What Does the Book of Daniel Offer Today’s Teenager?

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We all know the typical Sunday school imperatives from the book of Daniel:

“Dare to be a Daniel.”
“Eat only vegetables and water.”
“Don’t bow down to golden statues.”
“Be like Daniel next time you’re thrown in a lion’s den.”
“Be like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace of life.”

And…

“If you study the last 7 chapters hard enough, you’ll find secret codes that give hints to when the world is going to end.”

For those of us who grew up in church, we remember some of these lessons from Daniel. As a kid, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had celebrity status on my Sunday School flannel graph board for their epic tales of survival. The book of Daniel was an inspiring story that taught us to be good kids, pray in public, and not bow down to idols.

But what if there is more going on in this book? How can an old story like Daniel, written thousands of years ago in another time, language, and context, help our youth living in the current cultural moment?

Let me offer three lessons I want my students to learn this year as we walk through Daniel.

1. Daniel is about living in exile as citizens of the Kingdom of God.
The book of Daniel tells the story of a few talented teenage Israelites during their time in Babylonian captivity. Nebuchadnezzar had invaded their land, destroyed their temple, and led them off to serve in his government. Everything around them was strange. The language, dress, culture, ethics, and religion were all different than what they grew up with. These young people were followers of Yahweh, living in a land that was not their home. What life looked like in God’s Kingdom seemed completely opposite to what everyone around them was doing. They quickly learned that exile meant that there would be consequences for allegiance to Yahweh, their God.

The first thing I want my students to notice as we study the book of Daniel is that following Jesus means we live in a similar state of exile. The Kingdom of God will seem strange to the empire of the world. In exile, those around us will be confused at what we post on social media, how we view sexuality, what we do on the weekends, and what our goals are in life. Living in exile is hard, difficult, and costly. We face isolation, confusion, and threats of assimilation. But as followers of Jesus living in exile, our allegiance is to Him first and foremost.

The book of Daniel also helps us see that there is more than just “surviving” exile.
We’re meant to thrive in it.

2. Daniel is about influencing the world around us.
In Daniel, these teenagers end up dramatically shifting the culture around them. But they didn’t do that by using violence, ranting on Facebook, or imposing their beliefs on other people. They quietly and respectfully refused to submit to things that were contrary to the Kingdom of God. When Daniel and his friends were confronted with a lifestyle that ran contrary to God’s Kingdom, they respectfully and creatively submitted an alternative option. This choice ended up changing the course of an entire Kingdom! The decisions to honor their true King ended up making an incredible impact on the culture around them.

We and our students are met with similar decisions each day. We can quietly go along with what our culture tells us by doing/saying/believing what everyone does, or we can submit to our true King and trust His vision for our life. God created his followers to be affecters of the world around them. May our classrooms, schools, sports teams, work environments, teachers, and coaches notice the difference Jesus has made in our lives. As Spirit-empowered ambassadors of the good news of the gospel, we have been given the ability to influence the people around us (2 Corinthians 5v18-21).

3. Daniel is about Jesus.
The last, and most important thing I want my students to see is that Daniel is about Jesus.

Jesus said that all Scripture is about Him (Luke 24v27), so we primarily look to see Jesus in the book of Daniel. In the same way that Daniel and his friends journeyed to a foreign land and were faithful witnesses, Jesus Himself took an even greater journey. He came down from heaven, into a foreign land of sinners to announce the good news of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1v13-14).

Just like Daniel and his friends, Jesus refused to compromise his Kingdom convictions and defile himself when he faced the luring temptations of the enemy (Matthew 4v1-11). Jesus didn’t leave Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, and He promises to never leave or forsake us (Isaiah 43v2; Daniel 3v25; Matthew 28v20). Jesus, like Daniel, identified himself with the sin of his people, and pleads in prayer for the Father to forgive them of their iniquities (Daniel 9v19; Luke 23v34). Jesus was lowered into the lion’s den of sin and death, and as the stone was rolled away, came out victoriously alive to rule and reign once again. We see the glories of the gospel when we look to the book of Daniel and see our King.

There’s more going on in Daniel than fun stories about lions, prayer, and fiery furnaces. Daniel shows us that we live in exile as followers of Jesus in the Kingdom of God. Daniel shows us how God uses us as ambassadors of the gospel to influence the world around us. And Daniel shows us Jesus. It paints an incredibly beautiful picture of our Savior, who gave himself in our place for our sins that we might be reconciled to the Father. May we learn to follow Jesus faithfully and look to Him as the author and perfecter of our faith.

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