Do or Die Decisions
May 3rd, 1970 @ 10:50 AM
DO OR DIE DECISIONS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-03-70 10:50 a.m.
As we return to the Book of Daniel, they are not only broadcasted and listened, but there are two wonderful court reporters, Mrs. Brewster and Mrs. Lancaster, who are taking them down. Today, Mrs. Lancaster—now, honey, you need not take that down, because I cannot publish that in the book. But they are taking the sermons down, and they will be published in a book. The first volume on the Book of Daniel was published a year and a half ago. And the second volume was supposed to have come out last fall, but I got so busy trying to be the bone of contention of the Southern Baptist Convention, until I did not have time to study to prepare the sermons. And I cannot preach without studying. So during these days of my presidency, I have been preaching in an area that is very familiar to me in the New Testament. But I am going back now to the Book of Daniel, and these sermons will comprise the second volume on that great prophecy.
The title of the message is Do or Die Decisions. In this first chapter of the Book of Daniel, after we have been introduced to the young men, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, it says that:
The king appointed them a daily provision of the king’s meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king…
But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested to the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.
Now God had brought Daniel into favor and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.
And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? Not only that, you, ye shall endanger my head to the king.
Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over (the young men).
Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat. . .
Let’s say vegetable soup; “let them give us vegetable soup to eat and water to drink,” and I would have loved that, along with some popcorn and homemade ice cream. “Then let our countenances be looked upon.” Now, dear, you can’t put that into the book either:
Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants—then judge us.
So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days.
And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.
So Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine which they should drink—and gave them vegetable soup—gave them pulse.
And as for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom. . .
Now that’s the background for the message Do or Die Decisions, Daniel’s purpose of heart.
All of life is filled with crisises and decisions. Almost every day there will be a fork in the road. Where you are today is because of the turn in the road that you took yesterday. It is one of the wonderments of my own mind that God has so largely made these decisions to be faced in the youth time of our life. Practically every life-coloring decision that we make has been made when we were young. Whether a man is a Christian or not is mostly decided when he is a child, the friends that we choose, the life’s companion that we marry, the vocation that we are to follow; almost all of these decisions are made when we are young.
Daniel, as the Scriptures say, was still flourishing in the first year of King Cyrus. When I read this text, I am in 605 BC. When I come to the first year of Cyrus, I am in 536 BC, seventy years later [Daniel 1:21]. And this man, Daniel, has been a prophet through those years and years. And at the age of possibly ninety, when he was thrown into the den of lions [Daniel 6:14-23], he is still the true servant of God. But that bent and that turn that made him so effective in the choice of the Lord was taken when he was a youth [Daniel 1:5-16].
The farmer reaps the harvest in the fall because of the plowing and planting he has done in the spring. And so the turn of life that makes us the men and women that we are, are due to the choices that we’ve made when we were young. And those choices, in most instances, are very difficult. This young man Daniel and his three companions were fed with the meat that the king did eat. And they drank from the wine that he drank. Why would anybody object to that—to eat the king’s meat and to drink the king’s wine? They were dined and feted like princes and the sons of the monarch himself. Why should they object to that?
It was the custom in ancient Babylon that those who were to be men around the throne of the king were to be fed the dainties of the king’s table. That was the way that they were trained. And it was the custom of the land for them so to fashion their lives according to this rule of the king. Why should anybody object to that? When in Rome, we’re to do as Romans do. And when we are in Babylon, we are to do as the Babylonians do. We are to follow the customs, and the fancies, and the fashions of the day and of the age in which we live. What they think, we’re to think. What they do, we’re to do. How they act, we’re to act. Where they go, we’re to go. This was a part of the great difficulty that the young men faced. And not only that, but he was a slave in the court of the king. He was an alien and a foreigner [Daniel 1:1, 3-6]. Had he been free-born, had he been a Chaldean, had he been a citizen, it might have been easier to decide. But he was a slave and he was a captive in a foreign court [Daniel 1:6-7]. And as he faced that decision, it possibly would have cost him his head to refuse the king’s meat and the king’s wine. His career was at stake. His advancement was at stake—and above that his very life [Daniel 1:5, 8].
But the matter concerned a great religious decision. And the only decisions that really matter are those that are made before God. You see, it was the purpose of the king that these young men should be wooed and weaned away from the religion of Almighty God. And they were to be become idolaters and Chaldeans and worshipers before Bel-merodach [Daniel 1:3-4]. That was the reason that the king changed their names: for all four of these boys were named in honor of the great, true Almighty who reigns over the earth: Daniel, Daniel, “God is my Judge”; Hananiah, “God is gracious”; Mishael, “Who is like the Lord”; Azariah, “God is strong.” Evidently, they were born into godly homes, and their parents had named them after the great Almighty in heaven [Daniel 1:6]. But it was the purpose of Nebuchadnezzar to change all that.
They were to be taken from their fathers, and their homeland, and their faith, and they were to be introduced into the religion and the idolatry of the Chaldeans. So they changed the name of Daniel to Belteshazzar, “A servant of Baal.” And they changed the name of Hananiah to Shadrach, in the name of some god whose name we don’t even know. And they changed the name of Mishael to Meshach, again the name of a god who’s been lost from the annals of time. And they changed the name of Azariah to Abednego, “A servant of Nego” [Daniel 1:7]. And the purpose of the whole outline was to make them forget God and to be enmeshed in the idolatry and the culture of the Chaldeans.
And this fare that they were to eat and to drink was likewise purposed toward making idolaters and Chaldeans out of them. For you see, Babylon was a city dedicated by the religiosity of the king to Bel-merodach. Babylon was one of the most spectacular cities the earth has ever seen. These ancients tell us that the wall around it was three hundred feet high; that it was eighty feet broad; that the Euphrates River flowed through it and was separated into beautiful canals that made a Venice out of that interior city. It was a veritable civic empire within those walls, fifty to sixty miles in length.
And the king’s palace was a glory to behold—great walled domain itself, vast brilliant hunting scenes painted on the wall of the palace, and on the inside, in deference to his Armenian mountain wife, he had built gardens, upon gardens, upon gardens, upon gardens until they looked like rising mountains. And the ancients called it one of the Seven Wonders of the World—Nebuchadnezzar’s hanging gardens, rising gardens.
But, out of all of the spectaculars of ancient Babylon, there was none, not even the king’s palace or his mountain gardens like the great temple to Bel-merodach. Those ancient people say that it towered in the air over six hundred feet high. And some of those ancients say that not even the Karnak temple of Egyptian Thebes—and moderns say that not even St. Sophia of Constantinople or St. Peters in Rome—rival the grandeur of that primeval sanctuary. And it was food and drink that had been offered unto Bel-merodach in that great temple that was laid before Daniel and his three Hebrew friends [Daniel 1:5].
The fare was a part of their Chaldeanization and their introduction to idolatry. As Daniel faced it, the Scriptures say that he purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with a portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine that he drank [Daniel 1:8]. In other words, he refused to be melted down into just another Chaldean.
He remembered the Lord God; and he remembered the faith of his fathers; and he remembered the people to whom God had given the promises; and he remembered the law of Moses and those Leviticus rites concerning clean and unclean [Leviticus 11:1-23]. And he purposed in his heart that he would die rather than fail the faith—turn aside from the true worship of his God. And that’s why I say that the decision is religious; and that any ultimate decision that matters, that changes life, is religious. And if it is not religious, it is peripheral and temporary and without depth.
I could not help but be interested in the daily newspaper about two days ago. There was a very large picture of Tom Landry, who is the coach of the professional football team in Dallas—the Dallas Cowboys. And he says in the article that Landry’s main interest is in confronting young people with the challenge and advantage of following Jesus Christ. He’s described as the vice-president and the tireless worker of a nationwide organization called the Fellowship of Christian Athletes of which about half a dozen or a dozen of our fine men belong to it. And he says, “Hardin Jones scared me”—now we’re quoting Tom Landry—”Hardin Jones scared me at a drug seminar recently when he said that we will lose fifty percent of your young people in the next ten years to drugs.” Quoting Tom Landry, “The only successful cure for drug addicts today has been spiritual experience. If it can solve the problems of addicts, a spiritual confrontation with God, think what young people could do if they discover Christ before getting involved in such problems as drugs.”
That’s what I’ve been saying, preaching this Word. The decision is religious. And when a youth or anybody, turns aside from God, the whole world of darkness, and depravity, and compromise, and sin, and waste, and sorrow, and heartache, and destruction—the whole world of the abyss, yawns before them. But if you can get a youth to give his heart to God, and to accept Christ as his Savior, and to follow Jesus, you’ve solved every problem that he faces in his life, every one of them; the problem of law, and the problem of morality, and the problem of righteousness, and the problem of virtue and cleanness and young manhood and young womanhood, and marriage, and home, and children, and destiny, and judgment, and death, and eternity! If you can get him to give his heart to God, to purpose in his heart, it will solve every problem we face. But the heartache and the tears that accompany so many of our fathers and mothers is this: we can’t get our children to see in God and in Christ the dearest friend any youth ever had and the holiest road down which any youth could ever walk.
Now we continue. “Daniel purposed in his heart” [Daniel 1:8], he would stay by the faith and by the Lord. And he was lovable and gracious in that great decision. God brought Daniel into favor and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs [Daniel 1:9]. He was not only a fine, fine young man, and he was not only very determined in that commitment to stay with the Lord, but he was sweet and lovable and gracious in that determination.
I remember one time Dr. W. R. White saying to me, “It’s a tragedy that the men who are the most fundamental are, for the most part, most caustic and rasping and brackish in their spirit.” Isn’t that a shame? That firmness turns into obstinacy, and commitment turns into bigotry; and a great devotion turns into cantankerousness—that’s a tragedy! Of all of the people in the world who ought to be gracious, and lovable, and kind, and generous hearted, are the people who love God the most.
Now I want to show you something that happens when you do that. There are a thousand ways to say a thing; and there are another thousand ways to do a thing. And if you love God and you’ve committed your life to Him—and of course, living in a worldly world among an ungodly people, how vital it is that what we do, we do generously, and lovably, and kindly, and sweetly—and God does something! When Daniel made that purpose in his heart and sweetly, graciously avowed that purpose, God did something for Daniel. God intervened in his behalf. And God brought Daniel into the favor and tender love of the prince under whom he was being educated [Daniel 2:8-9]. I don’t think God lets anybody down, ever, never, who places his trust in Him and who sweetly, and beautifully, and generously, and graciously gives himself to that determination. I think God clears the way. I think God intervenes and sees him through.
I want to tell you a story that I read this week in an old, old, old, old book. I don’t know how old that book is. But I have in my library two or three small collections of books from preachers who have been dead for a generation. And in one of those old, old, old books I read this story, that there was a boy in Massachusetts whose father was a drunkard and whose family was wastrel. And there was a godly man in that town who took an interest in a boy in that family. The young fellow seemed to have promise, and he made the debating team in the school. And that godly friend introduced that boy—out of such a wretched drunkard of a family—introduced the boy to the Lord; and, before the Lord, made the boy promise to take a vow he would never drink. Never!
As the young fellow grew up, he was entrusted with a message to John Quincy Adams, the president of the United States. And when he came to Washington and stood before the president, John Quincy Adams, being from Massachusetts and knowing of the background of that boy, welcomed him and said, “Tonight you shall eat dinner with me and with some of the great leaders of our nation.” And the boy sat down in the place of honor in the White House with the president of the United States and the leaders of our nation. Before the president, was the glass of wine; and before the boy was the glass of wine—and before all the congressional leaders who were there. So the president lifted up his glass to drink with the boy at his right hand. And the boy flushed and blushed and finally said, “Mr. President, I have taken a vow I will never drink. And I cannot drink!”
The president put his glass down, and he said to the leaders of the nation, “No wine will be drunk at this table tonight.” And every man put his glass away. And the Congress heard about it; and the daily newspapers heard about it; and the whole world heard about it! And in the days and the years that followed, no finer representative of government ever came out of Massachusetts than Henry Wilson who was elected and sat down in the chair as vice-president of the United States of America.
I believe that. When a boy, when a girl, when a man or a woman, gives himself with great love and devotion, in kindness and in humility, to the Spirit and the work of Christ, I think God goes before him. I think God intervenes in his behalf. And I think God sees him through.
We continue: if you have a faith in the Lord, it will be tried. It just will! There’s nobody who believes in God who does not go through that fiery trial. Welcome it! Welcome it! We’re not hesitant or reluctant to put our faith to the test. Welcome it—any trial! Daniel said that: “Take away this food; take away this wine, let us eat vegetables. Try us, and at the end of the period of trial here for ten days, look at us and see if our faith has not been confirmed from heaven. Try us!” [Daniel 1:11-15].
Even the man who built his house on the rock was tried! For the Lord says: “The rains descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house” [Matthew 7:25]. All of us go through that trial. We shall not cringe, nor shall we be fearful, nor shall we even be reluctant. “Fine!” Whatever the trial, we have committed our hearts to God. “Here I stand, so help me, I can do no other!” And for us to be, in our hearts and spirits, cowards and afraid for any trial is not worthy of our heavenly commitment.
Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb,
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His Name?
Must I be carried [to the skies]
On flow’ry beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?
Sure I must fight, if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord!
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.
[adapted from “Am I A Soldier of the Cross,” Isaac Watts]
A trial? Don’t be afraid, it comes, but God will see you through. This purpose of heart, this do or die decision; and God calls us to make it for Him. Do it! Like Joseph did it: finally in the dungeon in Egypt, but God saw him through [Genesis 37, 39-50]. Like Moses did it: refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, that he might suffer affliction with the people of God [Hebrews 11:24-25]. Do it! Like Hananiah and Mishael and Azariah did it: rather be thrown in the fiery furnace than to deny the faith [Daniel 3:14-18]. Do it! Like the sweet and beautiful song of commitment and invitation we sing:
I have decided to follow Jesus;
No turning back, no turning back.
Should no one join me, I still will follow.
The world behind me, the cross before me.
No turning back, no turning back.
[adapted from “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” S. Sundar Singh]
I have decided; “and Daniel purposed in his heart” [Daniel 1:8]. Do it! And God bless and sanctify that holy and heavenly commitment. I’ll be standing right there, on that side of our table of the Lord’s Supper; will you come and stand with me? “Today, pastor, I give my heart to Christ, and I’m coming. I make that decision now, and here I am.” A family you, placing the circle of that home in the fellowship of this dear church, “Here I am and here I come; my wife, my children, all of us are coming today.” Will you? Make the decision in your heart now. In the balcony round, on this lower floor, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. On the first note of that first stanza, “Here I am, pastor, and here I come.” Do it now, make it now. While we stand and while we sing.
- Every life is made up of crises, decisions, right, wrong. High road, low road.
- So many of these decisions are in youth. Wonder, sometimes, at the strange ways of God. This is one: Practically all the major decisions in life are made in youth: a Christian or not
- They are so many times difficult
- A Religious Decision