Scripture: Daniel 6:6-27
Sometimes I wonder what you are all thinking when we read a piece of scripture not normally read at a particular time of year. Such as reading Daniel in the lions den in Advent. It certainly isn’t the first place we would consider looking when we traditionally read passages which point clearly to the birth of the Messiah, Jesus, God with us.
For sure Daniel in the lions den is an unexpected passage for us to pick up this morning. It’s also a book we aren’t entirely familiar with. But interestingly enough, we probably remember this story from Sunday School lessons, and we may also remember the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being thrown into the fiery furnace.
Both of these stories, for some reason, we like to make cute and teach them to children about how God cares for those who love Him. Which is true, but it’s not all that the stories are about.
Now, I’m not going to look at the fiery furnace, Daniel in the lions den has plenty for us to chew on today on its own.
First we should know what is happening in the world of the Israelites at this point in time. Daniel is living in exile, removed from his home, from Jerusalem, and all the Israelites are now scattered around the region. Here in Daniel 6, the nation has just recently been taken over by the Persians as they conquered the Babylonians. And with each successive invasion and takeover, the people have been pulled further away from God and living under greater oppression.
There are three main players in our reading today. There is, of course, Daniel. There is King Darius. And there are the satraps.
The satraps are the governors of the provinces of Persia. Obviously they hold significant places of authority in the nation, and they have a vested interest in the decisions made by the king.
I don’t think I need to tell you that we should be weary of those who hold significant power over the people, and also have significant financial risk when policies are being made when they approach the one who has final authority on national policy.
These people want power. They want influence with the king, they want to be as close to the decision maker as possible. He is the one who has final say on all laws which impact the areas they live and have influence in.
It’s not that different even today. Today, Canada is still part of the Commonwealth, we are under the authority of the Queen. She has final say on all the laws we make, although today it’s a rubber stamp approval as she has chosen to allow us to govern ourselves. The only time we really see this at play most significantly is when we see the Prime Minister go to the Governor General’s residence, the Queen’s representative in Canada, to ask for him or her to dissolve government and allow an election.
And we also know there are lobbyists who petition the government around changes to laws, as they represent various industries and businesses in Canada.
So the satraps seeking to influence the king and his decisions should not feel that foreign to us.
King Darius is the newly installed Persian king, and he’s an older man, in his 60s. Much older than we traditionally see one becoming king.
He also doesn’t come across as a very effective king. He is sitting among the leaders of the nation, and they are pressing him to make a new law. A law which will require anyone who is praying to pray to no one but the king alone for the next 30 days. It seems to be strange law, but certainly one that might appeal to a king who is struggling to lead, especially in a recently conquered region. Don’t we all need an ego boost now and again?
But we also don’t know what sort of personal struggle the king might be facing. He’s sitting in a room full of powerful, strong leaders, and they are pressing him to make a law he probably isn’t entirely sure of.
In a way it’s a pretty silly law when you think about it. Making prayer illegal for only 30 days surely can’t have much impact on the productivity of a nation. It can’t really change that much, but in the end, the king decides, whether be coercion or by pride, to sign the law.
There is a reason the governors are pushing for this law. There is one person they are trying to trap by making it illegal to pray to anyone or anything other than the king. That person is Daniel.
Daniel is an outsider living in a foreign land. He has managed to rise to power by earning the trust of previous kings under the Babylonian occupation.
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was having dreams which he really wanted to understand, and none of his wise men were able to interpret them for him. Yet Daniel could. So Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel the chief over all the wise men and continued to work along side the king, including Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Belshazzar until the invasion of the Persians who took over the land.
After the Persians took over, Daniel found favour with the new king, King Darius, and Darius made Daniel one of 3 presidents over the satraps. These presidents are the liaison between the king and the provinces.
Daniel was such a good president, Darius is getting ready to appoint him as president over the whole kingdom. This is when things get testy for the satraps. They are not happy with an outsider being so close to the king and having power of them, so they seek to get rid of him.
They know Daniel is a man of God. They know he prays regularly in his home. They also know that there is absolutely nothing they could find wrong with him. He is a faithful, devoted man, who follows all the rules.
They need a new way to remove him. They know about his dedication to these times of prayer, they also know they could probably use this against him. So they push for this new law in hopes Daniel will not stop praying.
Once the law is in place, they just wait for their chance to catch him in the act. Which they do. When they find him praying, they immediately go to King Darius to tell him someone has broken his new law. The satraps even get the king to say, “It cannot be revoked” which they told him when he signed it, This is before they tell him who it was who broke the law.
Darius, when he hears Daniel’s name as the one who has been caught, is distressed. He never thought it would impact his must trusted advisor, his most devoted worker, and his friend.
The Bible says he even tries to find a way to save Daniel, but, again, he isn’t a very effective king if he is unable to reverse a decision which would kill a man without fault. Again, it may go back to his weak leadership when faced with pressure from a large, influential group.
So, regrettably, fearfully, painfully he sends his friend to his death by sending him to the lions den, hoping for a miracle.
And in the end, that is what happens. The next morning Darius calls into the den, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?”
And Daniel walks out! God did indeed save him. An angel came and closed the mouths of the lions.
What was it that saved Daniel? Was it his times of prayer? Was it his faith? Yes, these would have played a part. But what ultimately saved Daniel was God’s grace.
God used Daniel as a testimony before the king and the whole nation that He is a merciful God, willing to forgive and love the evil and sinful acts of human beings.
It should be noted that King Darius seems to find his courage as well. He revokes the law around prayer, calls the nation to fear such a powerful God, and he also faces those who manipulated him. He throws all the satraps into the den of lions. But not only them, he throws in their wives and children too! Darius is sending a very strong message to the nation that things are going to change around here.
What’s interesting is Daniel was committed to keeping his times of prayer, even when his friend, the king, has decreed prayer to be illegal.
It’s not the only time Jewish practices were banned in the Old Testament. There were times when keeping the covenant promises was illegal; people weren’t allowed to follow the laws of God shared through Moses. There were also times when it was illegal for them to keep the sabbath; they were forced to work on the day of rest.
As various nations ruled over the land, they all sought ways to break the people’s relationship with God. They saw God as a threat to their authority, and if the people continued to worship and pray to God, then something might happen which would threaten their kingdom.
Daniel, in his dedication to prayer was acting in a way of resistance. His times of prayer were acts of civil disobedience. And think about how he prayed. He faced Jerusalem, the holy city, symbolically turning his back to the Persian empire.
Have you ever considered prayer to be an act of civil disobedience?
We have it good here in North America. We can come and worship freely and without consequence. But that’s not true in all places. There are still places where Christians worship in fear that if the government finds out about them, they could go to jail, or even worse, be killed for their faith in God.
Still though, it’s not always easy being Christian today. Look at this season of Advent; traditionally a time of quiet reflection, preparing our hearts for Jesus Christ coming into the world as we celebrate his birth.
But is this time of year really conducive to quiet reflection? What is on your calendar this month? I’m going to guess parties, shopping, dinners, church services, shopping, family gatherings, concerts, and probably shopping.
There’s so much demand on our time in general, but it seems even more so in the lead up to Christmas. It’s interesting when you talk to some people who feel a big let down after Christmas. They been so busy building up to the exchange of gifts and parties, when it’s finally over, they feel something missing.
Do you experience that too? Or, because we’ve been able to prepare ourselves, we’ve reflected on the true meaning of the season, that when we get to the other side of the holiday, we actually feel somewhat lifted up! We feel the peace of God in our lives!
What we do here, even today, is an act of civil disobedience. Did you know that? You are being counter-cultural this morning by choosing to come to church.
There are so many other things you could be doing. You could be at the rink. Or at the gym. You could be shopping… shouldn’t we all be shopping? That’s what all the commercials are telling us. We need to be out there shopping for the perfect gift which will make all our loved ones lives complete! Or maybe we should be home sleeping off a hangover. Or doing whatever else people do on Sunday mornings.
Instead, we are here.
Why are you here? Are you here because you are seeking to continue growing in your relationship with God? Are you here because you hear people taking about God and thought that maybe you should come check it out for yourself? Are you here because someone dragged you here? Are you here because you are looking for meaning?
Whatever your reason, I’m glad you are here.
I’m glad you have chosen to ignore what the world wants you to do and step into a church.
Daniel’s act of civil disobedience in a time of great oppression, opens us up to some questions we may have for ourselves.
How do we live in a world which is decreasingly open to hearing about God and even at times hostile towards God?
Sunday mornings aren’t about church any more. Prayer has been removed from our schools. The name of Jesus is not used in praise any more, it’s a swear word, and kids have learned to treat it as one. When people are struggling with something in their life, they go to Facebook to vent and rant, they don’t turn to the church any more for help. It doesn’t even cross their mind.
When I walk into certain places wearing my collar, I feel like I’m being watched or judged. I feel like they are just waiting to find a reason to get me out of there in case I might say something about God. People are sometimes visibly uneasy around me if they know I’m a minister.
Now I haven’t been thrown out of anywhere yet, maybe I’m not talking about God enough? Maybe I need to be more willing to share my faith than I do right now.
Another question we might ask, which is really appropriate to consider during Advent is: what is worthy of my worship?
The kingdom demanded that the people worship the king. Daniel chose to worship something more. What is worthy of your worship? What is it that gives your life hope and meaning?
Pastor Carey Nieuwhof wrote in his blog,
“The reason I lead a church is because I believe Jesus designed the church to be the hope of the world. Churches are imperfect organizations, but they’re also chosen organizations. We’re on a mission given by Christ. We’re his chosen instrument.” (http://careynieuwhof.com/5-things-people-blame-the-church-for-but-shouldnt/)
If God is going to use us, then we need to worship Him over all other things this world entices us with. Whether that be gifts, or parties, or cars, or money, or jobs…
We need to be willing to consider worshipping God first and foremost, even as an act of civil disobedience. Now we aren’t going to be punished because we are here. We won’t be arrested or go to jail. And we most certainly won’t be thrown into a lions den.
But we need to be willing to stand up and say, “I worship God!”
King Darius said this in his new decree to the nation,
“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.
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.” (Daniel 6:26-27)
Let’s look at the history of the Israelites as they lived under the oppression of others. The Egyptians. They are gone. The Assyrians. They are gone. They Babylonians. Gone. The Persians. Gone. Looking ahead, from where we are in the Bible: the Greeks. Gone. The Romans. Gone. Even the nations of the Israelites, Judah and Israel are gone.
And as we look at the powers of the world today, we know that those nations will someday be done.
Yet, as Darius to eloquently puts it,
“For he is the living God,
His kingdom shall never be destroyed,
and his dominion has no end.”
Our God, who came to earth as a baby, seeking to live among us as one of us, His kingdom will never be destroyed.
Many have tried for thousands of years, but not a single one has succeeded. Our God is for all people, for all ages, for all of time.
Is this who we worship as we move into a new season in the church, which often competes against the season the world pushes on us?
May this Advent be a season of peace, hope, joy and love as we prepare our hearts for the return of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace in our lives.
Let us pray,
We thank you for your dedication and love for your people. As we enter this busy season, which places so much pressure on us, may we know the peace you wish for us. May we feel the love you have for us. May we feel the joy you wish us to have. And may we have hope. Hope that in the Christ child we are also your children, seeking your way in the world and in our lives.
We pray this in the name of the one who is still to come, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Amen and amen.