Today is the third week of a five-part message series called Stories of Courage and we’re looking at different stories from the Book of Daniel. If you have your Bibles with you we’ll be in Daniel chapter 6 and this morning I want to talk about standing strong in the face of opposition as we look at a story of Daniel in the lions’ den. One of the challenges with this story is that many of us have these pre-conceived notions of the child’s version in our minds. You know, where Daniel is this strong handsome young man and these lions are like cute cuddly kittens. But the reality of this story is nothing like that. The reality is that Daniel is now somewhere around 80-90 years old. He’s been walking with God for his whole life and these lions are much more than kittens. These are large hungry man eating lions, these are lions like those used in the Roman Coliseum in the first century, as a matter of fact, verse 24 tells us, “Before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.” So these lions demand our respect.
Daniel at this point, here in chapter 6, is no longer serving under King Nebuchadnezzar; now he’s serving under a different king, actually this is the third king he has served, and today we find him serving King Darius. Interestingly enough, the kingdom of Babylon has fallen, and now the greatest empire that humanity had ever known was overtaken by the Medes and the Persians. Now king Darius, ruler of the Medo-Persian Empire was very wise, and when it came to governmental affairs, he was an administrative genius. In fact, as soon as he took control of the kingdom, he reorganized the leadership, setting up 120 “satraps…” these overseers who were under three administrators, and Daniel was actually one of these three. It was the responsibility of these three administrators to keep the kingdom under control, guarding against rebellion, and keeping the financial affairs of the nation. And so we find that God’s people were not impacted by the change in leadership and for that matter Daniel, the Prime Minister of Babylon, remained in control and was now Prime Minister of Medo-Persia.
And so, in Daniel chapter 6, verse 1 through 3, let’s read together: “It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, with three administrators over them, one of whom was Daniel. The satraps were made accountable to them so that the king might not suffer loss. Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.”
So all through Daniel’s life, we see him standing out, serving with his exceptional qualities, his attitude, his leadership ability, and his wisdom which nobody else had. Now God allowed the elderly Daniel to be put into a very strategic place, a place of influence, and a place of power. And even there, he was distinguished from the other two administrators and so much so that Darius determined to set him above the others, putting him in charge of the entire kingdom; second only to himself. Definitely not a bad promotion for somebody pushing 90 years of age, but you see, he had remained faithful to God and God was faithful to him. I’m reminded of other great men throughout history; who emphasized the fact that the power of a righteous life extends well into old age. For example, the great artist Michelangelo was 89 when he finished the “Last Judgment”, John Wesley preached until he was 88, George Bernard Shaw was still writing plays at 94, Thomas Edison obtained his last patent at age 83, and Billy Graham was still preaching at 90.
Now here in Daniel chapter 6, Daniel was promoted to the head of Medo-Persian politics when he was pushing 90, and it looked like a good thing, but what looked like a promotion from the outside actually introduced Daniel to a whole lot of trouble. You know, it’s politics, and whenever a man is lifted up by the Lord to a place of importance he is likely to face great opposition. And though Daniel was no stranger to conflict, he found there was a price to pay for success, as the other two administrators plotted to frame him, to falsely accuse him, and take him out. So what we’re going to see here is Daniel facing severe opposition, but standing strong because of his faith in the Living God. Today we’re going to look at three basic fundamental truths to help us stand strong through whatever we are facing in our lives today.
The first of these truths to help you stand strong is this, when God raises you up, expect opposition. When God promotes you, when God raises you up, expect people to tear you down. Now we can see this in many ways in our lives today. Maybe it’s as simple as receiving a promotion and the people you think that would be the most excited for you are actually the most critical of you. Or maybe you are excited about your newly found faith in Jesus and other people make fun of you. Or sometimes God speaks to us very clearly about something controversial, you know, like maybe you’re going to downsize and get out of debt, or you want to invest in your kids and be a stay-at-home parent, or you’re going to homeschool or do something else as culturally unpopular. And so you’re doing what God has called you to do and people criticize you. You’re raised up, you’re excited, and people tear you down. So when God raises you up expect opposition.
That’s exactly what happened here in Daniel 6:4 and 5; let’s read together: “At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally in these men 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.’” (Daniel 6:4-5).
In other words, they couldn’t find any skeletons in his closet. And you know, for a man in his 80s when everybody’s digging around trying to find something and they come up with nothing, that’s a good man. Daniel was a righteous man. And so they couldn’t find anything that he did that he shouldn’t of done, they couldn’t find anything that he didn’t do that he should have done, they couldn’t find anything that they could use against him, and so they said let’s find something to do with his relationship with God.
And I just want to say this, I know I’ve said this before, but its super important, that’s why I never worry about opposition, it doesn’t bother me, I expect it… I worry when there is no opposition. You see, because when you and I are doing something for the glory of God and for the good of his people, there will always be opposition.
The apostle Paul warned about this and said, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers and principalities of this dark world” (Ephesians 6:12). And so whenever we’re moving the Kingdom forward, we can always expect resistance from the forces of Darkness and often they will work through people, even good people and well-meaning people.
And so here we find Daniel promoted, God raised him up, and sure enough here comes the opposition. The other two administrators come and let’s read what they do in verse six: “So the administrators and the satraps went as a group to the king and 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." 9 So King Darius put the decree in writing” (Daniel 6:6-9).
Not surprisingly, King Darius was flattered. You know, the leaders of his government wanting to do that for him... to honor him… he knew that he wasn’t a god, but like most kings he loved to be treated as a god, and so he accepted their proposal and made it law.
However this created quite a conflict for Daniel as the other administrators knew that it would, because he was known to be a person of prayer. So Daniel had to make a decision. He didn’t know what God was going to do, but he needed to decide what he was going to do. And he had options didn’t he? You know, he could’ve been a little discreet, he could’ve closed the windows, he could’ve prayed silently… You know, he could’ve compromised, but that wasn’t in his character.
I’m reminded of Polycarp. If you’re familiar with church history you remember that he was burned at the stake in Smyrna in A.D. 155. But before they lit the fire they urged him once again to renounce his faith, “Deny the Lord and save your life” they said. With confidence he replied, “86 years I have served him. He’s never done me any harm. Why should I forsake him now?” And with quiet resolve, Polycarp, that disciple of John, praised God as he looked down at the flames and accepted them as God’s will.
In the same way, Daniel refused to compromise; he was willing to pray publicly, to pray loudly, and to risk death, because his faith in God was so strong. Now you’ve got to wonder, how did he have such a strong faith that he was willing to risk facing death? And that brings us to our second point: Persevere in Prayer
Let’s read what Daniel did in verse 10. This is so powerful: “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” (Daniel 6:10).
I’m reminded of the words of Paul to the Ephesians: “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power… take your stand against the devil's schemes… stand your ground… Stand firm… and pray in the Spirit on all occasions… always keep on praying” (Ephesians 6:10-18). You see, our first response to opposition should be to pray and keep on praying. We can try to do everything we can, we can try to manipulate the outcome, we can try to control it, but the first thing we must do is to boldly and confidently pray! That is our first response, because we have access to the Creator of the universe, we have an audience with our God who cares about the intimate needs of our lives, and we can petition the One who longs to hear the cries of those who humble themselves before him. The God of the universe not only hears us, but he is our Heavenly Father who finds great joy in moving on his children’s behalf.
Now I want you to notice that Daniel didn’t announce his prayers, he wasn’t making a public show; he just did what he’d always done. He didn’t open a window and wave a banner shouting, “I’m not going to listen to King Darius. Watch me ‘cause I’m going to pray to the God of Heaven.” He didn’t do any of that; it was just this deep, personal, reverent prayer as he’d always done. And I am 100% convinced that much of the success in Daniel’s life was based on predetermined decisions, just as he had predetermined not to defile himself with the king’s food, somewhere way back early in his life Daniel had decided to seek God in prayer. And he just knew that he needed God to start the day, he knew that he needed God in the middle of the day, and he knew that he needed to wrap up his day with God.
You see, Daniel knew how good God had been to him. He knew that he needed to hear God’s voice. He knew that he needed to walk moment by moment by His Spirit. He knew that God was his source of strength. And he knew that he needed the intimacy of their daily communion together. Therefore he determined to set aside three times a day to pray.
Notice, also, how he prayed. I love this. He knelt before God in prayer. Daniel could stand before men because he had knelt before a Holy God. He was able to stand before rulers and kings because he had knelt in the presence of the living God. It’s a posture of humility, of surrender, of reverence, and dependence. Daniel knew that when life gives you more than you can stand, if you’ll kneel before God in prayer, He’ll give you the strength to stand.
And you know, at some point, if you’re a follower of Christ, you’re going to have to take a stand. Now I wish I could tell you that everything is going to work out just the way you want, but I can’t tell you that. In the same way, Daniel could have pondered, what if the lions eat me and God doesn’t rescue me? And that’s a good question, because this is life and we have a sovereign God, whose ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9). He will often do things that don’t make sense to us. So, I cannot promise you, if you take a stand, that you’re not going to face consequences, that something’s not going to go against you, that people aren’t going to resist you, that you’re not going to be left out, overlooked, maybe hurting, and maybe worse off than before.
But number three, I can tell you this, when you do what’s right, you can always trust God with the results. You see, Daniel didn’t know the end of the story when he was walking through it. He didn’t have any idea that he’d be a Sunday school lesson for thousands of years to come. He didn’t have any idea that it would end the way that he wanted it to end. All he knew was that for over 80 years God had been faithful to him. So no matter what, Daniel would be faithful to his God; no negotiations, no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. It didn’t matter if it seemed like it was fair. God had been faithful to Daniel and Daniel was faithful to his God.
Now we don’t know whether this took place in the morning, noon, or night but the other administrators went to Daniel’s place to watch him. They went out with their surveillance team and look at verse 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. 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” (Daniel 6:11-18).
King Darius is devastated, he liked Daniel, he trusted Daniel, and he knew that the others had tricked him. He was hurt, he was deceived, and so he feels very betrayed. He tries to get out of it, but he can’t do it because he given his word. So he doesn’t eat, he fasts and prays all night for Daniel in the lion’s den. And like the king we don’t know what happened down there. All we know is what doesn’t happen. All we know is that God shut the mouths of the lions. And I believe with all my heart that this is a literal historical account of the goodness, the mercy, and the power of God in Daniel’s life.
And so verse 19 tells us, “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” (Daniel 6:19-23).
As we close, I want to assure you that when you stand for what is right you can expect opposition, but if you persevere in prayer, you can always trust God with the results. Daniel believed God and God honored his faith, but you know what, it doesn’t always happen that way. God said through the prophet Isaiah, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (Isaiah 43:2). And the prophet Isaiah believed God too, he believed God like Daniel, but he got sawn in half. The apostle Paul believed God too, and was beheaded. The apostle Peter believed God too, and he got crucified upside down.
Today if you’re facing some sort of opposition, remember that when God raises you up people will try to tear you down. So if you’re going to be a great leader, if you going to do anything of lasting value, expect opposition that’s part of it. Believing in God doesn’t mean that that you won’t face opposition or that the lions aren’t going to eat you. There have been martyrs throughout history that have believed God and died. You know, that’s how they got their name. But the bottom line is that we love God and accept God’s will. If it is to live, it is to live. If it is to die it is to die and be with him forever. But whatever the case we’re never defeated, we’re always victorious, because we’re more than conquerors in Christ.
Let me assure you, you don’t have to worry if you’re facing opposition for your obedience to God; that just means it’s time to hit your knees and pray, to persevere in prayer, because it is God who gives you the strength to stand. Stand strong, because when you do what is right, you can always trust God with the results. As we close, we will stand in worship, because our God has been faithful to us and we will be faithful to Him. Amen.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
August 02, 2015