29 November 2020 Facing the Lions Martin Baker
6 So the presidents and satraps conspired and came to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! 7 All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counsellors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an interdict, that whoever prays to anyone, divine or human, for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions. 8 Now, O king, establish the interdict and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” 9 Therefore King Darius signed the document and interdict.
Daniel in the Lions’ Den
10 Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously. 11 The conspirators came and found Daniel praying and seeking mercy before his God. 12 Then they approached the king and said concerning the interdict, “O king! Did you not sign an interdict, that anyone who prays to anyone, divine or human, within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions?” The king answered, “The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.” 13 Then they responded to the king, “Daniel, one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the interdict you have signed, but he is saying his prayers three times a day.”
14 When the king heard the charge, he was very much distressed. He was determined to save Daniel, and until the sun went down he made every effort to rescue him. 15 Then the conspirators came to the king and said to him, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no interdict or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.”
16 Then the king gave the command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!” 17 A stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, so that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. 18 Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him, and sleep fled from him.
Daniel Saved from the Lions
19 Then, at break of day, the king got up and hurried to the den of lions. 20 When he came near the den where Daniel was, he cried out anxiously to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?” 21 Daniel then said to the king, “O king, live forever! 22 My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong.” 23 Then the king was exceedingly glad and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. 24 The king gave a command, and those who had accused Daniel were brought and thrown into the den of lions—they, their children, and their wives. Before they reached the bottom of the den the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces.
25 Then King Darius wrote to all peoples and nations of every language throughout the whole world: “May you have abundant prosperity! 26 I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people should tremble and fear before the God of Daniel:
For he is the living God,
His kingdom shall never be destroyed,
and his dominion has no end.
27 He delivers and rescues,
he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth;
for he has saved Daniel
from the power of the lions.”
Have you ever had that experience of displacement?
The feeling you don’t belong here?
Very early on in our time at Clevedon, Sandy and I thought it would be nice to join a particular club. A club to do with boats. We had a small boat at the time, and we thought it might be nice to join a club .
We knew of one particular club and one Saturday afternoon I think it was, we turned up at the club and walked into the club room. It is a subtle thing isn’t but have you ever walked into a room of strangers and it seems like the conversation drops down quite a lot.
And the people look at you and each other and there is a sense that all these people know something that you don’t? Or have rituals or language or practices which on the front seem designed to keep those people in and visitors or strangers out?
We are with Daniel, strangers in the land of the Medes and Persians, and we have no idea what the rules are.
The boat club may have been having some sort of meeting – but we stared at them from the door way, they stared at us, and no one said anything and then I think we just backed out and quietly left.
Even though it can be an accusation that might be easily made, I, probably like ever minister or pastor in the country, would never like our church to seem like that.
Once the church becomes a club then we have given up on being those people brought together in the power of the Holy Spirit. We have become like the Babylonians, the Medes and Persians – displacing, excluding.
That concern about the wellbeing of strangers is woven deeply into the fabric of many of the Bible accounts.
Jesus said about how we treat a stranger should be seen in the same way we treat Jesus. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.
Many people in churches around New Zealand have had profound experiences of displacement. Someone I work closely with said, on his arrival into New Zealand he said that two things he prayed for were a job and a church to belong to.
Belonging, place, purpose, care.
So as we approach our story one of the first lessons is that Daniel was displaced.
He was an alien, a stranger in a strange land.
Over these weeks we have been following these stories of promise, of fulfilment . Of people being sent, leaving and arriving.
We have come to a point in history where the Babylonian Empire had overpowered the Assyrians and now they were trying to take over the world.
The temple in Jerusalem is destroyed and the best and brightest are taken into captivity. Forced displacement. It is an ancient and a modern tool of tyrants. Destroying a nation, a people by denying them a place, a home. Burning their villages, taking their children. There is a modern sound to this as well as an ancient one.
It seems like Daniel is presented as one of these people.
A teenager who was ripped from his home and forced to learn Babylonian and become one of them.
He was displaced.
And in being displaced he captures up something interesting that Peter said to those earliest Christians.
In 1 Peter 2:11-12.
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles. Conduct yourselves honourably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honourable deeds and glorify God.
With Daniel and his faith in the God of Israel Christians are always more or less displaced , it has always gone with the territory - that there is uneasiness about our faith that will always place us in some degree of conflict with the dominant culture. A tension, along with Daniel, that we have to live with.
We are surrounded by a culture that seeks to define people as being in or out, strangers or friends, one of us or not, defined by colour, sexuality, language, history, culture. But the earliest Christians, much to their surprise and shock found that there single defining unity event was the unity they found in their faith, in the risen Jesus. And that discovery put them at odds with their culture.
As we move through our story we find that Daniel was faithful in his displacement.
Daniel distinguished himself above all the other presidents and satraps, (it’s a strange word, means something like provincial governor,) and the king planned to appoint him over the whole kingdom. A bit like the Joseph story.
Daniel was an active citizen, he was fully engaged in politics and the community. This is where he lives, where we live, and there is a lot of good things.
Yet, notice what happened to Daniel in 6:10.
Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously.
So for Daniel there is a line that his faith would not let him cross. He disobeyed the rules.
His value of placing God as the first priority in his life came into conflict.
It may not be about running the red down at the roadworks, but specially at this time, are their pressures we need to resist, are their protocols, expectations that are not consistent with our priorities? We’ve just had white ribbon week and we think about those who endure violence because they don’t want to break the family. We think about the credit card debt that we are burdened with because of these powerful forces of commercialism.
People, mostly younger mums and dads, have been coming here during the week and picking up some really good used toys and wrapping them as Christmas presents. On one hand we think that’s a bit sad, but on the other it might be just the right thing to do – it is a simple thing but maybe we have all got use to just throwing away stuff.
Resisting the forces to accumulate and own more and more, before any other reasons, might be for us a way of expressing our faith, of witnessing to what Jesus is calling us to be and do.
Sometimes our commitment to following Jesus places us in positions of conflict.
In fact sometimes faithfulness leads to the lion’s den.
We have the Sunday School story. We have Daniel’ miraculous delivery from the lion’s den. And I guess the danger here is that this becomes too close to a kind of a make believe story. If we just have enough faith in God, we’ll always be delivered from harm.
But that is not the truth.
Here’s the truth about lion’s dens.
The lion’s den leads to two places. Sometimes you get devoured. Sometimes you get delivered.
Jeremiah, the prophet, he got devoured. Jesus got devoured. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor in WWII stood up to Hitler and was executed.
In either case, the point is the same. It isn’t about our safety and comfort. It’s about faithfulness to a God who is there though the dark valleys and by the still waters. We stand in a history of people who have lived, but also a fair number who have died for their faith. In prison cells in China, at the hands of Isis in recent years, people of faith have been targets for fanatics and fascists and dictatorship.
Faith clearly puts us at times in conflict with the principalities and powers as Paul would call them.
But we don’t say just be faithful, it might turn out OK.
There’s one last thing about Daniel’s story.
Faithfulness is fuelled by hope.
Why was Daniel able to break the law and face the lions? It is something about in God’s promise. He knew that God is faithful.
These weeks prior to Christmas have this focus that we find here in the Daniel story. For his waiting for return from exile. Waiting for Jerusalem to be restored.
We wait for this saviour to be born. This kind of intentional waiting changes our focus.
The apostle Paul says in Romans 8:22-23 that creation itself groans in labour pains, longing for hope to be born.
So three things
Our faith in Christ does create a tension, a displacement within the culture and world we live in. From that place Jesus calls us to have a special concern for those who are displaced for many other reasons. The welcome of stranger and the displaced is a non negotiable for us.
God is faithful even when we face the lions. We stand in that dual history of those who have been delivered but also those who have been devoured. Both events provide an opportunity to witness to God’s presence and power.
And finally, with Daniel we wait for that day of restoration. In Advent this time before Christmas, we wait. We are pregnant with hope.
With Daniel our waiting is not passive. It is fuelled by strength and hope and courage.
This Advent season, we remember that we aren’t there yet. God is still at work, bringing about the promise. We are in process. God has redeemed things through Jesus, and God will restore all things.
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.