November 22, 2016 by jmar198013
Manuscript for my sermon for Sunday, November 27, 2016. Kicking off our Advent series at Central Church of Christ in Stockton, CA, “The King is coming.”
The text this week is Daniel 6.6-27.
For those who’d rather listen, an audio link is embedded below.
God has judged
The name Daniel means, God has judged.
His story is set during a time of severe judgment by God upon his people.
God judged his people for their idolatry—putting their trust and hope in what is not God. Worshiping the creature instead of the creator. Taking what was meant to serve humanity, and making humanity serve it. God judged them for deciding on their own to set up their idols, so the cause of their downfall is right in front of them (Ezek. 14.3).
God judged his people for listening to the false prophets who led my people astray, saying “Peace” when there was no peace, and “He is building a wall” when they were the ones who laid on the plaster (Ezek. 13.10).
God judged his people for believing that doing church “right” was more important than doing right by their neighbors.
I hate, I reject your festivals; I don’t enjoy your joyous assemblies … Take away the noise of your songs; I won’t listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5.21, 23-24)
I desire faithful love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God instead of entirely burned offerings. (Hosea 6.6)
Most of all, God judged his people for refusing to live up to God’s vision for them from the beginning: that all the families of the earth will be blessed because of you (Gen. 12.3).
God judged his people by letting the great empire Babylon crush them, destroy their temple, and haul off their best and brightest citizens to exile. God had called Israel’s ancestor Abram from the outskirts of Babel, which later became Babylon. So God’s judgment involved sending his people back where they came from.
Daniel was among the first deportees taken to Babylon. He served the royal families of Babylon for most of the duration of the exile—about seventy years.
His name meant, God has judged. And indeed, God had judged his people. But would he also come back to rescue his people? And if so—when?
A shrewd plot, an unwise king
We learn from the story that Daniel’s house had windows in the upstairs that opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he knelt there in prayer, thanking and praising his God.
This three-times-a-day practice of prayer is also mentioned in Ps 55.16-17:
I call to God;
God will help me.
At dusk, dawn, and noon I sigh
deep sighs—he hears, he rescues.
That’s what Daniel was most likely doing, as he knelt three times a day in prayer. Every dusk, dawn, and noon, Daniel would sigh his prayers to God—calling for God to rescue his people from their captivity.
Daniel was a foreigner, a deportee brought to Babylon as a slave who’d risen to a high position in the courts of powerful emperors. And even as he served those kings who enslaved his people, three times a day he prayed that God would break the yoke of oppression and set his people free. In other words, Daniel prayed for God to rescue the Jews from the empire.
Of course, that didn’t sit well with actual native-born citizens of those kingdoms who also served the empire. So they went and tricked the emperor, King Darius, into issuing a decree that would target Daniel for punishment. Unanimously, the vice-regents, governors, and all [the] leading officials ramrodded this piece of legislation straight through to Darius, who was oh-so-flattered to sign off on it:
For the next thirty days no one is to pray to any god or mortal except you, O king. Anyone who disobeys will be thrown into the lions’ den.
It was a shrewd plot. Wicked shrewd. On paper, the point of such a law would have been to bring peace and unity to the kingdoms. Within the empire, there were Medes, Persians, Babylonians, and Jews. They all had their own gods, religions, and traditions. Tensions were so great between all the various groups in the empire that the official line would have been, Let’s take some time to cool off and unite around the new king!
But the real reason for this law was to put Daniel in an impossible position. Either be disloyal to his God or to king and country.
God’s people have always been put to tests of loyalty like this. Still are. The overwhelming majority of the time, they are not this brazen. The satan is tricky. He knows that if we get used to compromising on day-to-day tests like loving our neighbors, blessing our enemies, and caring for the needy, we won’t need to be put to the test of serving God at the cost of our lives.
The officials also persuaded Darius to flex his muscles when it came to enforcing the new law: Issue this decree, O king, and make it unconditional, as if written in stone like all the laws of the Medes and the Persians.
It made Darius feel strong, powerful, and wise to issue decrees that can’t be undone. After all, that sort of power usually only belongs to a God, right? Here’s a hint: it is always unwise for a human authority to make a law that can’t be revisited or revised.
Darius was not strong, powerful, or wise. He was being duped and manipulated by his servants. He was no god; he wasn’t even a very good king.
The king issues the decree, but Daniel goes on praying three times a day for the God of Israel to rescue his people, just as he had always done.
Save Daniel, or save face?
The conspirators came and found [Daniel] praying, asking God for help. Just as they knew he would, they overheard him begging God to act to rescue his people.
They immediately ran off to “remind” King Darius of the decree he’d made. And then they stooged off on their target. Daniel, one of the Jewish exiles, ignores you, O king, and defies your decree. Three times a day he prays.
Daniel had been enough of an asset that he’d kept his spot through multiple administrations. And was still there, even after a total regime change.
King Darius realizes—too late—that he’s been conned by the lower officials. He should have smelled a plot brewing when they all came to him with a new law they were all in agreement about that didn’t do anything but stroke the king’s ego. Darius now sees what a fool he has been, and the consequences of falling for their con.
Our storyteller says that the king was very upset and tried his best to get Daniel out of the fix he’d put him in. He worked at it the whole day long. But every time he thought he’d found a way to get Daniel out of it, the lower officials would conveniently return to “remind” him: Remember, O king, it’s the law of the Medes and Persians that the king’s decree can never be changed.
Darius wants to save Daniel, but he wants to save face even more. Currently his face has egg dribbling all down it. King Darius—who reigned over an empire that stretched from Ethiopia to India, and even had fingers in Eastern Europe—should have been the most powerful figure in the world. He should have been able to rescue his favored advisor Daniel, easily. But he himself had made the decree that made it impossible to rescue Daniel.
King Darius had ordered that everyone in the empire should only pray to him. God will not be manipulated by prayers full of bluster and virtue-signaling and evil scheming. But Darius was easily manipulated by the schemes of his petty officials. God is able to rescue those who cry out to him. But Darius won’t even rescue his friend Daniel. It’s pathetic that anyone would pray to King Darius.
As Daniel was tossed into the den of lions, King Darius shouted down: Your God, to whom you are so loyal, is going to get you out of this.
I bet Darius was secretly violating his own decree, by praying: God of Daniel, you’d better rescue this servant of yours. Because I sure can’t.
The fire pit and the lion pit
I don’t know if they failed at royal record-keeping back then, or if nobody paid any attention to recent history. It hadn’t been all that long ago—Daniel 3—that Daniel’s God had rescued some of his people from a fiery furnace. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had set up a golden statue and ordered everyone to bow down before it, or face death in the fiery furnace. Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, had refused to bow before the idol. So true to his decree, King Nebuchadnezzar ordered them tossed into the fiery furnace. But they told him:
If you throw us in the fire, the God we serve can rescue us from your roaring furnace and anything else you might cook up, O king. But even if he doesn’t, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference, O king. We still wouldn’t serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up. (Dan. 3.17-18)
God had rescued them by sending an angel to protect them from the flames. Not even a hair on their heads was singed, even though Nebuchadnezzar had ordered the furnace to be turned up seven times hotter than usual. When Daniel’s friends emerged from the fire unscathed, Nebuchadnezzar had proclaimed: There has never been a god who can pull off a rescue like this (Dan. 3.29).
It’s kind of dumb that people wouldn’t remember that the God of Israel had saved some of his people from a fire pit turned up to 11 just a few years ago. Why wouldn’t he also rescue Daniel from the lion pit?
And that’s what God did. Once again, he sent an angel, who closed the mouths of the lions so that they would not hurt Daniel. Once King Darius confirmed that Daniel was safe, he commanded that the conspirators who had informed on Daniel be thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. Before they hit the floor, the lions had them in their jaws, tearing them to pieces.
Not exactly God’s justice. Including the family members of the conspirators went far beyond eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth. But that was what passed for justice in the empire. That’s what it looked like when the emperor flexed his muscles. The lesson there is that we get what we choose. James 2.13 says: There will be no mercy in judgment for anyone who hasn’t shown mercy. Mercy is in the grain of the universe. If you go against the grain, you catch the splinters. Those who conspired against Daniel caught the splinters.
After all, those lions were mighty hungry by the time the bad guys got hurled into their pit. All night, they’d been teased by a tasty morsel named Daniel; and all night they’d been frustrated by an angel’s muzzle.
And King Darius, whose empire spread from India to Ethiopia, confessed who the real king is:
I decree that Daniel’s God shall be worshiped and feared in all parts of my kingdom.
He is the living God, world without end. His kingdom never falls.
His rule continues eternally.
He is a savior and rescuer.
He performs astonishing miracles in heaven and on earth.
He saved Daniel from the power of the lions.
The God of Israel, Daniel’s God and ours, is King of Kings, who comes to rescue his people.
Looking back, looking forward
This is the first Sunday of Advent. And during Advent we do two things. First, we look back to when the Messiah of Israel, God’s anointed king, his Son Jesus, visited earth and inaugurated God’s kingdom. We remember that our King Jesus is our savior and rescuer. And that his kingdom never falls. The second thing we do is we look forward to the day when King Jesus will return to rescue his people and save his creation once and for all. So that we can dwell in the presence of the living God, world without end.
In that way, we share in the experience of the Old Testament saints, as they waited hopefully for their salvation and rescue.
With some of the Old Testament saints, you can see so clearly that they’re embodying a story that’s bigger than their own lives. Their stories are the stories of all God’s people. They’re representative figures, standing for all of God’s people throughout time. That’s what we’re seeing with Daniel, and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. You can’t necessarily draw a straight line from their story to your particular situation and assume that God is always going to rescue you, just like he rescued them. Instead, they reveal God’s faithfulness to his people and his creation. God will not be left without a witness in the world. They also represent God’s ultimate plan to rescue his saints and save his creation—just as he saved Daniel from the lions, and his friends from the fire.
The rest of the book of Daniel records Daniel’s visions of the future. Daniel sees God’s people and all creation under the threat of ferocious beasts. The beasts represent the evil empires of the world, and the dark, satanic forces of greed, violence, and lust for power that drive them. Daniel sees that God’s people will often live under threat from those powerful forces of evil, but will need to remain faithful, just as he and his friends did.
And that’s not all Daniel sees. Daniel sees victory over the beasts. He sees:
a human form, a son of man,
arriving in a whirl of clouds.
He came to The Old One
and was presented to him.
He was given power to rule—all the glory of royalty.
Everyone—race, color, and creed—had to serve him.
His rule would be forever, never ending.
His kingly rule would never be replaced. (Dan. 7.13-14)
Daniel saw King Jesus, God’s Son, the Messiah of Israel. The Human One who came to establish God’s kingdom on earth. And Daniel finally sees what God’s kingdom, brought by Jesus, will mean in the end for all God’s saints:
every one of your people who is found written in the scroll will be rescued. Many of those who sleep in the dusty land will wake up—some to eternal life, others to shame and eternal disgrace. Those skilled in wisdom will shine like the sky. Those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever and always. (Dan. 12.2-4)
And that is the day we long for. During Advent, as we prepare to welcome our newborn king at Christmas, we remember his coming in abiding hope for his return. We are confident that Jesus is returning to rescue his people and save the creation. Just like God rescued Daniel from the lion pit. And just like he rescued Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fire pit.
Our King has come. Our King will come again. Come, Lord Jesus!