November 1, 2020
This morning we come to what is by far the most famous story in the Book of Daniel and for that matter one of the most famous bible stories period, it’s the story of Daniel and the Lions Den. About a year ago Callie was teaching this very story to our kids as their Sunday School lesson that week, and she shared this story with me about how as part of their lesson they were using felt board characters to illustrate the story and at various points Callie would ask the kids, “Okay, what’s happening in the story now?” and the kids would answer and then they’d continue on with the story. And when they got to the part about the Lion’s Den, they added lions to the felt board and once again she asked, “Okay, what’s happening in our story now?” And Drew Cottom, one of the younger kids in the room, about 3-4 at the time, raised his hand and shouted out “Simba is fighting Scar!” And if that doesn’t bring a smile to your face, well, I’m not sure what to tell you.
And just in case you’re unsure why this is all so funny, well, it seems Drew was confusing the story of Daniel and the Lions Den with the hit Disney classic The Lion King. And you can’t blame the little man for getting the two confused. After all, it’s not very often that our bible stories have lions in them.
But yet all that said, while lions and a lion’s den are a key part of the story, truth is, this story has a lot more to offer and teach us than just that. For it’s a story about jealousy and deception, faithfulness and courage, a miraculous rescue, and where ultimately the hero of this story isn’t Daniel, though there is a lot to be admired about him, but rather God himself. God is the true hero, the one ultimately praised and worshiped at the end.
So let’s dive in. As you’ve likely noticed over these past few weeks, the chapters in this book are really long and I’ve struggled to find a balance between how much scripture to have read out loud, where it’s enough that you get a sense of the story, but not so much that you feel inundated and wildly overwhelmed. As for this morning, Alan read the heart of the story, the key scene, and over the next couple minutes I’ll share some of the backstory that we didn’t read, which hopefully will help to flesh out why Daniel is thrown in the Lions Den in the first place.
So here briefly is the backstory to our story today:
As we come to Daniel 6 today, we’re met by yet again another king, this time King Darius. And even more, Babylon, where Daniel and his friends have been all along, is now ruled by a different kingdom, now by the Medes and Persians. And yet despite this change, Daniel yet again finds himself in a key position of leadership. And one thing we learn right away is that his very presence and success on the job has mixed reviews.
On one hand, Darius seems to like and respect him quite a bit. We know this on one hand because we’re told the King has plans to appoint him over the whole kingdom – in a prime minister type role. He’s using his God given gifts and abilities in meaningful, productive ways for the common good.
But yet the other leaders around Daniel are jealous. They see that he is excelling in his role, and that the King is poised to give him a promotion, which infuriates them, as it’s a promotion that they themselves aren’t getting. And so in a bit of crafty deception, they come up with a plan to see that Daniel is destroyed.
And this brings us to the first big point I want us to see in our story today. And that is,
Even faithful followers of Jesus may still find themselves in trouble.
You see, in so many ways Daniel does just about everything right. He’s excelling at his job, faithfully serving King Darius. And as these other leaders search for a reason to see him arrested or found guilty for any transgression past or present, they can’t find a thing. Daniel’s past record is virtually spotless.
For it says, “they could find no grounds for complaint or any corruption, because he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption could be found in Daniel.”
Which is just amazing. Here is Daniel, who in chapter 1 was a just a teenager, but yet now a couple kings and regimes later we now believe is in his 80’s. And yet, the other leaders can’t find any dirt on the guy, not a single thing for which they can get him killed, much less fired. Which is a great testament to Daniel’s character and integrity.
Nevertheless, the men come up with a plan to get him in trouble for the one thing they are certain they can accuse him for – and that is, his religion and faith in God.
And so they go to the king and convince him to establish a new law, that says that the people must pray and worship King Darius and King Darius only, and that anyone who doesn’t will be thrown in the Lions Den. It’s the one and only “crime” if you will, that they know for certain that they can convict Daniel of, and their plan comes to fruition after they see Daniel caught in the act, praying and worshipping to the God of Israel. The men report this to Darius, and it seems as though Daniel’s fate is surely sealed.
Now, as we’ve established and reiterated over these past few weeks, there are many ways in which our situation as followers of Jesus here in America today is different that Daniel’s experience in Babylon long ago. After all, here in this story these men make worshipping and praying to God effectively illegal for Daniel, and surely and thankfully, that’s not our situation here today. It’s not illegal to be a Christian and thank God for that. Nevertheless, the broader point remains:
Even faithful followers of Jesus may still find themselves in trouble.
For example, I recently read a story about a Christian, let’s call him George who worked as an engineer at a nuclear power plant in Connecticut. And one day on the job, he discovered that something was terribly wrong – that the company was committing some serious violations, engaging in some unethical practices, ones that were terrible for the environment, yet were going on because they were saving the company millions.
Fearing the violations could threaten thousands of lives, George urged plant managers to stop the hazardous practices, but yet they refused. When his co-workers caught wind of this, they told him, "Shut up and keep your job."
In fact, when his plant managers and co-workers heard that George thought it would be best to report the violations to an outside agency, his co-workers and bosses turned against him. When he sat down in the cafeteria, coworkers left. When he entered a meeting, the room fell silent. Coworkers spread rumors about him, and time and time again he was given poor performance reviews.
George during this time was desperate for God's guidance. He awoke at 4 a.m. to pray and read Scripture. During lunch breaks, he drove to a secluded place to pray and search the Bible. It was during one of these prayer times that George believed God whispered to him, "Will you die for me?" That is, will you do the right thing, even if it may cost your job, your reputation, your livelihood?
After months of prayer and study, he decided to report the violations this outside agency. Coworkers confronted him at work. They called him a fool, a troublemaker. He was subtly intimidated and harassed for months. After four years of battling the company and co-worker pressure, George finally obtained a severance agreement and left.
Friends, here’s the point. Even faithful followers of Jesus may still find themselves in trouble. In fact, stories like George’s and Daniel’s story here remind us that it’s sometimes because of our faithfulness and obedience to God that brings trouble our way. For George, faithfully and obediently following Jesus meant telling the truth and exposing injustice, but yet that very act is what got him into trouble. And the same is true for Daniel – faithfully and obediently following Jesus, worship and praying to God and God alone, is what got him into trouble. In fact, Daniel knew of the stakes, he knew that these men had concocted this law against him, and yet, even still he stayed true to his beliefs and convictions.
Even faithful followers of Jesus may still find themselves in trouble. It’s admittedly a hard truth to swallow, but yet, here’s the good news as we see in part 2 of our story.
Faithful followers of Jesus will always be delivered from trouble, whether in this life or the next.
When it’s reported to Darius that Daniel has been praying three times a day to his God, even despite this new law that’s been established, Darius is saddened. He seems to have liked Daniel and was grateful for his service. And in this moment, Darius realizes that he’s been duped, he’s been manipulated, that the law itself was simple a conniving way of getting Daniel killed. Nevertheless, despite his misgivings about the whole thing, Darius goes through with the punishment. He was the one that ultimately put it into law, and so he feels he is stuck and has no choice but to throw Daniel in the Lions Den. And yet as he does, he says this to Daniel, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!”
And amazingly, that’s exactly what God does. After spending a restless night back in the palace, Darius comes back to the Lions Den the next morning, to anxiously see if by chance Daniel has lived to see another day. And when he calls Daniel by name, he amazingly hears Daniel’s voice, saying, “My God sent his angel and the lions mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him.”
The unbelievable, the unthinkable happened, something that had probably never happened in that Lions Den before, a person survived. A lions den was a sure and effective and gruesome means of execution, these were ferocious lions which had been starved, ready to devour any meal that came their way. But yet for Daniel, on that night, as God sent his angel and closed the lions mouths, those lions might as well had been a litter of purring kittens.
Faithful followers of Jesus will always be delivered from trouble, and yet, here’s the key part of this phrase, the key part of this truth, whether in this life or the next.
Truth is, there have been many faithful, obedient, courageous Christians like Daniel, but yet not all of them are spared and protected in the way Daniel was. In fact, throughout history, many of these faithful followers of Jesus have died gruesome, painful deaths.
When it comes to faithful and courageous followers of Jesus, one of the greatest and most inspiring examples is found in the story and life of Deitrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian, and lived in the 1930’s and 40’s under Nazi control. Bonhoeffer was teaching pastors in an underground seminary, but once the Nazi government found out, they closed the seminary, and over time, the church in Germany, out of fear became increasingly reluctant to speak out against Hitler. And so Bonhoeffer did something incredibly bold - he signed up with the German secret service, where he sought to serve as a double agent with the goal of trying to help Jews escape Nazi oppression. Eventually his resistance efforts in rescuing Jews was discovered he was and thrown prison and then later an extermination camp, and tragically one month before Germany surrendered in World War II, Bonhoeffer himself was hung to death along with six others.
A decade later, a camp doctor who witnessed Bonhoeffer's hanging described the scene: “Before his execution, I saw Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued in a few seconds. In the almost 50 years that I have worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God."
A sobering, yet beautiful tribute to Bonhoeffer’s faith and courage and commitment to Christ.
And it makes me wonder, how was it that Bonhoeffer was able to go through those final moments and face his certain death with such peace and such faith in God?
I have to imagine it was because Bonhoeffer knew that though faithful followers of Jesus will likely find themselves in trouble, and though God may not spare us from death in this life, that we can be confident and hopeful, knowing that our eternal destiny is safe and secure, that we will be spared from eternal death and given eternal life because of Jesus himself.
The story of Daniel and the Lions Den isn’t ultimately about Daniel. It’s about God, who rescued us through the person and work of Jesus Christ. You see, there are unbelievable, remarkable, beautiful parallels between Daniel’s life and the life of Jesus.
Like Daniel, Jesus lived under the reign and influence of a foreign power, not Babylon, but rather the Roman empire. Like Daniel, Jesus was both admired and despised. He was admired by his disciples and many of the crowds that followed after him, yet despised by religious and government leaders. Like Daniel, his enemies sought to see him killed and like Daniel, because he was blameless, the only thing they could really accuse him of was his relationship with God. In fact, that was Jesus’s greatest crime – that this man claimed to be God. And like Daniel he was unjustly put to death, only this time not thrown in a lions den, but rather hung on a cross. And here’s the key way in which the two are different - unlike Daniel, Jesus really died, but yet like Daniel Jesus emerged from the tomb, from the pit of death soon after.
Friends, our obedience and faithfulness to God may mean persecution and danger in this world but yet no matter what comes our way, always leads to life in Christ. You see, Daniel ultimately points us to the hope we have in Christ, in this life and the next. So let’s live with that kind of hope. Let’s move in faithfulness and courage because of that kind of hope. Let’s be that kind of light and witness to the world around us. Truth is, non-Christians are brought to worship and devotion when seeing Christians living courageous lives and seeing God’s work in their lives on display.
Our story ends on a beautiful note, with King Darius praising and acknowledging the greatness of Daniel’s God:
For he is the living God, enduring forever. His kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion has no end.
Those were always Daniel’s words, they became Darius’s words, may they be our words too.