Taming Lions

6 01 2008

[Sermon preached January 6, 2008, at Smith Chapel Wesleyan.]

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquered Judah and carried away the nobility in the late seventh century B.C. A young man named Daniel was taken into captivity at this time. Because of his wisdom and interpretation of dreams, He worked his way up in the kingdom and eventually became the third highest ruler in the country under another king, Belshazzar. All of a sudden, the management changed and King Darius the Mede was in charge. Darius made Daniel one of three administrators of his kingdom. Now, imagine just for a moment how you would feel if you were one of the Babylonian or Persian leaders, and a foreign kid starts to work his way up in your kingdom! You have spent your entire life trying to make it to the top. Then, in struts some guy who does not worship the same god as you and does not know your culture, but he gets the job you have been working for. What would you do?

Here is what Darius’ leaders did. They came up with a plan to trap Daniel. They knew his habit of prayer and devised a scheme that would use it against him. The other administrators and rulers convinced Darius to make a law which banned prayer to anyone but the king for thirty days. The king made the law official and so the trap was set.

Let’s pick up reading there. [Daniel 6:10-26]

10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. 11 Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. 12 So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: “Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or man except to you, O king, would be thrown into the lions’ den?”
The king answered, “The decree stands—in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.”
13 Then they said to the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.” 14 When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him.
15 Then the men went as a group to the king and said to him, “Remember, O king, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed.”
16 So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”
17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed. 18 Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep.
19 At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. 20 When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”
21 Daniel answered, “O king, live forever! 22 My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king.”
23 The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.
24 At the king’s command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.
25 Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations and men of every language throughout the land: “May you prosper greatly!
26 “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.
“For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end.

The first thing I notice is that Daniel was willing to show his faith. His faith was not something that he hid from public view. He prayed at his window every day. Anyone who passed by could have seen him.

Daniel did not back down. We learn that even after he found out about the new law – a law that came with a death penalty – he went to his room and prayed. Sometimes, God may ask us to take a stand that goes against what people have called a norm. This nonconformity will certainly attract attention.

Not only did he not back down, but Daniel did not compromise in the slightest. At the end of verse 10, Daniel is praying and giving thanks to God “just as he had done before”. Nothing was different. No law or death threat or hate crime could keep him from his daily faith. Do you find yourself changing your habits to please others or to keep from trouble? God is asking you to be faithful in every part of your spiritual life, even in the little things – especially in the little things.

The second thing I notice about Daniel’s faith is that it was tested. Many times, we hear stories about people who escaped great trial because God kept them from being caught. Take Rahab for instance. She could have been killed for housing spies, but God protected her. There are countless other stories in which God miraculously protected someone from being detained. Daniel was not one of these people. His defiance of the king’s law lasted only a few days before he was arrested. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that Christianity is “costly and never altogether comfortable, [it] may mean walking through the valley of the shadow of suffering…we are gravely mistaken to think that Christianity protects us from the pain and agony of mortal existence.”

Daniel’s faith brought about punishment by human law. The key word there is human. As humans, we are imperfect and so – it only follows – that our laws are sometimes imperfect. God may ask us to break a human law in order to fulfill a Divine law. King Darius issued a decree out of pride and ignorance. His law was not God’s law, and his law had a very serious penalty: Daniel was to be fed to lions.

In this, we see that Daniel’s faith brought about not only a punishment, but a persecution. The law that was passed was a direct attack on Daniel’s faith. Earlier in verse 5, the rulers said to each other, “we will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” Daniel could have saved himself if only he had given up prayer for one month, but instead, he chose to continue his pattern of talking to God. This brought about the punishment and the persecution, but this was not the end of the matter.

The third aspect of Daniel’s story is a reward for faithfulness. One promise from God is that the faithful will receive reward either in this life or the next. Hebrews 11, the “Hall of Faith”, has a great list of those who were repaid for their devotion to God. Verse 33 begins a catalog of the rewards of men’s faith. It reads, “…faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice and gained what was promised…shut the mouths of lions (that’s our friend Daniel), quenched the fury of the flames…routed armies…” It goes on later: “Women received back their dead, raised to life again.” On the other side of the coin, we are guaranteed recompense for faithfulness when Christ returns. In Matthew 5:11 and 12, Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven…”

Faith brings salvation. Daniel was not willing to compromise, and this stand put him in a very tight spot. The lions’ den was the place of execution and a gruesome place as well. Darius threw Daniel into the pit and came back the next day to find Daniel calmly sitting with the lions. Not only was Daniel spared from death, but he was not harmed at all. Verse 23 confirms that “no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.” At times, though, we must endure the persecution and punishment without direct deliverance. Oswald Chambers once wrote “Faith for my deliverance is not faith in God. Faith means, whether I am visibly delivered or not, I will stick to my belief that God is love. There are some things only learned in a fiery furnace.” God has not promised to save us from danger as he saved Daniel, but he has promised to save us from eternal death if we have faith in His Son, Jesus. Dr. King was right in saying that “the cross we bear precedes the crown we wear.”

Faith also brings glory to God. This should be the highest aim of our faith. The faith of one man caused an entire nation to be changed. Darius, in light of Daniel’s salvation, made a new decree that read “in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.” God was magnified through Daniel. The glorification of God is the chief reason for our service to Him. We are made and we should live for His praise.

God is asking us today to look at our faith. First, your faithfulness must be shown. We are being challenged to stand up for Christ and not compromise the Gospel. Second, your faithfulness might be tested. We must understand that punishment and persecution by people might be – and quite possibly should be – a regular part of our lives. Lastly, your faithfulness will be rewarded. We need to realize that we are not abandoned or alone, because God has promised salvation if we will glorify Him in all we do.

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