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The OT Challenge: Daniel's Strength and Conviction

Years ago Chuck Swindoll wrote these words:  "The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on Life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, or say or do. Attitude is more important than appearances, giftedness, or skill. Attitude will make or break a company --- a church --- a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude that we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past, we cannot change the fact that people act a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude --- I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it."
 
Daniel was a young man when he was taken as a prisoner of war. Imagine four Hebrew boys, teenagers, being snatched from their homes in Jerusalem and moved to faraway Babylon. All four of the boys taken were princes and not accustomed to the kind of treatment they received as prisoners.
As classic of a statement as that is I would say there is something greater than attitude. At the heart and soul of our life lies our character. Character is that foundation and basis for every decision we make. 

Today we are going to spend a day in the life of a man named Daniel. This Old Testament figure has a compelling story and is one of my favorite role models in the entire Bible. 

Daniel and his three friends were intentionally exposed to the Babylonian culture in an attempt to turn them away from the Jewish faith. Time after time in the book of Daniel we find them put to the test in form or another. They were given new homes, new names and even new diets. 

In the case of Daniel’s three friends they refused to bow the knee to an image of the king and were tossed into a fiery furnace. You can find this story in Daniel 3. 

“Nebuchadnezzar was so furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face became distorted with rage. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. 20 Then he ordered some of the strongest men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So they tied them up and threw them into the furnace, fully dressed in their pants, turbans, robes, and other garments. 22 And because the king, in his anger, had demanded such a hot fire in the furnace, the flames killed the soldiers as they threw the three men in. 23 So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames.” Daniel 3:19-23 NLT

The Babylonians could change Daniel’s home, textbooks, menu’s and names but they could not change his heart. Daniel and his three friends purposed in their hearts that they would obey God’s word and they refused to conform to the world around them. 

By the time you get to chapter 6, Daniel is around 80 years old. We are going to walk through one day in his life. Although Daniel was a foreigner and not in his home country his integrity and character had secured places of leadership and prominence in the government of the kings in Babylon. In Daniel 6, at 80 years of age we find him in the position of prime minister to a king by the name of Darius. There were 124 persons involved in leadership of the kingdom under the king. There were 3 presidents and Daniel was not only one of the three but he was the leader of the three. Needless to say this caused some problems. Let’s take a brief look at a day in Daniel’s life.  

1. Devotions at dawn

It should be noted that Daniel started his day with devotion and prayer to God.

He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.” Daniel 6:10d NLT

Daniel was living in a precarious land and he was in a dangerous position. The foundation of his life was based on his connection with God. When Jesus was on this earth he admonished his disciples to “watch and pray.” Prayer was not an incidental thing in Daniel’s life; it was the most essential thing. He had a special place for prayer and a special time for prayer and I believe he talked with God all day long.

As your pastor and the person who most often gives you biblical instruction, I need to encourage you yet again to start your day with prayer to God. Build into your day a time alone with God where you can speak to Him but more importantly you can be still enough and focused enough to hear from Him.

2. Deception in the morning

Darius the Mede decided to divide the kingdom into 120 provinces, and he appointed a high officer to rule over each province. 2 The king also chose Daniel and two others as administrators to supervise the high officers and protect the king’s interests. 3 Daniel soon proved himself more capable than all the other administrators and high officers. Because of Daniel’s great ability, the king made plans to place him over the entire empire.

 “Then the other administrators and high officers began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling government affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize or condemn. He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy. 5 So they concluded, “Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.” Daniel 6:4-5 NLT

At the heart of this story are 122 unhappy and jealous leaders who didn’t think this 80 year old foreigner should be placed over them in the top leadership position. Satan has always hated the Jews and done his best to persecute and destroy them. The wicked always hate those who do what is right and live just lives. Daniel was the one leader who was honest. All of these other men were stealing from the king and padding their own accounts so to speak.

They hatched a plan to move Daniel out of the way. 

So the administrators and high officers went to the king and said, “Long live King Darius! 7 We are all in agreement—we administrators, officials, high officers, advisers, and governors—that the king should make a law that will be strictly enforced. Give orders that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions. 8 And now, Your Majesty, issue and sign this law so it cannot be changed, an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.” 9 So King Darius signed the law” Daniel 6:6-9 NLT

Of course they were lying when they said that “all” of them agreed because they sure never told Daniel what was going on. This was of course a really ignorant law but plays into the ego driven political world that we are exposed to even today.

How did this effect Daniel. Can you imagine what he must have thought when he heard that the King had signed a new law into effect?

3. Decision at noon

“10 But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God. 11 Then the officials went together to Daniel’s house and found him praying and asking for God’s help. 12 So they went straight to the king and reminded him about his law. “Did you not sign a law that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions?” 

   “Yes,” the king replied, “that decision stands; it is an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.” 

 13 Then they told the king, “That man Daniel, one of the captives from Judah, is ignoring you and your law. He still prays to his God three times a day.”
Daniel 6:10-13 NLT

This is really the heart and soul of this sermon and of this story. We often make it about the lions and call it the story of Daniel and lion’s den. I think it should be called Daniel and decision of a lifetime. 

Do you notice in this narrative that there was no real struggle on Daniel’s part? His godly character, personal convictions and daily connection with God already decided for him. He didn’t even give it a thought apparently. 

He could have easily thought and rationalized the fact that “everybody else was doing it.” He could have easily thought; ‘I’ve had a lifetime of faithful living in this foreign land and I am just too old to have to worry about this one.” He could have shut his window. He could have fasted for thirty days from praying but he was consistent and didn’t see any reason to not be even in the face of certain death. 

4. Disappointment in the evening

14 Hearing this, the king was deeply troubled, and he tried to think of a way to save Daniel. He spent the rest of the day looking for a way to get Daniel out of this predicament. 

 15 In the evening the men went together to the king and said, “Your Majesty, you know that according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, no law that the king signs can be changed.” 

 16 So at last the king gave orders for Daniel to be arrested and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to him, “May your God, whom you serve so faithfully, rescue you.” 

 17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den. The king sealed the stone with his own royal seal and the seals of his nobles, so that no one could rescue Daniel. 18 Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night fasting. He refused his usual entertainment and couldn’t sleep at all that night.”
Daniel 6:14-17 NLT

While the king was experiencing great disappointment on the evening of this day I think God was delighted at the opportunity to return faithfulness for faithfulness. Daniel was faithful and God was faithful in return. Daniel trusted God and God trusted Daniel. God had no intention of saving Daniel from the Lion’s den but delivered him out of it. 

If you and I could ever grasp the truth of faithful living our lives would change forever. If we could ever wrap our heads and hearts around the concept of surrendering daily our ups and downs as well as our burdens and blessings, we would approach our lives very differently then most of us do. 

I want to be very honest with you today. We are living in a land where faithfulness to God and His word could get you into real trouble in the future. God’s word is not politically correct. God’s word taken literally and as inspired by God to be taken seriously does not celebrate the notion of doing whatever feels right mentality that is popular today. There are clear lines of distinction in the Bible on even hot button subjects like abortion and homosexuality. To mention those issues even in church is frowned on by people who should know better. As always when I talk about issues like these I don’t wrestle with what the Bible says about them I wrestle with what the church doesn’t do about them. What we should be doing is loving like Jesus. Not loving the sin but demonstrating the love of God by standing for some absolute truth while at the same time embracing people who have gone astray. Very rarely do you find the church willing to love like Jesus. 

My point is that we are living in a day when very much like Daniel we could easily face being on the other side of the so called law. By believing the Bible and not compromising or watering down the truth found in God’s word you could very conceivably today be found on someone’s watch list. 

Let me encourage you. . .don’t let it bother you. Be faithful and loving and full of God’s Spirit as you live in this strange land. 

5. Deliverance in the night

Very early the next morning, the king got up and hurried out to the lions’ den. 20 When he got there, he called out in anguish, “Daniel, servant of the living God! Was your God, whom you serve so faithfully, able to rescue you from the lions?”
 21 Daniel answered, “Long live the king! 22 My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight. And I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.”
Daniel 6:19-23 NLT

This really speaks for itself I think. I went to the zoo lately for the first time in probably at least 15 years. I have to tell you our local zoo maybe number one or two in the nation but I have never seen so many lazy sleeping animals in all my life. I stood outside the lions exhibit and watched three sleeping lions laying motionless on the ground. The lions Daniel faced were not lethargic and lazy lions, they were extremely hungry lions. I wonder if Daniel’s heart rate ever went down to the point that he could sleep. 

You see God doesn’t always deliver the way we think He should. As long as I am able I will do everything I can to dispel the notion and teaching of those who promote the fact that Christians will always be healthy wealthily and wise. Can God heal our bodies? He certainly can and sometimes does. Can He provide for us and even bless us? He can and sometimes allows us to have things we don’t need. However here is what you need to know and hear. If God chooses to not “save or rescue” you in the manner that would seem best to us, He is still God. 

Can you imagine what it was like for the church in Smyrna as they watched their beloved and aged pastor burn at the stake? Polycarp was his name. He was a disciple of Jesus’ disciple, the Apostle John. One could tell it immediately because he possessed the same tenderness and compassion as his mentor. Polycarp was Bishop of the church at Smyrna (present day Turkey). Persecution broke out in Smyrna and many Christians were fed to the wild beasts in the arena. The godless and bloodthirsty crowd called for the carcass of the leader – Polycarp. The authorities sent a search party to find him. He had been taken into hiding for some Christians but the Romans tortured two young believers until they finally disclosed his location. When the authorities’ arrival was announced there was still time to whisk Polycarp away but he refused to go saying, “God’s will be done.” In one of the most touching instances of Christian grace imaginable Polycarp welcome his captors as if they were friends. He talked with them and insisted they eat a meal. Ha made only one request before being taken away – he asked for one hour to pray. The Roman soldiers listened to his prayer. Their hearts melted and they gave him 2 hours to pray. They had second thoughts as well and were overheard asking each other why they were sent to arrest him? Other authorities also experienced a warmed heart when Polycarp arrived. The Proconsul tried to find a way to release him too. “Curse God and I will let you go!” he pleaded. Polycarp’s reply was: “For eighty-six years I have served him. He has never done me wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King was has saved me?” The Proconsul again looked for a way out. “Then do this old man, just swear by the spirit of the emperor and that will be sufficient.’ Polycarp’s reply was: “If you imagine for a moment that I would do that, then I think you pretend that you don’t know who I am. Hear it plainly. I am a Christian.” More entreaties by the Proconsul Polycarp stood firm. The proconsul threatened with the wild beasts. Polycarp’s reply was: “Bring them forth. I would change my mind if it meant going from worst to best, but not to change from right to wrong.” The Proconsul threatened, “I will burn you alive!” Polycarp’s reply was: “You threaten with fire that burns for an hour and is over but the judgment on the ungodly is forever.” The fires engulfed him. The witnesses noticed his faith and joy. He was finished off with a dagger. He was buried for the cause of Christ on February 22, 155 A.D. It was as much a day of victory as it was a day of tragedy. Polycarp illustrated the power of knowing Jesus intimately. Intimately enough to follow Him into the flames. As Jesus said, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”

Our faithfulness to God will keep us even when the flames devour us and if you believe that heaven is better than this earth you realize that death is sweeter than life.

6. Devotions at Dawn

When the King realized that Daniel was alive he had no choice but to break out in praise to God. There was no other explanation. Hungry lions equal a dead Daniel but not when God chooses to intervene.
“Peace and prosperity to you!

 26 “I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel. For he is the living God, and he will endure forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed, and his rule will never end.  27 He rescues and saves his people; he performs miraculous signs and wonders in the heavens and on earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”Daniel 6:25-27 NLT

There is another piece to this story that you might not put together without a little more indepth study. It wasn’t just Daniel and his three friends that were taken in captivity decades before this story took place. When the takeover happened an entire nation was held captive and ruled by strangers with strange customs and a willingness to willfully sin against what God has taught the Israelites was the right way to live. 

In Psalm 137, we get a glimpse of how some of the others handled the same captivity. They were singers who sang and led worship in that day. 

“Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem. 2 We put away our harps, hanging them on the branches of poplar trees.
 3 For our captors demanded a song from us. Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn: “Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!” 4 But how can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a pagan land?

The KJV asked the question this way: “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” 

You do it by living a consistent life, surrendered to God on a daily basis: Your choices, your habits, your relationships, your conversations, what you spend your money on, your time management and every other area of your life.  You simply start each day with a mental and spiritual assent to God that this is the day He has created and you will allow Him to guide and live in you
.
Clarence Jordan was a man of unusual abilities and commitment. He had two Ph.D.s, one in agriculture and one in Greek and Hebrew. So gifted was he, he could have chosen to do anything he wanted. He chose to serve the poor. In the 1940’s, he founded a farm in Americus Georgia, and called it Koinonia Farm. It was a community for poor whites and poor blacks. As you might guess, such an idea did not go over well in the Deep South of the ’40’s. Ironically, much of the resistance came from good church people who followed the laws of segregation as much as the other folks in town. The town people tried everything to stop Clarence. They tried boycotting him, and slashing worker’s tires when they came to town. Over and over, for fourteen years, they tried to stop him. Finally, in 1954, the Ku Klux Klan had had enough of Clarence Jordan, so they decided to get rid of him once and for all. They came one night with guns and torches and set fire to every building on Koinonia farm, except Clarence’s house, which they riddled with bullets. And they chased off all the families except one black family, which refused to leave. Clarence recognized the voices of many of the Klansmen, and, as you might guess, some of them were church people. Another was the local newspaper’s reporter. The next day the reporter came out to see what remained of the farm. The rubble still smoldered and the land was scorched, but he found Clarence in the field, hoeing and planting. "I heard the awful news," he called to Clarence, "and I came out to do a story on the tragedy of your farm closing." Clarence just kept hoeing and planting. The reporter kept prodding, kept poking, trying to get a rise from this quietly determined man who seemed to be planting instead of packing his bags. So, finally, the reporter said in a haughty voice, "Well, Dr. Jordan, you got two of them Ph.D.s and you’ve put fourteen years into this farm, and there’s nothing left of it at all. Just how successful do you think you’ve been?" Clarence stopped hoeing, turning toward the reporter with his penetrating blue eyes, and said quietly but firmly, "About as successful as the cross. Sir, I don’t think you understand us. What we’re about is not success, but faithfulness. We’re staying. Good day." Beginning that day, Clarence and his companions rebuilt Koinonia and the farm is still going strong today. - Tim Hansel, Holy Sweat, pp. 188-189

Benediction: “As for you, go your way until the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days, you will rise again to receive the inheritance set aside for you.” Daniel 12:13 NLT


 



2009/08/09