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Sermon blog: Daniel & the Lions

November 4, 2015

  Daniel & the lions

Daniel 6

Recently I preached on Daniel chapter 3. It is one of those stories that we did at Sunday school, those of us who were part of the church during our childhood. It would be one of the top of those stories.

Even the names of the heroes sounded great. Shadrach. Meshach. Abednego. Three men who trusted God in the heat of King Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace. Exciting stuff. And with a happy ending too.

When I told someone I had preached on that chapter, their comment was that “that story is wasted on children only”. There is so much for people of all people to learn.

The story of 3 men refusing to bow down and being sentenced to certain death is not your typical children’s story. But when it comes to Bible stories we tell our children that is often the way:

• A jealous man who murders his brother

• An elderly father who prepares to sacrifice his only son

• A young man trafficked into slavery and thrown into prison falsely accused of rape

• A flood that destroys huge numbers of people and animals

• A long haired womaniser with super human strength who has his eyes put out when his strength is gone and then brings the house down 

• The perfect Son of God nailed to a cross of wood

These are not pleasant stories. They are real events with much to teach us. Real events that change us. Young and old.

The three Jews who refused to bow down are an example to us of tremendous faith. A faith that does the right thing whether or not God is going to work things out to a happy ending. Even if it should cost their lives. It is almost incidental that God did actually rescue them.

And in reading a book about the book of Daniel I was reminded of that other great Sunday school story. The story of Daniel himself. His test. His faith. His delivery. And reminded that Daniel too has much to teach us.

Things have by now moved on considerably since 4 young Jewish noblemen were forcibly enlisted into Babylon University. For a 3 year course in Babylonian Studies. The best teaching. The best food if they wanted it. And great prospects.

Nebuchadnezzar, eventually convinced of the claims of Daniel’s God, comes and goes. His son or possibly grandson Belshazzar sees the writing on the wall and is defeated and killed as the kingdom passes to Darius the Mede.

Daniel and his 3 friends had all come to know what it was to have positions of great influence in the kingdom. They were men who quite literally stood out. What was clear too was that they were all men of great faith in the one true God.

And it is in the time of Darius the Mede that we pick up our story tonight.

The first thing we need to understand is that the Daniel we read about is no longer a young man. He is now quite possibly in his late 70’s or early 80’s. And he doesn’t seem to have considered retirement from his government work as an option. He is still a man of great power and influence.

Like Abraham and Moses, Daniel’s best years are not behind him yet. He has work to do.

Darius gets about reorganising the kingdom. Dividing it up into 120 electoral constituencies. Putting princes in charge of each one.

They must have had a lot of princes!

And Daniel, the elder statesman, is one of 3 people who are to supervise the princes.

They are to look out for the king’s interests. A prestigious position.

Daniel’s work even now is so good that the king decides to promote him further. To a position akin to prime minister.

Daniel it seems can do no wrong.

It is worth pausing briefly I think to consider Daniel’s life. Forcibly taken from his homeland to exile in Babylon. He was handpicked for service in that kingdom, and had served continually through the decades that followed.

He had shown wisdom beyond compare.

He had received divine insight. He had worked with great dedication.

When we think of Babylon in scripture we tend to associate the place with all that is against God. All that is evil. All that goes against God’s law.

And yet there is a never a sniff that Daniel and his friends tried to escape. Never do we find them plotting a return to Jerusalem – to the city of God.

They stay put. And they don’t just tolerate living in this place. They are actually men of great power and influence in the government of this kingdom that has defeated God’s people.

Perhaps we would like to live in a different world to the one we live in. So much of what we see seems to go against all that we believe. We might sing “this world is not my home; I’m just a-passing through”.

We might say “we are not citizens of this country. We are not of this world.

But we are most definitely in it.

You and I are not where we are by accident. We are here as part of God’s plan.

With work to do.

Daniel stayed and he worked. He didn’t probably ever get back to Jerusalem, but he had not forgotten it.

Do you have a sense that you are called to be where you are?

In his book on Daniel “Stretch” Gerard Kelly comments perceptively “God may ordain it that you should live in Babylon. He will never ordain that Babylon should live in you”.

In other words we need to stand out. We live where we do, but we are called to be different. Not to take on the lifestyles and worldviews of those people we work with, play with, live next door to. But to be the people we should be in the places we are.

It is not for us about escape.

It is not for us about avoiding the world.

It is about living in a way that makes a difference.

Daniel stood out. But it seems in doing so that he showed others up, who did not measure up to his standards of loyalty and integrity.

And the result of that is jealousy among the other administrators and princes. For them Daniel was getting all the recognition. He was doing too well.

He had to be stopped.

But of course there is nothing they can say. There is nothing they can pin on him. Nothing sticks. He is a good man in every sense. There is no scandal.

No hand in the till.

No skeleton in the cupboard.

No politician’s affair.

They need to take another approach.

Daniel is not just known for being a highly professional moral statesman.

He is known for his religion. He is one of those Jewish people, who have become so prominent in this society. He is totally committed to his God. Therein might be the only hope to get him.

And so the plot is hatched.

I wonder what you and I are known for?

Are we known for our honesty? Our integrity? Our loyalty? Our time keeping? Our friendliness?

Our faith?

As the old saying goes, if you or I were to

stand trial accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict us?

“Daniel’s faith in God is his biggest thing. That is where we have to strike.”

Daniel reminds us of Jesus in that sense. There was nothing that could be levelled at Jesus. His accusers couldn’t agree their stories. His judges could find no fault in him.

He is our example and inspiration. With the help of his indwelling Holy Spirit.

As far as dealing with Daniel is concerned,it is time for an approach to the king.

“We are in unanimous agreement” (I don’t suppose anyone asked Daniel!)

Darius is advised to pass a law.

30 days.

Just a short time.

For 30 days Darius is to be the only God for his people. No one is to be allowed to pray to any God for a month. Pray to Darius. That is the only option.

It’s king first, gods second. A month off from religion.

Now of course even today we talk about the laws of the Medes and Persians, that something is set in stone and cannot be changed.

That’s how it was. A law was passed and it could not be revoked. It sounded like a good idea to Darius because it massaged his ego. It underlined that he was the greatest. So he fell into the trap.

The law is announced.

And Daniel thinks.

“It’s only a month”.

“Wouldn’t hurt to take a short sabbatical”.

“Or at least I could be a bit more low key about my faith”.

Is not what happens.

Rather we are told that the first thing Daniel does when told not to pray to his God, is to pray.

Gerard Kelly makes 3 comments about Daniel’s prayer:

1. It is a consistent habit. We are told that he knelt down as usual in his upstairs room. This was what he did. His prayer life was not hit and miss. He had a routine. 3 times a day he would pray. 3 times a day he would bow his knee to the one true God. It was just as he had always done.

In spite of the situation he thanked God for his goodness. He prayed for God’s help. I am often challenged that I do not have that sort of prayer life. I do not have good habits. Whilst I do not believe that God wants to beat us with a stick, because we are not all like Daniel, we are called to pray consistently. Daniel did that. Even now.

2. It is a conspicuous habit. In the circumstances Daniel might have been forgiven for hiding under the bed to pray. Or praying quietly in his head. He could have still prayed. And he probably wouldn’t have been found out. He could have got away with it. But he had another habit when he prayed. He opened the windows. So people could see him praying.

And they could probably hear him praying.

Nothing was going to be changed for Daniel because of the king’s law. Why did it matter so much to him? We’d all tell him that God was with him in Babylon. So he could pray. There was no need to be so open about it. But his windows opened in the direction of Jerusalem. A reminder to Daniel that Babylon was not his home. He had truly lived a good life in Babylon.

But only because he had never forgotten who he was. And where he was from. And who was his God. We are often encouraged to think that our faith is a private thing, but that is never what the Bible teaches us. Whilst we are not to do our religious acts for show, neither are we to hide our light under a bowl.

3. It was a committed habit. This was non-negotiable. He was a man of integrity. A man of great wisdom. A man of God. A man of prayer. He would continue to pray – whatever the threats to him. Lions or no lions. He prayed.

Are we people who stick to following Jesus? Doing the things that we know are going to help us to get to know him more? To be more like him?

Many Christians in the world today, more than us, know that to be seen to follow Jesus is a risky business. But they make their choice.

And of course he was seen. And the king had spoken. “Your majesty he still prays 3 times a day to his God. He takes no notice of you”.

The king had allowed his own position to trap him.

He was immediately angry with himself and set about trying to find a way of getting Daniel off. But it’s the law of the Medes and Persians. He looked through all the books for a loophole, an exception.

But the law was very straightforward.

When the king has passed a law there is no going back.

It’s the lions’ den for Daniel.

It’s capital punishment however you look at it. Maybe in some way it was regarded as the supreme test. Innocence could be proved by the man who walks free.

But no one can walk free.

It’s a death sentence.

And so Darius has Daniel arrested and thrown into the den of hungry, big cats.

It is an ironic twist that the last words that Daniel hears as he goes to his certain death are the words of a king breaking his own law.

Praying to another God for Daniel’s miraculous deliverance.

“May your God whom you serve continually rescue you”.

A stone is rolled over the den. Surely Daniel is dead and buried.

Centuries later a much younger man, a man who had lived the perfect life, whose accusers could not find any fault, went to a death he did not deserve. Nailed to the cross at Calvary. Laid in a tomb. With huge stone rolled across the entrance.

Unmistakably dead.

After a sleepless night the king is up early.

“Daniel! Have my prayers been answered? Has your God delivered you?”

He is stunned and overjoyed to hear the voice of Daniel.

Rescued by an angel.

If this was indeed the supreme test he has been proved innocent. Although he had been spared death it was as if he had come back from the dead.

And as Daniel was vindicated, so later was Jesus. The stone rolled away, and as the disciples went to the tomb, he was gone. Death defeated by the one who had died to take our punishment. Jesus took on death itself and won the victory.

Daniel was saved.

His accusers were the early breakfast the lions were waiting for.

And Darius wants to let everybody know.

“It is time for everyone to tremble with fear before Daniel’s God. He is a living God. An everlasting God. He is a rescuing God”.

Do you know that God this evening? Do you need him to deliver you?

Daniel was exalted in Babylon. He continued to prosper.

The Bible tells us that God has exalted Jesus. Because of all he has done for us he has given him a name that is above every name. One day every one, Daniel, you, me and Darius included, is going to bow before him. The Lord of lords. And King of kings.

Are we ready to make him Lord of our lives now?

If we are a follower of Jesus, will we “dare to be a Daniel”, as the old song goes? Whatever the cost? Will we be those who will follow him consistently and conspicuously and committed?

 

 

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One Comment
  1. Really enjoyed this blog especially as I lead a charity called Daniel’s Den! I’ve just started blogging – to celebrate 20 years. Your comments welcome http://www.danielsden.org.uk/2015/11/just-do-it

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