t the only religion of this land in which we live.

Think honestly about how and why sports have taken over the lives of our children and families. Sports are demanding more of your child’s life — there is no offseason — and more of your money. We don’t want pastors talking about money in church — that’s a no no. I wonder if this is because the religion of sports has a tighter grip on us — and our wallets — than we realize. 

There’s the religion of sexual identity. The religion of pornography. Greed and materialism are other religions of our culture. And what’s scary is how many of you will be offended by me naming these religions. For these religions — and their idols — demand our allegiance — they require us to defend them — and to get angry — when they’re called out for what they are.

And — now that our idols are all offended and — though I’m sure it’s obvious due to this sermon series title — know that I lean towards this moment in our nation’s history being similar to that of God’s people living in exile. Why exile? Because I don’t see any political leader uniting our country towards biblical repentance and worship of God — that’s not the role of the government in our nation. 

Unlike Israel in the Old Testament, the call for and leadership towards biblical repentance and worship of God doesn’t come from a political leader in our country — it comes from God’s people — not from a political king or president — but from God’s Word proclaimed and obeyed by his people. This is how a nation like the US is ultimately made godly. Not through politics — though — as we’ll see — living faithfully in exile has many political implications — but by God’s people taking him and his Word seriously as we live in a nation that bombards us with the values of its many religions.


So let’s begin our time in Daniel and start this exploration of what it means to be faithful in exile. We’re in Daniel chapter one — and we’ll be reading the entire chapter — so be prepared for lengthy readings of Scripture during this series. In fact — consider reading long sections of the Bible as an act of faithfulness as we live in exile — where we resolve to not compromise the reading, studying, listening to, hearing preached, and being men and women of God’s Word — because we’re told to abandon God’s Word in this land of exile — so let’s be people who delight in hearing from our God.


Our journey in Daniel begins by exploring what it means to live holy lives in exile. God calls and commands his people to be holy — to be different and set apart — because of the values, beliefs, and morals he’s called us to live by. We see an example of this in the key verse of the first chapter of Daniel — which is verse eight.

Daniel 1:8 (NLT)
But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods.

Daniel — and his friends — refuse to defile themselves. They were determined to not make themselves unholy by eating and drinking what was provided by the king. God had given his people laws and regulations that they were to follow in order to be his holy — set apart — people. 

I find that the food regulations — of the Old Testament — often cause confusion for people who are trying to understand God’s Word. Jesus brings some helpful clarity to food defilement when — one day — he said to his disciples…

Matthew 15:17–20 (NLT)
“Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. 18 But the words you speak come from the heart — that’s what defiles you. 19 For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. 20 These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”

Here Jesus tells us that defilement isn’t something that only happens to us — it’s something that’s also part of us. Thus — the caution for all of us who are living in exile — is to know that our hearts are naturally prone to follow the values, beliefs, and morals of our culture. It’s only when we’re given new hearts — what’s called the new birth or being born again — that we now have the supernatural help we need to live holy lives in an unholy culture. 

Yet — though we’re set free to live holy lives — the temptation to defile ourselves is still within us. So we must be wise — cunning — not spiritually sleep walking our way through life — for the enticing lure of unholiness is always trying to pull us away from faithfulness to our God.


We’ll return to Daniel’s diet — I promise — but before we do so — let’s look at how Daniel’s story begins. We’re in verse one.

Daniel 1:1–5 (NLT)
During the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign in Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 The Lord gave him victory over King Jehoiakim of Judah and permitted him to take some of the sacred objects from the Temple of God. So Nebuchadnezzar took them back to the land of Babylonia and placed them in the treasure-house of his god. 3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief of staff, to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah’s royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives. 4 “Select only strong, healthy, and good-looking young men,” he said. “Make sure they are well versed in every branch of learning, are gifted with knowledge and good judgment, and are suited to serve in the royal palace. Train these young men in the language and literature of Babylon.” 5 The king assigned them a daily ration of food and wine from his own kitchens. They were to be trained for three years, and then they would enter the royal service.

To catch us all up with where we are in the history of God’s people — after the people of God had entered and conquered the Promised Land — they quickly commit what is theologically called apostasy. They turn their backs on God. They no longer worship and serve him alone. They stop trusting in his faithfulness. And God — rightfully so — gives them over to the consequences of their sin. 

They suffer defeat by other nations. They explore depths of their depravity that God’s regulations and laws were meant to protect them from experiencing — like child sacrifice. Yet God — because of his great love and commitment to his people — God raised up men and women who acted as rescuers for the people — they’re called the judges. These judges call the people to repent, turn back to God, and live holy lives.

And here’s the next few hundred years of the people’s history in a nutshell. They’re faithful for a period of time — usually a brief period of time. Then they abandon God and turn their backs on him. Next, they experience the consequences of their sin and rebellion. God sends his messengers to call the people to repentance and faith. The people respond. They’re faithful for a brief period of time. Rinse and repeat — over and over and over and over again.

In fact, the book of Daniel begins by reminding us of a warning that God had graciously given his people years earlier: “A time of exile — seventy years — of living in a foreign land will be your experience if you don’t repent and turn back to me in faith.” Spoiler alert — they don’t repent and turn back to him in faith. Thus our book opens with this warning coming true.

Babylon — led by Nebuchadnezzar — conquers Jerusalem and the nation of Judah — Israel was conquered about a hundred years earlier. And did you notice that God is behind Babylon’s victory over his people? That’s what we see in verse two! This doesn’t mean that God approves of everything the king and the nation of Babylon will do in their defeat of God’s people — just that God takes sin seriously — especially the sin of his people — and will use whatever means he deems necessary to draw his people back to him.

Now put yourself in the sandals of the people being forced to live in a foreign land. What do you think it was like for them to live in exile? Foreign language. Foreign food. Foreign religions. Everything is unfamiliar to you. You’ve got no money. How are you going to find work? Or a place to live? You’re the lowest in society. The locals look down on you because you’re the conquered people — they’re the conquerors. Maybe they treat you like you’re less than human — because you’re a foreigner.

With so much shock and change in such an unsettling situation — what kind of priority is your faith going to have? What values are you going to hold fast to? What’s going to happen to your identity as this new land — with its beliefs, values, and morals — starts to assimilate you into it?

Two quick ideas to consider.

First, this is the experience of the immigrant — of the outsider. Followers of Jesus have freedom to differ in their views regarding immigration policies in our country — but what Christians do not have freedom to differ on is in our view of immigrants themselves. They are people made in the image of God who are to be loved, cared for, treated with the dignity that all image bearers are to be given — and — they need to hear the gospel. 

Second — and admittedly if you’re older you’ll probably relate to this more — but can you see how — for the follower of Jesus — living in the US is like being an immigrant in a foreign land? Regardless of your view of our nation’s Christian roots — most people call the age in which we live — post-Christendom. Meaning we’re now living in a culture that’s moved on from Christian beliefs, morals, and values. 

This transition has been going on for decades — if not longer. And — though this shift includes views regarding human sexuality and identity — topics conservative Christians rightfully see as incongruent with our faith — post-Christendom has brought subtle shifts to the culture in which we live that conservative Christians have assimilated to at the cost of their holiness — those religions I mentioned earlier.

God’s Spirit — who lives in all who follow Jesus — is sounding the holiness alarm. The Spirit is warning us of all these paths of defilement. But are we listening to God’s Spirit? Or are we accommodating to the culture of this land of exile? As we’ll see — Daniel refuses to accommodate — he refuses to defile himself.


Let’s return to the text — we’re in verse six.

Daniel 1:6–16 (NLT)
Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were four of the young men chosen, all from the tribe of Judah. 7 The chief of staff renamed them with these Babylonian names: Daniel was called Belteshazzar. Hananiah was called Shadrach. Mishael was called Meshach. Azariah was called Abednego. 8 But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods. 9 Now God had given the chief of staff both respect and affection for Daniel. 10 But he responded, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has ordered that you eat this food and wine. If you become pale and thin compared to the other youths your age, I am afraid the king will have me beheaded.” 11 Daniel spoke with the attendant who had been appointed by the chief of staff to look after Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. 12 “Please test us for ten days on a diet of vegetables and water,” Daniel said. 13 “At the end of the ten days, see how we look compared to the other young men who are eating the king’s food. Then make your decision in light of what you see.” 14 The attendant agreed to Daniel’s suggestion and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of the ten days, Daniel and his three friends looked healthier and better nourished than the young men who had been eating the food assigned by the king. 16 So after that, the attendant fed them only vegetables instead of the food and wine provided for the others.

It’s easy to miss an important idea — in these verses — in regards to a challenge we face living in exile: the challenge of language.

Language is powerful. And — in this land of exile — culture is constantly using language and redefining words to shape our beliefs, values, and morals. And there’s a cultural pressure to conform to the language of exile. Thus — as God’s people — we must not only be aware of this use of language — but allow God’s Word to be what defines the language we use and what our words mean. 

What’s been redefined in recent times in our nation? Marriage. Evangelical. Tolerance and intolerance. What it means to be civil and respectful. Or — as I recently learned — someone in Findlay called our city office and referred to a group of people in our community as cockroaches. What an appalling word to call people who are made in God’s image.

But here’s something I found convicting as I studied Daniel. It’s how we refer to Daniel as Daniel — his Hebrew name — but refer to his friends as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — not by their Hebrew names — but by their Babylonian names. And here’s why this convicted me.

Their original Hebrew names have deeply religious meaning. Daniel means “God is my judge.” Hananiah means “Yahweh is gracious.” Mishael means “Who is like God?” Azariah means “Yahweh has helped.” And one of the first things to happen to them — in exile — is the chief of staff renaming them. And their new names — by the way — have deeply religious meaning in their land of exile. 

Daniel is renamed Belteshazzar which means “Bel’s prince.” Bel refers to the Babylonian false god Marduk. This is a strategy — to rename is to impose a new identity. From “God is my judge” to “Marduk’s prince.”

Hananiah is renamed Shadrach which means “Friend of the king.”  Imagine the disgust you’d have if you — having no choice in the matter — were renamed “Joe Biden’s friend” or “Donald Trump’s friend” — whichever one offends you more — and that’s the name you must respond to.

Mishael is renamed Meshach which means “Guest of the king.” And Azariah is renamed Abednego which means “Servant of Nebo.” Nebo is the son of Marduk — the false god of Babylon. Another deeply religious name.

Identity is all the buzz in our culture. We’re told we can create for ourselves whatever identity we want — there are no rules — there are no limitations. 

Fan bases are cultural identities. Whether it be a college team, groups formed around a book or movie series, or those who follow Mr. Beast. These are identity groups full of deep religious meaning. 

Health and beauty is an industry that feeds off of our desire to create an identity. 

Sexual identity, political identity, musical artist followers, and so on are all ways that people are renaming themselves. This is what’s normal in our culture. But is it holy?

Not only is this unholy — it’s ungodly — as this is an act of rebellion against God’s authority as our Creator. As Creator — it’s God’s role to give us an identity. Nowhere are we told to create our own identity — instead — we’re to live out of an identity that’s been given to us — even while we live in exile. We’re still Daniel — God is my judge — and Hananiah — Yahweh is gracious — and Mishael — who is like God — and Azariah — Yahweh has helped — even when this land of exile uses other language to rename who we are.

What identity has God given his people? There are many aspects to our identity — but the one we’re focusing on today is our call to be holy — to be set apart — no matter the pressures we face to defile ourselves by culture.

Finally — my comment you may — or may not — have been waiting for regarding Daniel’s diet. When Daniel is viewed as a moralistic story — we take passages like this and turn it into a fad diet. But — as one author has said — “Ultimately, the story isn’t about giving up bacon and proving vegetables are healthier; the story is about holding onto a covenant identity in a pagan culture.” - (Postcards from Babylon, 58)

Daniel’s diet is about identity. Not eating the king’s food is about Daniel and his friends being faithful to their God in exile. Us copying their diet — and not their commitment to holiness in exile — is at best foolishness — even if it results in a few less pounds when we step on the scale.


Finally — with their goal being to live holy lives according to their God-given identity — these four young men now understand what they’ve been called to as they live in exile.

Daniel 1:17–21 (NLT)
God gave these four young men an unusual aptitude for understanding every aspect of literature and wisdom. And God gave Daniel the special ability to interpret the meanings of visions and dreams. 18 When the training period ordered by the king was completed, the chief of staff brought all the young men to King Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and no one impressed him as much as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they entered the royal service. 20 Whenever the king consulted them in any matter requiring wisdom and balanced judgment, he found them ten times more capable than any of the magicians and enchanters in his entire kingdom. 21 Daniel remained in the royal service until the first year of the reign of King Cyrus.

With a God given identity, aptitude, and special abilities — these four young men work for the king who had conquered their people. This tells us that removing ourselves from culture — building some sort of isolated community separated from the world — isn’t the answer to holy living in exile. Instead, we see that it’s possible to be holy and be active citizens in the land in which we live. 

Which means you can be faithful as you work for the government — even though politics can never be your religion. And you can be a member of a political party — though you can never pledge your sole allegiance to a party or a political leader. You can work as a teacher in a public school or for the police or for the military or — you get the idea — while being faithful to your God — living out of the identity he’s given you in the calling he has for you. It means your kids can play sports and yet — as a family — you refuse to allow sports to be your family’s religion.


Will there be challenges? Absolutely! Just wait until you see what Daniel and his friends encounter as they continue to live in this land of exile. Yet — we’ll continue to see that holiness is possible. We don’t have to cave. We don’t have to be absorbed by the beliefs, values, and morals of our surrounding culture. And we don’t have to hide — or separate ourselves into some weird Christian commune — in order to be faithful.

And the reason why we don’t have to do either of these is because Christ has come and revealed to us how much God values his people’s holiness. For Jesus came to earth to die as the sacrifice that would wash his people — making them clean, undefiled — making them holy. On the night that he was betrayed, arrested, and — ultimately — murdered as a holy sacrifice for the sins of his people…

Matthew 26:36–46 (NLT)
36 Jesus went with them (his disciples) to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” 37 He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. 38 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 40 Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? 41 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” 42 Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open. 44 So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look — the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”

Daniel’s story begins with him and his friends having to trust in God’s judgment upon them and his people for their sin and rebellion. They’re conquered by the Babylonians and forced to live in exile. 

On the night of his betrayal — just hours before he’d experience the pain and brutality of death on a cross — Jesus too had to trust in God’s judgment. And though he desired to not experience the cup of suffering — the cross — he submitted himself to his Father’s will — that the cross would be how our sin would be judged.

Daniel and his friends — though renamed — remembered who they were and lived out of their God-given identity while in exile. 

Similarly, Jesus never forgot who he was — the Son of God — the Son of man — the Savior of the world. His enemies mocked him — people spit on him — soldiers whipped him — all kinds of false words were said about him — he was even accused of working for the devil — but he knew who he was — and he trusted in his God-given identity.

And Daniel and his friends trusted in God’s call on their life as they served the king of Babylon. Working for the one who conquered your people and homeland had to be incredibly difficult — conflicting — challenging. But their confidence was that this was God’s will for their lives. 

Though inspiring to us — their call doesn’t compare to what Jesus was called to — what he faithfully accomplished for us in love. For God’s call on his life was to live in perfect obedience in this land of exile — to live the one true holy life — so that he could die as the perfect substitute and sacrifice for the sins of all who believe in him. Who — in believing in him — are giving the call to follow him by living holy and faithful lives in our land of exile. Let’s pray together.


Father above, life can be hard here on earth — here living in exile. When we think of your holiness and your command that we be a holy people — it’s easy to be discouraged by our failures. This is why we must look to your love and faithfulness for your people throughout history — for this will give us confidence in your love and faithfulness for your people today.

Yes, you discipline us when we rebel and sin. But you do so as our loving Father who cares for his children — who will choose to discipline us rather than to let us continue in rebellion. Help us to trust your judgment — for your judgment is always right — your discipline is always for our good.

Spirit of God, remind us of the identity we’ve been given through our faith in Christ. And help us to be wise to the deceptions regarding identity that we’re bombarded with in this land of exile. You give us identity — we don’t create it for ourselves. You give us purpose — revealed to us in your Word — a purpose we’ve been created to fulfill — a purpose that is the very best way for us to live. For obedience to your Word is full of blessings and rewards.

And — Jesus — you’ve called us your own in having fulfilled the calling to which you were called: to be the living, perfect, holy sacrifice for the sins of your people. Thank you for taking our judgment upon yourself on the cross and for giving us a new identity through your obedience and love. And may your love for us be our motivation to live holy lives in this land of exile. And we pray this in your name. Amen.


Because of all that Christ has done for you — may you go committed to living a holy life in this land of exile. Amen.

God loves you. I love you. You are sent.