As we celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving this past weekend, we might wonder if anyone expressed thanks for Christians. Would such a notion have entered anyone’s head? If you keep up with the media, you might think no one could be thankful for Christians. We only hear about the bad apples among the clergy and the mistakes of high profile Christians. We don’t typically hear about all the good that is done. TV shows often portray Christians as being the bad guys, the weird or scary people. Perhaps it would be a miracle if someone said “I’m grateful for Christians.”
We have such a miracle in Daniel chapter 2. In the opening chapter of Daniel the ruling Babylonians attempted to turn wise young Jewish men into good Babylonian wisemen. However, Daniel and his friends were determined to retain their Jewish identity and dependence upon God. Surely this is not going to end well! There is indeed a clash of world-views in chapter 3, but something remarkable happens before that:
46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar threw himself down before Daniel and worshiped him, and he commanded his people to offer sacrifices and burn sweet incense before him. 47 The king said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is the greatest of gods, the Lord over kings, a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this secret.”
48 Then the king appointed Daniel to a high position and gave him many valuable gifts. He made Daniel ruler over the whole province of Babylon, as well as chief over all his wise men. 49 At Daniel’s request, the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be in charge of all the affairs of the province of Babylon, while Daniel remained in the king’s court. Daniel 2:46-49 (NLT)
The Babylonian king is obviously very thankful and very impressed not just with Daniel, but with the God Daniel serves. Daniel alone was able to help the king. Despite the fact Daniel was different, and from a minority group, Nebuchadnezzar is impressed, and thankful.
Back to Canada in our day where Christianity no longer has the influence it once did. Could anyone be impressed with, or thankful for, Christians? Let us look to another time in which Christianity had even less influence in society. Was anyone impressed with, or thankful for, Christians in New Testament times?
Some people in Jewish and Roman society were not impressed at all, and certainly not thankful. Consider Jewish religious leaders, like Saul before he became a Christian. He would have liked the Jesus followers to just go away and take their Christianity with them. Consider merchants dependant upon the sale of idols, such as we read of in Acts 19. As Christians didn’t spend their money on idols, the idol merchants were becoming idle merchants as people turned to Jesus. Consider people who liked the status quo, like those we read about in Acts 17.
Was anyone grateful for Christians in New Testament times?
Yes, let us consider some examples. Consider people who were poor, who would have benefitted greatly from the kind of help we read about in Acts 2. Consider women whose husbands became Christians and put a new effort into loving them sacrificially (see Ephesians 5:25-33). Consider women whose husbands became Christians and now focused their sexuality in faithful and selfless ways (see Hebrews 13:4). Consider slave masters whose slaves became Christians and began serving them as if they were rendering service to God (see Acts 6:5-8). Consider slaves whose masters became Christians and began treating them like brothers and sisters (see Ephesians 6:9, and the Book of Philemon). Consider people of lower classes who found themselves on equal footing with people of higher classes in the church community (see Galatians 3:28). We can think of women who were affirmed in greater ways than ever before (see Mary’s commendation by Jesus for taking the place of a disciple Luke 10:38-42). We can think of anyone dependant upon someone, who, in becoming a Christian, had given up drunkenness (see Ephesians 5:18). We can think of infants of parents who formerly would have “exposed” their children, a practice of letting unwanted infants die. We can think of anyone in relationship with someone whose activity, and very character, was changing as they grew in their relationship with Christ:
19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Galatians 5:19-23 (NLT emphasis added)
Though certain people were unimpressed and not at all grateful for Christians in New Testament times, many would have been thrilled at the changes happening as a Christians lived Jesus-focused and Spirit-filled lives. There were also people who were thankful for everything changing in their own lives. Consider the gratitude of those who came to know about the love of God because a Christian shared the good news with them (See, for example, Acts 16:25-34).
As in New Testament times, some are neither impressed with, nor thankful for, Christians today. However, when we live Jesus-focused and Spirit-filled lives, good things happen in us, and around us. Jesus-focused ethics bring positive changes to our behaviour. The Holy Spirit creates positive changes in us. Many will be grateful.
We may have expected a clash between a Babylonian king and a young Jewish wiseman in the Book of Daniel. Instead, we have an expression of gratitude from Nebuchadnezzar for Daniel. Let us keep in mind that Daniel appeared before the king, not with an axe to grind, but with help. In our day we might expect a culture clash as traditional Christian values meet the brave new world that is developing around us. If all we have is an axe to grind, that clash will certainly happen. However, if we are living Jesus-focused, Spirit-filled lives, people will be thankful.
(This “Shrunk Sermon” is from a series on The Book of Daniel which begins here)