We are so excited to get kids pumped up for Jesus in our VBS program this summer, but we will not be teaching the Babylon lesson curriculum exactly as it is written. Even though the Babylon lessons teach a lot of good things – like trusting God when we’re scared, and the importance of gratitude and prayer – it does not focus on Jesus[*]. We want our kids at Zion to not only live a godly life, but we want them to do so because they love Jesus so much! In Luke 24:27, 44 we learn that all of the Bible, even Old Testament books like Daniel, were written to teach us about Jesus, and that He is the center of the story, not us. Sometimes, our message to kids is “improve your life by daring to be like Daniel,” but we forget that the Bible is about what Jesus wants to do to our lives. So this year, we want to take our VBS further.
Maybe some examples would help:
- When all the wisdom and magic of the king’s magicians fails to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, God tells Daniel the content of the king’s dream as well as its interpretation (Daniel 2:45b). In the end, Nebuchadnezzar ends up on his face worshiping the true God (2:47), showing that real wisdom and power is found only in God. God has revealed this power and wisdom through Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:24). Too often, we simply “moralize” this story, and kids are told “when you need help, God is with you” (Babylon, p. 19). Now this is certainly true (see Isaiah 41:10), but God does not always help us in the way we want – just ask Job or Jonah! We need to look to Christ, who is our Good Shepherd whether we’re in the valley of the shadow of death or the green pastures. Either way, He is with us.
But God’s helping presence is not the point of Daniel 2. There, we see that God gives wisdom and power only through Christ, as Daniel demonstrates. The chapter is filled with worship, because God is center: He gives the dreams to the king, He gives the knowledge and meaning to Daniel. For our kids, and for all Christians these days, that source of wisdom and knowledge can only be had by union with Christ.
- The well-known story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the “Fiery Furnace” is another example. Taken from Daniel 3, the three boys’ courage is given as an example for us. But the Babylon curriculum takes it a step farther, saying, “when you’re afraid, God is with you. He’ll give you the courage you need” (p. 26). Now that is certainly true, as Psalm 56:3 tells us. But do you see how we have taken the focus off of God, and made it about what God can do for me? Without meaning to, it is way too easy to turn God into a “divine candy” dispenser – God will give you courage; God will give you a better marriage; God will give you success and happiness. But this is not what the Fiery Furnace is about at all. The main story is that Nebuchadnezzar realizes that, though he threw three men into the fire, he saw four men walking unharmed… and the fourth one looked “like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25)! This fourth person is really the Son of God, protecting His servants in their suffering. When we suffer for God, God sees, and this ultimately points us to the cross, where Jesus would suffer alone. (Unfortunately, the Babylon curriculum does not even mention the fourth “man” in the furnace, taking Jesus out of the story.)
- Perhaps no story is better loved than Daniel’s encounter with the lion’s den. Again, the Babylon curriculum makes a good point: after Daniel is saved from the lions, the character tells us, “I’m so thankful God saved me! I bet you’re thankful to God for things in your life too… when you’re thankful, God is with you!” (Babylon, p. 38). Now of course Christians ought to be thankful and rejoice (Ephesians 5:20; Philippians 4:4). But to take Daniel’s experience with the lions and make it all about our lives is not only self-centered, it misses the bigger picture about Jesus. You see, Daniel was an innocent victim, sealed by a stone in the place of death, and then God vindicated Daniel’s righteousness by preserving him from the lions; not even a bone was broken! In all of this, Daniel points forward to Jesus’ resurrection from death at the hands of a wicked king, who was also buried and sealed with a stone, yet was vindicated from death (I Timothy 3:16), and had not one of His bones broken (John 19:36).
“Daring to be a Daniel” in imitating Daniel’s faith, prayer life, and obedience isn’t wrong. The Apostle Paul told us to “imitate me as I follow Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). But if we make the Bible about getting our best life now, and getting God to give us what we want (even if what we want are “good things” like faith, courage, and love), then we will miss the bigger and most important message of all: the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is only by the power of Jesus’ Gospel that we can be courageous like Daniel, and it is only when we see Christ in all of the Scriptures – including the book of Daniel – that we will find words of life that can transform our lives.
Praying with you to be transformed by Daniel’s God,
[*] All references are to Group Publication’s Babylon: Daniel’s Adventures Drama Leader Manual.