In the Lion’s Den
In the Lion’s Den
When you’re at odds with the rest of your society ...
How should God’s person live, in a society that, tolerates them, to a point?
Imagine living in a world where you’re a bit different,
You think differently,
What you value is different,
Broadly speaking you’re accepted, you’re generally not persecuted, but when there does come a time when what you believe,
Your convictions about right and wrong, when they collide headlong with your society’s values, if you’re a Christian, which, I think is how most of us would describe ourselves, and society says, “you either agree with us, or be silent,
Toe the line, or we’ll get you”,
What does God’s person do?
And what could you do before that eventuality, in order to prepare for it?
Of course, it’s not entirely a hypothetical situation, is it?
There are lots of aspects of our Christian life that are valued by those around us.
Some of you will remember the “Jesus, All About Life” media campaign back in 2005. In the market research that happened before that campaign, thousands of Australians, said they really valued their Christian friends and thought very highly of them
And yet, we also see, on occasion, Christians being told that if their convictions are at odds with the prevailing opinion of the day, then they will be silenced, and excluded.
Former British PM David Cameron famously said that Christians need to “get with the program”, that is, fall into line, do what the rest of the world is doing.
And just last week, The Supreme Court of Canada, ruled that a Christian university in British Columbia would not be allowed to train law students, not because their teaching was not up to scratch, or anything like that, but because the university has a stated position on marriage and sex outside marriage, that is at odds with the rest of society.
So today, believing what the Bible says about sex, makes you a bad lawyer.
Find yourself at odds with the rest of society, perhaps in just one area, and you may very quickly feel the pressure to conform.
This is the story of Daniel 6, isn’t it?
God’s person finds himself in conflict with his society, over a single issue;,
Who is your God?
So let’s take a look at the story to find out what we might learn, for those occasions when we find ourselves at odds with the prevailing worldview.
And maybe you’re here today to find out who Jesus is and what Christianity’s all about,
I think this is important stuff for you to think about too, because if you’re going to throw your lot in with Jesus,
If you’re going to acknowledge, “well, he’s the one who decides what’s right and wrong, not me, not society, not majority rules, not whoever’s most powerful”, then there will come a time, when holding to what Jesus says, will bring opposition and criticism from people who disagree.
And so it would be good to be prepared for that.
People plot against Daniel because he is faithful (v 1 – 5)
As chapter 6 opens, there’s a new king, that was just the last line of chapter 5, and Daniel is probably in his eighties.
And King Darius decides that his enormous kingdom needs some good organisation, so he appoints 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, 2 with three administrators over them, and rather than put some young millennial in charge, the king picks this 80-something year-old Daniel.
And Daniel so distinguished himself, that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom verse 3.
The word satrap means “a person who protects the kingdom.” And so the king is so pleased with how Daniel does that, that he obviously tells some people of his plan to promote Daniel.
But At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so.
I do want us as Christian people, to be prepared for the time when being Christ’s faithful person, brings opposition.
But I don’t want us to think that at every point the world is out to get us because of our faith in Jesus!
Look at Daniel. He’s one of the top 4 rulers of the kingdom! He’s like the Barnaby Joyce of Babylon! Well, maybe not poor old Barnaby, but Michael McCormack or Matthias Cormann.
This is a position of influence and respect.
He’s using his substantial gifts, for the good of this empire, to which, remember, he’d been carted off as a prisoner of war.
He’s not hunkered down in a Christian ghetto somewhere. He’s making the most of the influence and opportunity God’s given him.
And even when his colleagues try and find some grounds grounds for charges against Daniel, it’s not because of his faith, as such.
Of course, we’ve seen enough of Daniel’s to know he’s doing his job well because he’s God’s person. But the opposition here seems to be just, petty jealousy.
We can, at times, jump to the conclusion, that we’re being treated badly, because we’re a Christian.
Actually, the reality is, people just treat others badly. Full stop.
We should be just as upset, just as willing to intervene, when we see people with no Christian faith being badly treated,
When it’s a Muslim or whoever, who’s suffering because of someone else’s anger, or jealousy.
The only way in which Daniel is at odds with his society: Faithfulness to God
And so these people who don’t like Daniel, tried at first to find some grounds for accusation in his work, in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.
And only at that point, in their minds, does this become about Daniel’s faithfulness to his God.
Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.”
Do you not wish, Christian person, that this could be said of you?
And maybe it is, although knowing, most of you, I suspect it’s probably not.
And I know it’s not true of me.
But imagine if it could be true;, “the only complaint we can have about Clayton, is that Jesus comes first.
When your friends and colleagues think of you, “there’s nothing we can accuse them of, except that they follow Jesus, regardless.”
Daniel’s faith in God is public
See, Daniel’s faith in God was very obviously public. People know that he follows the law of his God.
For Daniel, faith is not a private thing that gets compartmentalised into, Sunday morning, Wednesday night Bible study, and maybe a few mornings each week as I read my Bible.
No, Daniel obviously lives and works in a way that says, “I’m God’s person.”
I can remember overseas, walking past shops that were shut with a sign on the front, “closed for prayers.”
I reckon most Christians are way more private about our faith than that.
But Daniel’s faith is public.
And so I was challenged this week, to think about how I live my faith out.
And I realise that in some ways that’s easier for me than for many of the you, because I just stick on my TMB name badge when I’m out and about, and people automatically make some assumptions about what I believe.
And so, I decided that in terms of people who already know me, I’d try to make sure my faith in Jesus was lived out in front of them. There’s a big family gathering coming up. I’ve been thinking, “How do I demonstrate my Christian faith in the midst of that?
What will it look like for Clayton to be a public Christian?”
Pick a context.
Maybe family, like me, or work, like Daniel.
What will it look like for you to be a public Christian, in that context?
What will be the signs that you’re a follower of Jesus among those people?
How can you show the kind of sacrificial love that Christ calls you to model?,
How will you give up, what you could otherwise have?
How will you seek the good of others?,
Speak of the hope that you have in Christ?,
Forgive as you’ve been forgiven?
What does a public faith look like?
Daniel’s faithfulness to God comes first
The other thing is that Daniel’s public living out of his faith, was such that faithful obedience to God would come first.
When they can’t find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, they conclude that something to do with the law of his God, will land him in court.
If society and faithfulness to God collide, there’s no question in their mind over which one will win, is there?
I am known, somewhat unfairly, I should add, as someone who drinks cartons of iced coffee!
But if you were looking for grounds to get rid of me, have me thrown in prison or whatever, you’d never think, “let’s make a law banning iced coffee, and then Clayton will definitely fall afoul of the law, because his allegiance to iced coffee is greater to his allegiance to the law of the land.”
You’d never think that!
If they changed the law, I’d give up iced coffee, and drink more hot coffee!” Simple!
Do you see how Daniel’s lived, though?
These colleagues know, that when push comes to shove,
If obedience to God, comes up against submission to the prevailing worldview of the day, even the law of the land, then for Daniel, obedience to God will come first.
Again, if you’re a Christian, don’t you just wish your friends were convinced of that about you?
That when David Cameron had got up to say, “the church needs to get with program”, everyone realised, no, for God’s person, obedience to God comes first.
When there’s a conflict,
When there’s a disagreement about what’s right and wrong,
God’s person won’t just go with majority rules,
Or what most people seem to think in the moment,
Or what those in power would like it to be,
Not even what the law says, there have been plenty of unjust laws throughout history. The fact that it’s in legislation could hardly be our barometer.
Don’t you wish that this could be our consistent witness?
That my friends, and your friends would see, our allegiance is to Jesus, who gave up his life, for us!
Who died in our place, taking the punishment that we deserve, for our rebellion against God.
For putting ourselves at the centre,
Pushing God off his rightful place on the throne, and setting ourselves up as if we’re in charge.
What the Bible calls sin.
And that because Jesus enables us to be reconciled to the God we’ve treated so appallingly,
And because he’s shown himself to be utterly trustworthy and dependable,
And because his pattern for life is always best for us and for others, obedience to him, will always come first.
Even when, the stakes are as high as they can possibly get.
Which is the case for Daniel, isn’t it?
Sometimes idolatry and disobedience are so popular, they’re mandated (v 6 – 12)
Because sometimes idolatry, that is putting something else in the place of God, idolatry and disobedience are sometimes so popular they become mandated.
Of course this only happens in Daniel 6 because of ego and flattery and lies. Did you see that in verse 7? The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict
Well, they haven’t all agreed, have they?
Daniel’s one of the 3 administrators and he certainly hasn’t agreed to it.
anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den.
What better way to get someone on your side than to treat them like God?!
If people can only pray to the king, you’re saying that he’s the only God.
This is more than saying the king is a god, this law says, there’s no other God.
And Darius buys into it, doesn’t he? Who doesn’t want to be told, “there’s no one more important than you”?
So King Darius put the decree in writing.
And idolatry becomes compulsory in Babylon.
Putting something else, someone else, in the place of God, is now law.
Now, we’re not in this situation, are we?
Our culture, our society permits the worship of lots of false gods. And we talked last week about what some of these false gods are, that people we know serve, and which we can be tempted to serve and worship,
There’s pressure to throw ourselves into the service of these gods, but it’s not mandated.
Obedience to Jesus doesn’t mean our life hangs in the balance.
Of course, for some Christians around the world this is absolutely the case. Idolatry and disobedience to God are enshrined in the laws of their land.
Christianity is outlawed,
Evangelism is illegal,
Obedience to Jesus’ Great Commission is prohibited.
I have a T-shirt that’s printed with words from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans that the gospel of Jesus is the power of God for salvation, and then it says, “this shirt is illegal in 51 countries.” That is, in 51 countries, or some parts of those countries, it is illegal to speak of the gospel of Jesus as necessary for salvation, and to call people to respond to that.
Why do we, every second Sunday, pray for persecuted Christians around the world?
Because of that.
Because in those countries, idolatry and disobedience are enshrined in law.
And we, who have all manner of freedoms, want to use our freedoms;, our freedom to gather freely, our freedom to pray out loud, we want to use our freedom, to stand with our brothers and sisters, and to see them remain faithful in the face of that.
Sometimes God’s person suffers for faithful obedience (v 13 – 18)
But we see here that those 2 conclusions about Daniel’s faith, well, they were spot on, weren’t they?
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.
Daniel’s faithful obedience to God is still public, his windows are open,
these men, a whole group can see him.
Even now Daniel thinks it’s important for people to see his faith in God working out in his life.
Because his opponents were right, for God’s faithful servant, obedience to God comes first.
Despite the law mandating idolatry, nothing changes in Daniel’s relationship with God, and how that works out. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.
And notice, verse 13, that Daniel’s asking God for help.
We can read this book and sometimes conclude that Daniel is some kind of spiritual super-hero.
Well, Daniel doesn’t think that. He asks God to help him.
When King Solomon had dedicated the temple in Jerusalem about 300 years earlier, he had asked God, that when his people prayed, though they may be scattered far and wide, just like God’s people are right now in Babylon, then from heaven, your dwelling place, Solomon asks, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause.
I once heard a lawyer say, “in court, when the law is on your side, argue the law,
And when the facts are on your side, argue the facts.
And when neither the law nor the facts are on your side, just raise your voice and thump the table!”
Well, the law isn’t on Daniel side, and the facts aren’t really either.
But he knows to do more than raise his voice and thump the table.
Daniel is praying as God has taught him to.
Praying that God will uphold his cause.
Daniel’s opponents though, still think they have the upper hand.
Off they rush back to the king,
And I think we’re supposed to picture it in Keystone Cops slapstick kind of style, falling over themselves in their glee as they go back to the palace, arguing over who’s going to be the one to tell the king, all talking at once!
The decree stands says Darius, in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed, this gets repeated over and over, to show us the utter foolishness of human plans made against God and against his people.
Let me say, it seems like a somewhat flawed legal principle to me! But history records that a couple of hundred years later, another king, Darius the third made a mistake in a royal decree, but he wasn’t able to undo what he’d done, and a man he knew to be innocent was executed.
But the earthly powers here are so convinced that their laws are definite and unshakeable, that we get that repeated refrain, but by the end of the story the law is entirely reversed, because it’s come up against God.
But the king realises he’s been played.
And notice that this king who seems so powerful, he holds even the power of life and death in his hand, except he’s not so powerful, is he?
he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him, verse 14.
But he can’t. And it’s his own words that have trapped him. His own signature, Did you not publish a decree? verse 12,
you put in writing, verse 13
There are many people, forces, groups, that look powerful to us,
They seem to hold great power and influence in their hands.
And they may be powerful and influential, and yet look here at how insignificant this seemingly powerful king is, when he’s put alongside the living God.
The king is powerless to do anything to save Daniel.
He does though at least wonder if God might be able to do something. “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”
And you wonder what things Daniel had told Darius as they’d gone about the business of the kingdom, that Darius would even dare to believe this was possible.
Maybe Daniel had spoken to him before, about how God had acted for his people in the past,
And maybe now in this moment of crisis, the words which he’d never cared for before, suddenly took on a new significance.
It made me think about my conversations with my friends who don’t know Jesus.
Have I given them any reason to think that God acts for the good of his people?
Or that the person who follows Jesus has no reason to fear anything?
And they might not think anything of that message now. But in the moment of crisis that comes, maybe those words will seem more significant.
God delivers his faithful servant (v 19 – 24)
Well Darius certainly has a lot on his mind that night, and so first thing the next morning, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”
And, as we know, God was able to save Daniel. 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.
And the rather sad prologue to the story, the king’s command to kill Daniel’s accusers in verse 24, sits in contrast alongside the assessment of Daniel in verse 23, doesn’t it?
no wound was found on Daniel, because he had trusted in his God.
Those jealous accusers, where had their trust been?
They were confident in their cleverness, their plans, their ability to manipulate.
They’d put their trust in the laws of human beings, and the pressure society brings to bear on someone.
Their trust was tragically misplaced.
The point is not that God wants his enemies to be killed horribly. We’ve seen already in Daniel just how compassionate and patient and forgiving God is, and, of course, we see that in even greater clarity at the cross of Christ.
The Apostle Paul writes to the church in Rome, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son. God has vast and gracious patience towards his enemies, and it’s while we were that, that he sent Jesus to die in our place.
His Son offered to die so that we don’t have to.
The point is not even to say God approves of this vengeance, just to record that it happened.
But God doesn’t always deliver his faithful servants – now.
And the point also, the point of this while story, is not to promise that this kind of delivery will always happen.
Sometimes God’s people make choices for obedience and faithfulness, and God doesn’t step in to miraculously deliver them.
There’s a friend of some friends of mine, he was a pastor in Malaysia where it’s illegal for Muslims to convert to Christianity. He’d spoken to Muslims about Jesus, and in February last year he was snatched off the street in a military style ambush complete with black SUVs and balaclava-clad militia. It’s presumed he’s been murdered.
God doesn’t always stop in, and this isn’t a promise that he will.
Do you remember Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s confident reply to the king in chapter 3, one of my favourite lines in the whole book of Daniel;, the God we serve is able to deliver us, 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.
Our faithful obedience is not contingent on whether God gets us out.
Sometimes he doesn’t.
It struck me as I read Daniel 6 this week, that the mouths of the lions being shut, and Daniel being unharmed, it’s a picture of what life’s going to be like in God’s renewed creation, when God’s original pattern for human life becomes the reality again.
We don’t experience that completely now, but this is a taste of it, a reminder that God’s kingdom will come in all its fullness.
It’s a bit like the healing miracles of Jesus, they not a promise that that’s what we get now,
But they remind us what we look forward to.
One day, the things that Darius says of God in the closing verses will be clear for everyone to see,
he is the living God,
his kingdom will not be destroyed,
He rescues and he saves
And until that time, we’re given this powerful reminder, of what’s in store.
What can we learn from Daniel’s response to a world opposed to God?
And so I want us to spend our last few minutes thinking about what we can learn from Daniel’s response to a world opposed to God.
Look again at what Daniel does, when the law is passed, in verse 10.
Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before
1) Establish good patterns of faithful obedience now
Before this all happens, Daniel has established disciplines in his faith. He has a pattern of prayer, a discipline.
And it’s not to say that you have to pray 3 times a day,
Or pray facing a particular direction. Daniel’s pattern for prayer is probably shaped by that prayer of King Solomon at the dedication of the temple in 1 Kings 8
But see how a well-developed, biblically-informed pattern of prayer, which is just one aspect of Christian discipleship, it provides enormous stability and confidence in a time of crisis, doesn’t it?
Daniel doesn’t have to stop and wonder, come up with a plan, “What should I do now that I’m facing opposition for my faith in God?”
He just does what he’s always done,
I don’t expect it would happen, but imagine in Australia, if reading the Bible was suddenly banned! The government needs the support of the Greens to pass their company tax bill, so they agree to a Greens amendment stating that, from the upcoming financial year, it will be illegal to read the Bible in public or in private.
And if you’re a Christian, you know that reading your Bible is important. It’s how God speaks to us.
When the law comes into effect next week, that’s not the time to start reading your Bible, is it?
I mean, better late than never, yes! But you’ll be much better equipped to stand in the face of opposition, to know what’s going to be helpful and what’s not, if you’ve already been working out, what does faithful obedience to God look like, and putting it into practice.
As I said, that’s unlikely to happen,
Much more likely is that you might live in a country where it’s illegal to gather with other Christians without government permission,
Or where the law says you can’t speak about Jesus as the only way to God,
Or where you’re forbidden from calling on people to repent of their sin, and turn to Jesus and ask for forgiveness,
I’ve visited, and worked, and holidayed in those countries.
You could easily find yourself in that situation.
Or where the issue is not the law of the land, but the expectation of society, your peers, your employer.
The day may come when you’re told “it’s not OK to tell people what you believe about marriage or gender”,
The day may come when you’re told that discussions about faith are prohibited in your workplace.
That’s much more likely! It’s happening around the country, as we speak.
And yet if you’re a Christian, you know that speaking about Jesus,
Giving those around you reason and opportunity to consider the claims of Christ, that’s part of faithful obedience,
That’s obeying the great commission,
And so, like Daniel, we know what’s required of us, even if we’re being told “No.”
But if you’re not sharing your faith with others now, in the freedom you have now, you’ll find it very hard to start, once you’re in a situation where you’re told not to.
But if, like Daniel, you’ve put in place godly habits,
If you’re trained and taught yourself in Bible-shaped patterns of behaviour, then when the time comes, and obedience to Jesus, is outlawed, or frowned upon,
When being God’s faithful person will get you silenced,
Ignore, or killed,
You won’t actually have to change anything,
You won’t have to wonder what do to in this situation,
You’ll already be equipped to stand firm in faithful obedience.
Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before
2) Make use of the freedoms God has given us now!
I read an article this week, written by an atheist, complaining about my T-shirt. Not mine personally, but that one I own, that’s illegal in 51 countries.
And this person, in America I think, was complaining about Christians in the west saying that they’re persecuted, and losing their freedoms.
Now, I mentioned at the beginning an example of where this is actually the case, where laws are saying Christian people can’t hold their convictions without significant penalty.
But I notice sometimes, that we get so worried about the freedoms we’re losing, or we think we’re going to lose, that we fail to take advantage of the freedoms we have!
Who knows, maybe one day, the law will prohibit us from saying to people, Jesus death in your place is the only way your sin and rebellion against God can be dealt with,
Maybe one day to speak like that, becomes illegal, that freedom is taken from us.
But it’s not forbidden now!
That’s not illegal today!
You can do all that and more!
This coming week.
Where’s the sense in getting caught up worrying about that freedom being taken away, when we barely even exercise that freedom now?
I meet Christians who are so upset, fixated even, on the restrictions being placed on Christians in other countries, or in particular contexts here, but they themselves are not actually exercising the freedoms they’re afraid are going to get taken away.
Sharing your faith in Christ could be outlawed,
Speaking of the hope you have in the face of death might be forbidden,
Urging people to turn to Jesus for forgiveness gets banned,
And nothing would change, for lots of Christians.
We can be so worried about losing freedoms, that we don’t exercise the freedom’s God’s given us, right here, right now.
We enjoy many freedoms that God would have us use for his glory and his purposes. Let’s do just that!
So let me finish with a question. And you might like to ask someone this over tea and coffee!
What law restricting Christian faith, would catch you out?
If praying to anyone except Malcolm Turnbull was banned, would it make any difference to you? And would anyone know?
If spending your money on the spread of the gospel of Jesus was outlawed, would you be guilty? And would anyone know?
If talking to people about Jesus was seen as unforgivable in our society, would anyone see you choosing obedience over conformity?
If our culture viewed those who teach children about Jesus, the way it views paedophiles, would you be treated as an outcast?
We enjoy freedom to do all of those things.
But are we wasting the freedoms we have?