God, Keep Us Faithful
A sermon based on Daniel 6:10-12, 16-23
Reformation Sunday – October 30, 2011
I can only imagine the fear that filled his heart as he stood before the throne. He knew that what he had said and done was punishable by death. And he knew that the even if the head of the government was sympathetic, the real leaders of the people, were not. Death was a probable outcome.
But what could he do? It was either risk death or deny the truth. And to deny the truth was to deny God. So rather than succumb to the threats levied against him he would take his stand. Boldly, standing on the Word of God, he would not back down. And he would suffer for it.
So we find the prophet Daniel at eighty years of age refusing to stop praying to the true God, refusing to pray to the king of Babylon, willing to die for his decision—and thrown into a den of hungry lions.
Daniel was a prophet who lived in a time of trouble and turmoil for Israel. God had sent his prophets to Israel again and again to warn them to repent, to turn from their wicked ways and return to God. But they refused. So God sent a foreign nation, the Babylonians, to discipline them and make them reconsider.
Starting in about 605 B.C. King Nebuchadnezzar led the Babylonians in a series of attacks against the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Three times they carried off the Israelites as prisoners of war, as exiles, into Babylon (that is, modern Iraq). And young Daniel, a teenager at the time, was one of the first to go.
The captives' life was rough, but not unbearable. They were allowed a certain amount of freedom. Some were even allowed to serve in the government. And Daniel quickly entered the king's service when he noticed how God had blessed him physically and intellectually. And Daniel served under several kings, continuing to serve even the Mede and Persian kings who conquered the Babylonians. This is where we find him this evening.
Now 80 years old he had been in exile for more than six decades, serving as a leader in a foreign land. But as a foreigner, a captive Israelite, there was certainly some jealousy from the Mede and Persian leaders under him. They desired his position of power. They longed to remove him from his position. So they plotted against him. Not unlike politicians of today, they tried to dig up some dirt from his past; something, anything, with which they could accuse him of misconduct in office. But, because Daniel was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent, they found nothing. They had to trap him into breaking the law. They 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."
So here's their plan: "We know Daniel's habits. He prays to his God every day at set times. Let's use our king's vanity to get him to pass a law forbidding prayer. Daniel will surely keep praying. Then we've got him!" They said, "O King Darius, live forever! 7 The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions' den. 8 Now, O king, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered—in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed." And King Darius bit. He put the decree in writing.
The trap was set. Now all they had to do was wait. What was Daniel to do? He knew that he was the target of this edict, even if the king didn't see it. And if he took a stand and disobeyed the king's edict, he could be thrown into a den of hungry lions and eaten alive! What a horrible way to go!
How tempting it must have been for him to stop praying for just thirty days. Or maybe to keep praying, but to do it in another room or at a different time of day when everyone else was asleep. Maybe he could just pray silently to God. God would hear him. God would understand.
But Daniel knew that any of these options would dishonor God as he tried to hide his faith to save his life. That was the worst that could happen to him, not the lions. If he went to the lions he might die—a horrible, grisly death. But then he would go to heave! The victory would be his. But, on the other hand, if he denied his faith in God he would be compromising that faith and the results might last for eternity. The real danger was not the lions, but the temptation to deny God.
10 Now 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. 12 So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: "Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or man except to you, O king, would be thrown into the lions' den?" The king answered, "The decree stands—in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed."
13 Then they said to the king, "Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day."
14 When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him. 15 Then the men went as a group to the king and said to him, "Remember, O king, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed." 16 So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions' den. The king said to Daniel, "May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!" 17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel's situation might not be changed.
What courage! What strength of faith! To ignore the plot! To deny the king! In the face of persecution Daniel didn't hide his faith or cower in an inner room, but boldly took his stand—even if it meant a horrible death!
In a similar way, about two thousand years later, a monk by the name of Martin Luther, had a plot out on his life. He didn't face a den of hungry lions, but instead risked being burned alive once he was labeled a heretic for going against the religious teaching of the Roman Catholic church. How tempting it must have been to back down, to take back some of what he said, to recant.
But he, like Daniel, couldn't hide his faith. Too much was at stake! At a time when the truth of the Gospel was all but lost, he had to proclaim the truth! He could not cower, but would continue to boldly preach and teach, proclaim and write the truth about the Gospel! That we are saved by God's grace alone, not by our merits in any way! We are saved through faith alone and not by our works or deeds! So he took his stand and was branded a heretic so that any who found him could legally take his life.
What about us? Do we ever face opposition in our lives? I'm willing to bet that no one here has ever been thrown into a den of hungry lions for daring to pray to God. I'll no one here is a wanted criminals for sharing the gospel. Yet, we do face opposition of our own in other forms. We face ridicule and insults, considered intellectually inferior because we dare to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, that he is who he said he was, that he accomplished our salvation. We face lions of our own, don't we? Peter reminded the early church, "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith."
But in the middle of the lions' den, it can be hard to stay faithful, can't it? And too often we cower. We stand down because we love ourselves more than we love our God. But thank God, then, that he sent his Son to fight against that roaring lion, to conquer the devil by being devoured by God's wrath in our place on the cross. Thank God that he did raise Jesus from the dead for our justification, so that now, by God's grace alone, through faith alone, we are rescued—from satan, from our own sin, from death, and from eternal death in hell. Through Christ alone, the victory is ours!
And now, for the way he took a stand for us, we are moved to want to take a stand for him. So how do we stand tall in those times when extra courage is called for? How do we stay faithful to our God like Daniel, like Luther? In short, we don't. Not on our own. It's God who keeps us faithful, just as he kept Daniel and Luther faithful to him… through his Word.
How did God keep Daniel faithful? Well, at the time of the Babylonian captivity, the children of Israel had the books of the Bible from Genesis thru Jeremiah and a few of the other prophets. In Daniel chapter 9 he wrote, "I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years." He knew God's promises. And so he prayed to God holding him to those promises. In chapter 9 he went on…
"The curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you… We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy." And he held God to the promise he read in those Scriptures.
Daniel even alluded to some of the things King Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple in his prayer in chapter 9: "When they sin against you and you give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to a land far away, if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and pray toward the temple, then forgive your people, who have sinned against you." Daniel relied on the Scriptures and the promises they contained. He studied them. He knew them well. He drew his strength from the mercy of God that he found promised in them and in them he found courage to be faithful in the face of fierce opposition and in the den of the lions.
In the same way, Martin Luther found his strength in God's written word. Assigned to teach the Bible at the University of Wittenberg, he found the gospel. He discovered the truth that we are saved by God's grace and mercy, not by anything we might do. Like Daniel, he relied on the Scriptures and the promises they contained. He studied them. He knew them well. He drew his strength from the mercy of God that he found promised in them and in them he found courage to be faithful in the face of fierce opposition and in his trial before the emperor.
And friends, you know that we find our strength in the same place. We trust the Scriptures as the divinely inspired Word of God; that Word which tells us that we are sinful. Like Daniel we fall to our knees in repentance. And like Luther we cling to that Word which tells us by God's grace alone, through faith, and not by works, but as a gift from God we are made righteous through Christ's innocent death. We cling to that Word which reminds us that Christ will keep us faithful, even in the lion's den, even before emperors and kings.
And as we do, God will work through our faithful witness just like he did through Daniel's and Luther's.
18 Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep. 19 At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions' den. 20 When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?" 21 Daniel answered, "O king, live forever! 22 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. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king." 23 The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.
Through Daniel's persecution, King Darius now knew without a doubt who the true God was. In Daniel 6:25-27 we read: 25 Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations and men of every language throughout the land: "May you prosper greatly! 26 "I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. "For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. 27 He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions."
In fact, Daniel wrote the account down so that we're still learning from it today, some twenty-six hundred years later, and through these events, God is keeping us faithful!
Likewise, God kept Martin Luther faithful so he could reform the church, restore the gospel to the people and put into writing most of his works to benefit future generations after him.
Why does God keep us keep us faithful? Why not just whisk us out of this life the moment we come to faith and spare us from any opposition and remove any chance that we might fall away? Well, he keeps us faithful in times of fierce opposition, through his Word, in order that we might share that Word with others. We can share with others that God in his grace and mercy has forgiven all our sins through Christ. Think of someone that you can share that message with this week. Let's celebrate this Reformation Day by telling others what God has done for them. And God will keep us faithful though his Word. Amen!
Now may our Gracious God continue to keep you faithful in every way until life's end. Amen.