Into the Lions' Den
Daniel 6:10-12, 16-23 Reformation
Pastor Nathan P. Kassulke Sunday, November 2, 2008
“Into the Lions’ Den”
I’ve never been thrown into a lions’ den. I’ve never been threatened with that or any similar harsh punishment because of anything I believed or said or did. I’ve never faced the choice between listening to God and holding firmly to his Word or obeying earthly authorities who would threaten my life if I disobeyed them. Perhaps that’s why it is often so difficult for me to really understand and appreciate what Daniel went through when he did face that choice.
Daniel was an Israelite, one of God’s Old Testament chosen people. He was a member of the nobility or the royal family in Israel. But while he was still a young man King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon besieged Jerusalem and carried off Daniel and many other young men. These men who were taken were placed into the service of the King of Babylon.
In Babylon, God blessed Daniel and his friends. They were successful students who learned well the expectations of the king, and a new language in their new land. They were elevated to leadership positions. In fact, God blessed Daniel with such success as a leader that when Babylon was defeated and King Darius took over in place of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel kept his high position. Daniel served so well under Darius that the king intended to give him charge over the whole kingdom.
Other leaders, who had been Daniel’s colleagues, were so jealous of his success that they tried to discredit him or overthrow him. They were ready to do anything they could to convince the king that Daniel had done something wrong, but they weren’t able to because of his good behavior and faithful service.
So finally, they devised a method. They set a trap for Daniel. They convinced the King to make a law that no one could pray to any God or man except the King for the next 30 days. Anyone who did pray to a god besides the king would be thrown into a den of hungry lions to be torn apart by them.
And so the stage was set. Daniel had his choice. On the one hand, obey God and remain faithful to his Word. Refuse to pray to anyone besides the true God. Continue his pious routine of daily prayer, and face the lions. On the other hand, he could obey the King. He could simply stop praying to God, at least in any place where he might be seen. After all, God would certainly understand if Daniel took a one month break from his obvious devotion to the Lord. And Daniel by doing so could save his life.
Daniel made his choice. He wouldn’t disobey God. He wouldn’t deny God’s Word. He had lived his life trusting God to take care of him, ultimately trusting God for his eternal salvation. He held firmly to God’s Word and his promises, and he would continue to do so. He made his choice: into the lions’ den!
Here is the account from Daniel 6: 10Now 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. 11Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. 12So 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.”
16So 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!”
17A 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.
Daniel made the choice to face the lions. Others in Scripture and in the history of the church have made similar choices. As we celebrate the Lutheran Reformation today, we may well consider how God’s servant Martin Luther made choices like this. Luther stood before religious and political leaders who demanded that he recant his teachings and deny what he had learned from God’s Word. His life would be in danger if he refused, for he was considered a heretic and an outlaw. Luther also refused to give into pressure and insisted on serving God.
What do you think when you look at Luther or Daniel or countless other heroes of faith? We may at times feel ashamed. We haven’t been faced with the life and death decisions that they have. But the sad fact is that we have faced other, less serious choices, and often ought to be ashamed of the decisions we made. How many times have we been unwilling to stand up for our faith, or for the truth of God’s Word in our lives because we wanted to avoid any unpleasant consequences whatsoever? When we didn’t want to face ridicule from friends, or feel uncomfortable around someone, when it was easier to just leave the situation alone rather than share our faith.
It would be a sad celebration of the Reformation if we were to end our discussion there. It would be a disappointing reference to the account of Daniel if we used it only to remind us of our failures. The fact is, the account of Daniel tells us more about God than it does about Daniel. The life of Luther or any hero of faith is really the story of God’s work in their lives. Luther, Daniel, or any human being is born in the same position we are, thoroughly sinful and unworthy of the love of God.
But God loves human beings who are unworthy of his love. He takes their lives and makes them into wonderful lives of service. He plants faith in their hearts to trust in his promises. Through that faith, he connects them to Jesus as their only Savior from sin, gives them Christ’s perfection, and enables them to live according to his will. The only reason Daniel was willing to head into the lions’ den was because God gave him the strength and the faith and the conviction to do so.
And what happened next was an amazing testimony to the love and power of God: 19At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. 20When 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?”
21Daniel answered, “O king, live forever! 22My 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.”
23The 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.
God taught the people a lesson about his love and his power. He demonstrated that he was in control of the life of Daniel by rescuing him from the hungry lions. He reinforced the truth that his promises are sure.
That’s a valuable and vital lesson for us today. We may not choose to go into lions’ dens, but in many ways, we have no choice. We live among sinful people in a sinful world, with our enemy the devil prowling around like a roaring lion looking to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). Faced with such a situation, our own lions’ den, we need to listen to the words of Hebrews 13:7, “7Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” That does not mean we will be faced with the same situations or react in the same way as our heroes of faith, but the example of Daniel and others remind us to exercise our faith in all we do.
Daniel spent time studying God’s Word. He made a routine of three prayer sessions a day to bring his requests and thanksgiving before God. God gave him the confidence he needed for every situation he faced. Our reformation heritage is one of such confidence. We have God’s Word as our guide for faith and life, and we have God’s sure promise that through faith in Jesus, we will ultimately escape the lions’ den of this life and reach the safety of our home in heaven.