[nextpage title=”Introduction” ]
This was a sermon I delivered nearly ten years ago when I was attending Longview First Assembly in Longview, TX (it was actually the first “sermon” I ever delivered). It was a part of a series of sermons delivered by several different members of the ministerial staff on the topic of “Heroes of the Bible”. The idea of the series was to get back to teaching Bible stories. I was assigned “Daniel and the Lion’s Den”. Some of the historical stuff here I talk about differently today, but I still stand by the message of this sermon. To me, it actually may be more relevant today than it was back then.
Introduction: What are “Heroes” and Why are They Important?
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what the word “hero” means. What do we mean when we call some character from the Bible a hero? We don’t mean an action movie hero. That kind of hero generally lives by the motto “blow up the other guy before he blows you up.” Generally, when we call someone a hero, we mean that they are in some way a role-model, someone who displays virtues that we value, especially under adverse circumstances. This is someone we ideally want to be like, but often we think ourselves inadequate to be compared to him or her. So the action movie hero, while not an ideal hero, usually still embodies the virtues of courage, compassion, loyalty, skillfulness, or athleticism.
When we talk about heroes, we inevitably talk about values. The Bible presents a world where there are two competing value systems: that of the world and that of the kingdom of God. Most of the people you and I meet will actually have a mixture of values. Most, if not all, people show some good in their life at some point. Why? Because deep down we are all creatures made in the image of God and share an embedded value system called a conscience. This is why we can see good morals coming from non-Christians like Confucius and Buddha. This means that usually, the world’s heroes actually embody a blend of virtues, some of the world, some of the Kingdom of God.
Let us take, for example, James Bond. Agent 007’s behavior is often reprehensible: taking advantage of women, killing (sometimes where it was not necessary), and being inconsiderate of most anyone who does fit into his agenda. On the other hand, he often shows remarkable bursts of compassion and selflessness, and he is (almost) unfailingly loyal to something bigger than himself, willing to die on behalf of the British crown. I would argue that it is these last few virtues that make James Bond someone we want to cheer for. Despite his womanizing and killing, somehow we feel that he is really a good guy, someone that in some small way we want to be like.
Most of us as we were growing up had people, either real or fictitious, that we wanted to be like. These were our heroes. I would suggest that a person’s heroes will largely determine a person’s character. What we set up before ourselves as an example is what we will become. This is why it is so important to: (1) be a good example for our children, and (2) to make sure that we are always keeping before us and before our children examples that are honorable. God has provided us with just these kind of examples in the Bible. Daniel is one such hero, and in more ways that you may be aware.[/nextpage]
[nextpage title=”The Trap” ]
I’ve been pondering Daniel chapter 6 for several weeks now, trying to find out what God would speak to me through it. It seemed, going into it, that this story was pretty cut and dry. Daniel is trapped through a political ploy, thrown into a lions’ den, delivered and vindicated. Classic case of stay true to God. Perfect story for a formulaic sermon that makes everybody feel good. But this is not what God showed me. As I read and reread the story, certain details became much more apparent to me, showing me that maybe the most heroic thing Daniel did was something other than praying despite the king’s order. Let’s read the story, then I’ll point some things out.
Daniel 6 (NIV)
(1) It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, (2) 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.
One quick note, Darius the Mede is an enigmatic figure in the Bible, mainly because we have no record of his existence outside of the Bible. This means one of three things:
- Darius the Mede is a distinct historical figure for whom we simply have not found any extra-biblical evidence. Considering the importance of the Persian Empire in history and the amount of archaeological evidence that has been recovered, it is highly unlikely, though not impossible, that the Bible would contain a record of a ruler who was not attested outside of the Bible.
- Darius the Mede did not exist and the book of Daniel is fictionalized at this point. There are many biblical scholars who hold to this view, but the evidence in favor of this view is actually rather slim because of other textual evidence within the book of Daniel itself which supports its historicity and reliability.
- Darius the Mede is another name for either Ugbarru, a governor of Babylon under Cyrus the Great, or for Cyrus the Great himself. The evidence for Darius the Mede actually being another name for Cyrus is compelling, if not absolutely conclusive, so we will here assume that Darius is Cyrus, for the sake of our historical reconstruction.
Now if Darius set Daniel as one of three administrators over 120 satraps (or regional governors) then Daniel was given awesome political power. Persia was the greatest economic and military power the world had ever seen at that point. As with anyone with political power, Daniel could easily have destroyed just about anyone who opposed him. Outside of this position, we might also conjecture that Daniel had powerful friends in Babylon. He was an old man by this time.
(3) 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. (4) 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.
Daniel distinguished himself by being skillful, effective, and trustworthy. Daniel was there to make sure that the satraps did not steal from the empire. Verse four implies that not only were the satraps trying to do just that, but also Daniel’s fellow administrators.
(5) Finally 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.” (6) 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.
Finally, the corrupt satraps and administrators went as a group to the king and convinced him that in order to solidify his reign, it would be beneficial for the populace to see that the king was the source of all things good, and that the local gods approved of Persian rule (assuming they did not react violently). Now, the Persians had a policy of honoring the gods of every people they ruled. This was a political move as much as a religious one. So Darius, apparently not being a really religious man, and also apparently not yet being aware of the extent to which Daniel was a man dedicated to his God, thought this idea from his satraps sounded like a good idea. For a Persian, this was not an exceptionally offensive request. You could go back to worshiping your gods afterwards. We are removed from it by 2500 years, so it sounds absurd, but in the cultural context it actually makes some sense.[/nextpage]
[nextpage title=”Daniel’s Heroic Response” ]
Daniel’s Heroic Response
(10) 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. (11) Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help.
Here is one of the key points I want to bring up. We often see Daniel as having two options:
- Give in and stop praying to God, or
- Keep praying and get thrown into the lions’ den.
But given Daniel’s standing, didn’t he have other options? Didn’t he have other options before it got to this point? He was a very wise man, so surely he knew that plots were being made against him. Couldn’t he have maneuvered politically to beat the satraps to the punch? Couldn’t he have subtly paid someone to assassinate a key leader of their group? When the decree came down, couldn’t he have launched a massive protest, or even an armed revolt? You see, Daniel was not in a position of worldly powerlessness. He could have exercised his clout with lots of people and made a grand gesture of defiance, possibly getting lots of people killed in the process.
Isn’t this the way of things that we see in operation in our world today? Someone brings an accusation, there is a cover-up, a counter-accusation, someone gets fired, there’s a lawsuit, there’s a counter-lawsuit, in some parts of the world someone may even get killed, all the time the people are bombarded by a barrage of character assassination propaganda. Think about it this way, Daniel is like Condoleeza Rice or Dick Cheney, and the satraps are like the postmaster general or the deputy director of the CIA. Who do you think President Bush is more likely to be loyal to? How have political figures in the USA responded to scandals, whether real or fake? Denial, first of all, then counter-accusations, and so on and so forth.
This, I propose, is one of the main reasons that Daniel is a hero, someone worthy of studying and emulating. He refused to be baited by the enemy into changing, either through compliance or retaliation. You see, the strategy of the enemy appears to me to be like someone trying to knock you off a balance beam. If someone is trying to keep their balance, what do you do? First of all you push them. If they are well balanced, they’ll push back enough to keep their balance. But if they get a little irritated and start really pushing back what do you do? If you’re sneaky, you’ll move out of the way. My dad and my brother and I used to play this game where we would put our right feet together, outside to outside, then grab each other’s right hand and try to unbalance the other. I am generally at a disadvantage weight-wise, but balance is not only about inertia. Sometimes it’s about being smarter than your opponent. This is the way the enemy works. He pushes us by trying to intimidate us into giving up. If we resist this too violently, we sin in the other direction by trying too hard to defend ourselves.[/nextpage]
[nextpage title=”Jesus’ Teaching on Retaliation” ]
Jesus’ Teaching on Retaliation
Jesus teaches us about this very thing. In Matthew 5:38-42 (NIV), he says:
(38) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ (39) But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (40) And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. (41) If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (42) Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
The saying, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” was originally a principle to make sure that punishments fit the crime. In the ancient world, it was not uncommon for the punishment for a crime to be more or less based on a person’s social standing. Slaves generally were punished much more severely than free people, and rich people were punished less. The ancient set of laws known as the code of Hammurabi partially corrected this, but there were still codified differences in the way slaves and free people were treated. The Mosaic law was counter-cultural in saying, no, everyone is equal, so the punishment will always match the crime. But perhaps you can see how this saying would be distorted by individuals wishing to justify their desire to retaliate, or “get even.” Whereas the Mosaic law was demonstrating righteousness in civic law, Jesus says go beyond that. He says don’t retaliate at all. But Jesus is not saying give in.
Jesus says, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Generally, we interpret that as “take it and leave the situation.” But this is not what this means. If someone struck you on the right cheek, your typically right-handed attacker is striking you with the back of his hand, as much an insult to your character and value as it is hurtful to your face. If you then turn to him also the other, you actually are asserting through body language your rejection of the insult, saying “I am your equal, you are welcome to strike me again, this time with your fist as an equal.” You have turned the situation on its head, not giving in, not retaliating, but taking power from the powerful by your willing vulnerability. You have demonstrated that what you value goes beyond the immediate.
Jesus then says, “If someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” In the ancient world, a man typically owned and wore two or three pieces of clothing. The first was the tunic, the basic garment that everybody wore. On men it typically went down just below the knees, being raised and tucked into the belt for work. Below this, if a man wore anything, he wore a loin cloth. During the winter it was necessary to survival to have an outer coat, or cloak. This was almost a luxury to the poor. I say almost because of the physical necessity of it, not because of economic reality. Because of the physical necessity of the cloak as a life preserving cover, it was never awarded to the plaintiff in a law suit. A cloak could be taken as a pledge for a loan, but it had to be returned to the borrower before nightfall every night. For someone to do what Jesus says would be excessive generosity.
Notice Jesus doesn’t say, if someone wins in a lawsuit, he says if someone wants to sue you for your tunic or inner garment, go ahead and give it to them ahead of time, and give your cloak also. Can you imagine how off balance this would make the person feel who wanted to initiate the suit? They were expecting to find an enemy, instead, they found a willing benefactor. Imagine what would happen if you were sitting in your car in a parking lot, and someone pulls into the space next to you, and when they open their door, “BANG!” they hit your car hard. Your thinking, I’m going to get out of this car and give them a piece of my mind. But when you step out, they are already apologizing, “I am so sorry, that was completely my fault. Let me pay for the dent to be taken out, and I tell you what, while we’re at it, let me fill up your car and pay for you to get your oil changed.” All the wind is taken out of your sails, and if you take them up on it you actually feel indebted to them. A friendship might develop out of that situation.
Jesus says, “If someone forces you to go one mile, go a second with him.” Roman soldiers could legally force anyone to carry a load for a mile (this was ostensibly in the interest of national security, it was not intended to be used simply to annoy and punish the locals). This is the law in effect when Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry Jesus’ cross after Jesus collapses. Jesus makes this statement in a politically and racially charged environment. Many of those listening to Jesus wanted nothing more than to forcefully expel the Romans from Judea. Only the Samaritans generated as much ill will from the Jews. But Jesus says, “If one of these men whom you hate forces you to carry a load for a mile, even if it is to arbitrarily abuse you, show your love and generosity by going above and beyond.” Once again, this takes power from the powerful, making the weak the initiator of good, instead of merely the recipient of bad.
In 70 AD and then again in the 130’s AD the Jews revolted against the Romans, resulting in the utter destruction of the Temple and the ceasing of Judea as a Jewish homeland until the 20th century. Imagine what a difference it would have made if every Jew had taken Jesus’ teachings to heart instead of insisting on retaliation and aggression as their strategy.
In all three of the instances that Jesus mentions, non-retaliation and excessive generosity result in the turning upside-down of a bad situation, leading to the creation of a really good situation. Let’s return to the story of Daniel and see how it turns out for him.[/nextpage]
[nextpage title=”The Result” ]
The Result: Daniel Survives and Lives are Changed
(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.
Lions are incredibly strong, fast, and vicious. I have seen a pride of lions in the wild before. During a trip to Mozambique and South Africa, our group spent a day at Krueger National Park, which is a huge wildlife preserve in northeast South Africa. We drove through the park and were instructed to never get out of the vehicle. At one point we came across a pride of lions who were all lying down in the tall grass, making it very difficult to see them. It would have been easier to get a photo if we could have just stepped out of the vehicle to get a little closer. The lions were all probably 25 yards away at the closest, but we knew that if we stepped out of the vehicle, there was no guarantee that we would get back in. When the king came back the next morning, he was going to be lucky to find Daniel’s bones.
(19) 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. (24) 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.
(25) Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations and men of every language throughout the land: “May you prosper greatly! (26) I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. (27) He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.” (28) So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.
Because Daniel was faithful not only to praying to God, but to imitating the character of God, he was preserved miraculously. What started off as a set of circumstances which, by the pattern of this world, would have led to a violent uprising or an intrigue-filled series of political maneuvers became an opportunity for the Kingdom of God to expand and conquer, with more than just Daniel getting blessed as a result. Darius, who had demonstrated that he was not terribly religious before, makes a remarkable decree that all people in every part of his kingdom should fear and reverence the God of Daniel. Through Daniel’s heroic obedience and vulnerability, many were given the opportunity to come to know the living God.[/nextpage]
[nextpage title=”Being a Hero Like Daniel” ]
Being a Hero Like Daniel
Herein lies an important lesson for us. The Kingdom of God is not just an internal reality, but it is something which, when we as followers of Jesus truly live his teachings, becomes an unstoppable culture shaping force. The church father Tertullian famously said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Sometimes I think we are guilty of thinking that – or at least acting like – Jesus’ teachings are not intended to effect our culture. This comes, I think, from our aversion to what has been called the social gospel of liberal churches. Let us not be guilty of having so little faith in the kingdom of God that we do not expect it to positively change our culture. Jesus taught us that the kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman takes and works into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough (Matthew 13:33). Similarly, every little bit that positively effects our small part of the larger community creates more and more momentum for the kingdom of God on earth. In other words, your choice not to speak harshly to the customer who just did so to you tangibly moves the kingdom of God forward, even if we are not sensitive enough to see it.
The way in which the kingdom of God conquers our society is not through the methods of this world. I think sometimes our emphasis on legislating Christian morality actually works against the kingdom of God, particularly when we forsake the strategies that Jesus gave us in favor of political ones. I’m not saying we should be politically inactive or that we should stop speaking out against things like abortion. By speaking out in voting as well as in petitions and letters to newspapers and things like that, we continue to be a voice of one crying out in the wilderness “Make straight the way of the Lord.” We are proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is here.”
But sometimes when we get so outraged about things like homosexual unions and start pushing for laws to ban them, unless we’re doing something tangible to reach out to homosexuals we come across as saying basically, “God doesn’t like you, and we don’t like you either.” I’m not saying that it’s a lifestyle pleasing to God. No, I think the Bible is pretty clear about that. But what business do we have condemning every homosexual out there if we have never even known one, much less tried to reach out to one. I think this is one place where the church in America has really dropped the ball. As a contrast, the church’s efforts in abortion demonstrate what can happen when we combine outreach with legislation. By reaching out through crisis pregnancy centers, adoption programs, and counseling with friends we have been much more effective in getting at the heart of the problem of abortion.
What if, instead of focusing on laws, we focused on hearts. I think if we would really submit to the Spirit, we could change our society so that laws wouldn’t even be necessary. But you say, Kerry, the world’s just so much more wicked today than it used to be. No, it’s not. Not really. Things are just more out in the open than they used to be, and quite frankly I’m relieved. At least we can address the issue, and it’s easier for Christian morals to be distinguished. A law is not going to change the character of a homosexual, it will simply make homosexuality a hidden thing again, which I personally do not think works in our favor. The strategies of the kingdom of God actually tend to reveal hidden evil and then call for a decision.
Instead of depending on legislation, heroes of the kingdom are actively on the offensive, showing kindness in unexpected ways, reaching out to the untouchables, and thereby calling out the evils of hypocrisy and pride. By being selfless, heroes reveal the self-seeking, self-preserving, and self-advancing attitude of the world. Like Daniel, when we are vulnerable, choosing not to defend ourselves against attacks but rather showing supernatural generosity to the attackers, we ourselves become the attackers, and we know that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against us.
Daniel is not a hero because he lived, but because he was obedient to God, neither giving in to the threat of death nor preserving himself by the methods of the enemy. He was by no means guaranteed that God would save him at that time. In fact, many have been obedient as Daniel was, choosing not to live by the sword but by the word of God, and receiving death instead of deliverance. Does this mean that God failed them? By no means. There is coming a day when all who have died in the Lord shall be vindicated when death is defeated once and for all, and God shall raise every hero who has chosen bravely to follow Christ in the way of the cross, whether they died at the hands of executioners or by natural causes.
The church today needs more heroes who are willing to conquer the kingdom of this world through kindness and love rather than through retaliation and legislation. Your coworkers need more heroes, people who can show them that there is something better than the life they are living. Your wayward family members need more heroes who will take their harsh words and respond with blessing. Our children need more heroes, people who courageously model the vulnerability of Jesus, who rather than calling 10,000 legions of angels to conquer and destroy his accusers, chose instead to submit to the cross, and thereby achieved the greatest of all victories. I urge you today, like Daniel, to be a hero for God.[/nextpage]