I think we are well aware of the thousands of ‘believers’ in this world who have been murdered in recent years…all because they do not believe in a radical Islamic doctrine that is being taught. Amnesty International reports cases of Christian women hung by their thumbs from wires and beaten with heavy rods, denied food and water and shocked with electric probes.
Elsewhere in the world, Christians face other tortures and persecutions. In Egypt and Pakistan Christians have been imprisoned and tortured merely for preaching their faith. Pakistan recently passed a blasphemy law that forbids speaking or acting against the prophet Mohammed. The punishment for violators is death.
A 12-year-old Christian child was recently sentenced to death under this law and was freed from Pakistan only by international pressure. He is now hiding in a Western country with a bounty on his head similar to that which keeps Salman Rushdie on the run.
Sudan is perhaps the worst violator. Its Islamic government has engaged in a policy of forcible conversion. Many of the black Sudanese in the southern part of the country (the north is Arab) have resisted conversion, in many cases because of adherence to Christianity (a criminal act under Sudanese law). As punishment, the Sudanese government has denied food and medicine to Christians in famine areas and has sold thousands of Christian children–some as young as 6–into slavery.”
Here in the U.S., of course, when we talk about persecution, our idea is having people call us names or City Hall refusing to let us put up religious symbols in the park, or hand out Bibles in the public schools.
What do you think would happen to churches in America if it became illegal to be a Christian as it is in Iran and other Moslem countries? How do you think your own faith would fare under such circumstances?
In one sense, there is really no way to know until you’re there, and “there” is a place where most of us, myself included, don’t want to have to go to find out. Is there anything a person can do to prepare in the event something like that might happen here? None of us would want to lose our faith under such circumstances.
In the earliest days of Christianity, when enemies of Christ wanted to put a stop to the testimony of someone who refused to compromise his faith, they would call for the lions. Christian men, women, and children were put into the arenas with hungry lions when they refused to recant their faith.
In much the same way, as we come into the sixth chapter of Daniel this morning in the last message of our series called “Faith in the Fire: God is in Control” that is what has happened. Daniel has refused to violate the basic tenants of his faith, so they’ve “called for the lions.”
What can we learn from Daniel that might help us in the event it ever comes about that someone should “call for the lions” in the good old USA? Said a little more plainly, what can we do to prepare in the event that the ultimate sacrifice was called for in our lives? How could we remain faithful under that kind of pressure?
Before we read Daniel six, let me inform you of a couple of things that will help you understand what is happening here.
First, Daniel was 80-90 years old when they called for the lions. Don’t picture a young man as we read this chapter.
Second, the lion’s den was the primary form of capital punishment to the Medes and Persians just as the furnace of fire was to the Babylonians, stoning was to the Jews, and crucifixion was to the Romans. It was a means of certain, violent death.
Daniel 6:1-2 (ESV) It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom 120 satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom; 2 and over them three high officials, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should give account, so that the king might suffer no loss.
Apparently Darius used some of the men from the cabinet of Belshazzar, the king he conquered.
Daniel 6:3-4 (ESV) Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4 Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him.
We see here a simple case of jealousy with these men. Daniel was appointed over them and they didn’t like it, so they set about to get him out of their way. When they could find nothing immoral or shady in his public service, they decided to frame him in the one area where he might be vulnerable.
- Keep on Being What You’ve Been. There is a consistency revealed about Daniel that shows what kind of person he was.
He was one who “distinguished himself” among the others, according to verse 3. Daniel wasn’t a slacker. He had worked hard in the courts of two kings already. Now he was doing the same in the third.
Verse 4 tells us that his opponents could find “no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption” in him. He was morally consistent. The set up a “sting” operation. They went through his files and his trashcans. They hid in the bushes and watched him at home. But they could find no hidden dirt.
The next phrase says “he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him.”
Daniel didn’t suddenly realize he was under surveillance and scramble to cover his tracks like we’ve seen many governing officials do in our day. There was no “Watergate,” “Whitewater,” “Travel Gate,” “Nanny Gate,” or any other kind of Gate in his life!
He was free from corruption in the present because he had been free from corruption in the past. He was already faithful. We’ve seen these things in his life since we began this series. When they called for the lions, he had merely to continue being what he had been.
Occasionally, when watching an interview with athletes before an important game, you’ll hear a reporter ask, “Well, how do you intend to handle this biggest game of your career?” Looking for a story, he’s hoping the athlete will reveal some bright, new, never-heard-of strategy. To that the athlete will say something like, “I’m just going to go out and do what I’ve been doing every day in practice since the beginning of the season.” Nothing new to him. He’s been doing it all along.
You don’t wait until the day of the race to start getting into shape. You don’t wait until the day of the game to start learning to pass the football. You don’t wait for the day you’re investigated to start living a life free from corruption.
What do you do when they call for the lions? You don’t change a thing! You keep on being what you have been. If you’ve been faithful, you’ll continue to be faithful.
Of course, the assumption behind that is that you have been working on being what you ought to be when the pressure isn’t on so that when they call for the lions, you don’t have to change anything.
Daniel 6:5-9 (ESV) Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.” 6 Then these high officials and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! 7 All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. 8 Now, O king, establish the injunction 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 injunction.
Darius fell for their scheme.
Daniel 6:10-15 (ESV) When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. 11 Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and plea before his God. 12 Then they came near and said before the king, concerning the injunction, “O king! Did you not sign an injunction, that anyone who makes petition to any god or man within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?” The king answered and said, “The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.” 13 Then they answered and said before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or the injunction you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.” 14 Then the king, when he heard these words, was much distressed and set his mind to deliver Daniel. And he labored till the sun went down to rescue him. 15 Then these men came by agreement to the king and said to the king, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.”
Instantly the king realizes he’s been had. I can imagine him calling in his lawyers trying to find some way around this frame-up. But they could find nothing.
- Keep on Doing What You’ve Done. Daniel 6:10: When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.
Prayer and thanksgiving were nothing new to Daniel. His windows were already open. (The Jews of the captivity always faced Jerusalem when they prayed.) Daniel’s habit was to pray three times a day and he always gave thanks when he prayed.
Upon hearing the news of the edict, he didn’t panic, run upstairs to his room, get out the crowbar because the window on the east side of the house was painted shut or stuck. It was already open because he used it three times a day! The keywords in that sentence are “as he had been doing previously.”
What do you do when they call for the lions? Keep on doing what you’ve been doing – provided you’ve been doing what’s right.
Being ultimately able to face the lions is a lot like cruise control. You set the speed where it ought to be, then keep it there, consistently. You don’t start and stop. That gets you the best mileage and gets you there the quickest.
But it isn’t like an autopilot. You can’t just tell it where you want to go and take a nap. You still have to pay attention!
Making a big trip consists of covering a lot of little miles. Preparation for facing the big trials of life consists of a whole lot of facing the little ones. If you are listening to this message hoping to find some profound secret about the faith, there isn’t one, unless it is profound in its obvious simplicity. Keep on doing what you’ve done.
Daniel 6:16-23 (ESV) Then the king commanded, and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions. The king declared to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!” 17 And 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, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. 18 Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no diversions were brought to him, and sleep fled from him. 19 Then, at break of day, the king arose and went in haste to the den of lions. 20 As he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish. The king declared to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” 21 Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! 22 My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.” 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.
- Keep on Trusting Whom You’ve Trusted.
Daniel 6:16: Then the king commanded, and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions. The king declared to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!”
Daniel’s unabashed trust in God is obvious here. Even the king knew about it. And the king was even wishing for a rescue!
19 Then, at break of day, the king arose and went in haste to the den of lions. 20 As he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish. The king declared to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” 21 Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! 22 My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.” 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.
Was this level of trusting something new in Daniel’s life? Hardly. Remember chapter one and the issue of the king’s food? Remember chapter two and the confidence Daniel had that God could interpret the king’s dream? Remember chapter four where Daniel had the confidence in God to tell the king the truth? Remember chapter five when Daniel trusted God enough to turn down honor and prestige?
Whenever someone fails to trust God in the clutch, it is probably because he hasn’t trusted God in the days when the pressure was lighter.
Daniel is safe. Now the king turns to the guys who framed him.
Daniel 6:24 (ESV) And the king commanded, and those men who had maliciously accused Daniel were brought and cast into the den of lions—they, their children, and their wives. And before they reached the bottom of the den, the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces.
At the king’s command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.”
Those lions were even hungrier because they hadn’t eaten all night!
Daniel 6:25-28 (ESV) Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: “Peace be multiplied to you. 26 I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. 27 He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.” 28 So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.
O.K. We’ve seen what Daniel did when they called for the lions. Let’s look more closely and consider what we should do under similar circumstances.
When the army of Saul was cowering in fear of the Philistine giant, Goliath, and David stepped forward and volunteered to fight him, do you remember what he cited as his confidence? It’s in 1 Samuel 17:36-371 Samuel 17:36-37 (ESV) Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37 And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you!”
David fought the biggest battle of his life successfully because he had learned to trust God in the smaller battles of his life. He simply kept trusting Whom he had been trusting.
Polycarp, was believed to be a first century disciple of the Apostle John. He was one of the early Christian martyrs. Just before his execution, he was asked if he had anything more to say. He said “Eighty and six years I have served Christ and He has done me nothing but good; how then could I curse Him now, my Lord and Savior?” He was burned alive.
Do you want to be strong when they call for the lions? How are you doing trusting God in the lesser things?
A Nashville newspaper carried a story a few years back about Mrs. Lila Craig who hasn’t missed attending church in 1,040 Sundays, though she was in her eighties at the time of the article. The editor commented, “It makes one wonder, what’s the matter with Mrs. Craig? Doesn’t she ever have unexpected company?
How is it that she never goes anywhere on Saturday night so that she’s too tired to attend morning worship service the next day? Doesn’t she ever ‘beg off’ to attend picnics or family reunions, or have headaches, colds, nervous spells, or tired feelings? Doesn’t she ever oversleep or need time to read her Sunday newspaper?
Hasn’t she ever become angry at the minister or had her feelings hurt by someone and felt justified in staying home to hear a good sermon on the radio or TV? What’s the matter with Mrs. Craig anyway?”
I suggest to you that Mrs. Craig was doing the same thing Daniel was doing when they called for the lions:
Being what she’d always been
Doing what she’d always done
Trusting Whom she’d always trusted
How about it? If you were investigated right now for integrity, what would be found? If you kept on being what you are right now, would it get you through the ultimate test?
Are the prayer windows in your life open or shut? If you kept on doing what you’re doing right now, would it carry you through?
How about this issue of trust? Consider the last two or three crises in your life. When it was all said and done, did you trust God?
If you said “no” to any of these, you need to get to work! If you said “yes,” then don’t change a thing!