March 20, 1992
The story of Daniel and the lions’ den provides great insight into what it means to persevere faithfully amidst adversity. Characterized by integrity, wisdom, discipline, and prayer, Daniel was trusted by the king of Babylon but despised by his jealous, corrupt colleagues. Although Daniel’s faith and refusal to compromise made him the target of an evil plot, Alistair Begg points out that it also made him an instrument for God’s deliverance and glory. To finish well, we too must commit to staying the course.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Daniel chapter 6. I hope you’ve done your homework and read ahead as I suggested. I won’t take time now to read the twenty-eight verses; I’m going to assume that you’ve done that. And if I assume wrongly, then you better start reading it even now as I begin to speak.
It’s been said that few great men finish well. History is littered with the records of those who began with a great flourish and somewhere along the journey of their days stumbled, faltered, crashed, and burned. That is as true within the framework and fabric of expressed religion as it is in the secular world and secular history which we know so much about. It is also true that there are some classic examples of those who stand out from the pack. And Daniel, this immense character under God, is one of these examples of faithfulness right through to the end.
Daniel 6 contains one of the most familiar stories in the whole of the Bible. Anyone who has ever been to Sunday school for more than two or three weeks has probably heard something about Daniel and the lions’ den. Indeed, if you were to go out into the community and play the word association game, if you say, “Daniel,” they will probably reply, “lions,” or “lions’ den.”
As we come to what is this most familiar of stories, we need to bear in mind that many years have passed since chapter 1. Only five chapters have gone by, but many years have passed since Daniel was snatched from the relative security of his home in Jerusalem and dragged into captivity in Babylon. As parents, we might ponder this evening, in a quite salutary way, just how much hope we would have if our teenage children were to be taken from us this evening into a completely alien environment and we were never to be able to influence them one more time, never be able to pray with them again, never able to guide them and frame their lives. How well would our children do if they were to be taken from us this evening?
He was taken, and we might assume that the passage of the years would have diminished the sense of challenge, because after all, by this time his accent would be indistinguishable from those others who lived in Babylon. Every so often Scottish people come to visit our church in Ohio, and the elderly ladies, it almost turns out to be, come up to me and say, “Oh, it was very, very good, very good to be here tonight, son.” They always call me “son.” And their accent is so broad that I always say to them, “And are you over here visiting family or something?” “Oh no,” they say, “we’ve been here since 1937.” And it puts me on a tremendous guilt trip; I don’t know why it is that I don’t say “1937” anymore. Maybe it’s because I never, ever said “1937”; that could be part of it.
But after you’ve lived in a place as a resident alien for some time, it begins to have more of an effect on you than you are ever having on it. And I live here as a resident alien and have done for the last ten years. I have a card to prove it. I’ll show it to you if you want to see it. When we arrived on the third of August 1983, we got that wonderful welcome at the Boston Airport when I was separated from my wife, who was an American citizen, and taken into a room, and fingerprinted, and told, “Welcome to the United States of America.” So I know a little about living as a resident alien.
His accent was indistinguishable, his family would have blended into the culture—they would all have spoken with the same kind of accents as those around—and his loyalty to the country was certainly not in question. He had served with consistency now over many years. He’d served a succession of kings. There had been Nebuchadnezzar, there was Belshazzar, and now there was Darius, whose identity is a cause of much spilled ink. Those of you who are seminary students will know that, and do your homework and go and read about it; I’m not going to consider it with you this evening. Daniel was probably somewhere between seventy and eighty years of age by the time we come to the lions’ den incident. Indeed, he may even have been older.
Interestingly, when we read Daniel 6, we don’t find him living in a cottage somewhere on the precincts of the royal palace. He has not yet been put out to seed like some ancient Clydesdale horse that lives in its pristine glory down at the end of the meadow. We might have imagined that by this time that would have happened to him. In our culture, he certainly would have been retired off long ago. We live in the world where you climb the ladder fast so that you can jump off before you’re pushed and eventually run off to a Morrison’s restaurant somewhere in Florida where you sit gazing at the wall for the rest of your meager existence. This is part of the American Dream. But there was none of this… To end your days sitting alone in a Morrison’s restaurant is one of the saddest scenes I’ve ever addressed. But that’s for another message, another evening. Any society that cannot take care of its elderly people is in deep, deep trouble.
Daniel was still to the fore. Daniel had the spirit of Caleb. Remember, Caleb said, “Here I am, eighty-five years old, and still as strong today as at the beginning. Give me this mountain.” And so we encounter Daniel, not living, as I say, in some little gatehouse with coach parties coming by, slowing down outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of the ancient character. Not so! He is still going strong.
Now, it’s interesting that the temptation to capitulate, to compromise, was just as strong at the end of his days as it was at the beginning. Indeed, there is a sense in which it was perhaps even stronger at this point in his life. Do you not think there’s a tendency to assume that the great tests of our Christian experience are always going to occur in our early days? Perhaps it’s our preoccupation with youth and the fact that we have embraced youthism in this culture—not because youth are particular stalwarts or phenomenally useful; it just has to do with image. And we tend to think that if you can get through your youthful years and the early days, then it’s plain sailing from that point out. That’s foolishness! That’s naivete. That’s not realistic, and that is certainly not true concerning this man Daniel.
The Evil One, who wars against our souls, wages a war of attrition. He knows himself to have got a great gain if he is able to neutralize the servants of God in the final laps of the race. So what that they ran quickly at the beginning? So what that the crowd cheered for the first seven laps? So what that they were standing up to the beginning of it all, with all the accolades and all the plaudits of their early days? Those of us who are coming behind some of you who were born a little earlier know by experience that God can keep us through our teenage years. We know by experience that God is able to preserve us in the early days of our marriage. What we do not know by experience is that which we can learn from some of you: namely, that God is able to keep—as was quoted this evening from Philippians 1:6—and bring to completion the good work which he has begun in each of our lives.
And some of us this evening who are a little later coming behind in the race are looking for models of men and women who plan on finishing well. Eric Liddell, who in 1924 won the Olympic gold in the two hundred meters at the Paris Olympics, when he was expected to win the hundred meters and wouldn’t run because it was the Lord’s Day, was interviewed in the Edinburgh Evening Post concerning his success in what I should have said was the four hundred meters; I beg your pardon. For those of you who are alert to those things, you would have identified the inaccuracy of it. For the rest of you, I shouldn’t even have corrected myself, but that’s by the way. Indeed, I’m tempted to say “for the vast majority of you,” because few of you were watching the Olympics in 1924. But when he was interviewed in the Edinburgh Evening Post, this is what he said: “The secret of my success in the four hundred meters is that I run the first two hundred as hard as I can. Then for the second two hundred, with God’s help, I run harder.” And again The Evening Post, quoting in the week following his victory in Paris, said this: “It was the last fifty meters which meant the making or the breaking for Liddell.”
Now, loved ones, I want speak to you tonight, and I want to say a word of encouragement to those of you who are a little older. I want you to know that every time you’re tempted to believe that you’ve run your race, you’ve finished your course, you’ve made your contribution, it just is not so. Let secular society despise wisdom and old age. Let the church stand in the presence of those who are older. Let the young Christians realize that they’ve been given two ears and one mouth to say less and hear more. Let us pause in awe before those whose lives the key to which is running the last fifty meters effectively and faithfully. For Daniel is just such a character. I love Daniel! This man has been with me since I was a wee boy singing,
Dare to be a Daniel!
Dare to stand alone!
Dare to have a purpose firm!
[And] dare to make it known!
Now, the message this evening has five points, as this morning. Let me give it to you, especially for the encouragement of the children who are here. I want you to know, kids, I’ve been where you are. I want you to know that sometimes I thought I was listening, sometimes I was sure I wasn’t. I want you to know that I rubbed the wrist of my mother raw because I used to turn her watch around to try and see the time with frequency all through the evening message. She bore silent scars to her grave of this activity by her child.
But I want you to know if you’re listening, boys and girls, that I’m so very thankful to my mom and dad, who didn’t capitulate to my stupidity and brought me under the sound of the proclamation of the Word of God. I feel really sorry for the liberated young families today who have determined that they’re not going to influence their children like this. They don’t want to “turn them off.” Let me tell you something: you can’t ever turn them on if you don’t, under God, give them the opportunity to be exposed to the teaching of God’s Word. Most of what I have learned of Christine doctrine I did not learn at seminary. I learned, actually, sitting in services as a small boy in Scotland, listening to the Word of God preached. It is a great and awesome privilege.
For you youngsters, here are the five words. Daniel was distinguished. That’s one. Daniel was despised. That’s two. Daniel was disciplined. That’s three. Daniel was dumped. That’s four. Daniel was delivered. That’s five.
Now, for your encouragement, I will probably spend longer on the first. I don’t know why that is; I do it all the time. But don’t look at your mum’s watch and work out how long I’ve spent on the first and multiply it by five, ’cause it will discourage you dreadfully. And it probably won’t be true.
All right, first of all, then: Daniel was distinguished.
The opening verses give us the structure of government that Darius had chosen: 120 satraps whose responsibilities extended to various parts of the empire. These 120 were in turn under the jurisdiction of three administrators. Their job was to make sure that the king didn’t “suffer loss.” That’s what it says in verse 2—presumably the loss of revenue due to internal corruption or the loss of territory due to military expansionism as a result of external civil unrest. We’re told that Daniel had something which the others lacked. Verse 3: “Now Daniel so distinguished himself among [these] administrators”—his other two colleagues in the triangular administrators office—“and the satraps” that the king was planning to make him his prime minister. He was going to come out on the top of this whole administrative structure. He was going to be like Joseph before, the one in charge of everything except Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s wife.
What were the distinguishing characteristics, then, of this man Daniel? Let me suggest there were three—three factors.
Number one, the quality factor. Actually, we should say the quality factors, plural. He was exceptional. From what we’d seen earlier in reading the chapters before, we realized that he had an extraordinary capacity for facing and overcoming difficulties. God had made him uniquely positioned to explain dreams when others were completely befuddled by them. He’d been given by God an uncanny wisdom, a wisdom beyond his years, even as a young man, which he was able to bring to bear upon multiple situations, and God had made it possible for him to make practical judgments in some of the most trying circumstances. So there was the quality factor.
Secondly, in his being distinguished, there was the integrity factor. The kind of positions which Daniel had fulfilled all through his life were positions which were susceptible to graft and to corruption, to dishonesty of all kinds. But as we see from the record, Daniel was absolutely blameless. He was neither negligent in his duties, nor was he corrupt in his dealings. In short, there was no gap in Daniel’s life between the things that he professed with his lips and the way he lived his life. He didn’t cheat at work, and he didn’t cheat at home. Daniel realized that God’s great interest was in him, the worker, first, and then in the work secondarily. He essentially embodied Micah 6:8: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly and to act righteously and to walk humbly with your God?”
Daniel, if we’d met him, if he was in our offices in these days, we would have said, “He’s a man of stability in a shaky world, he’s a man of purity in a dirty world, and he is a man of integrity in a shady world.” He was exceptional. He was distinguished. It’s not hard to see why such a man would be the king’s choice for such a key position.
And we might assume that this kind of individual would be admired and would be loved by everyone. But not so! And so we come from his distinguished life and lifestyle to the fact that he was also despised. And here, as you read on, you discover that there is a plot which unfolds as his colleagues display their resentment of him. So, kids, you should be excited. We went through “distinguished” very fast, wouldn’t you say?
He was distinguished. Now, he was despised. The quality of his life was more than matched by the jealousy of his colleagues. Recognizing that he was in line for the top job, they tried to discredit his conduct. Verse 4: “The administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they … could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.” In other words, in his day-to-day dealings, he displayed the practical characteristics of godliness.
Do you? Do I? What are some of the practical expressions of godliness in day-to-day living in our offices, in our academic institutions, in our hospitals, wherever our everyday work takes place? Let me tell you what some of them are: punctuality, respect, attention to detail, kindliness, honesty. Let’s grade ourselves on those things. First of all, punctuality. It is an expression of arrogance on our part when we think that others ought to wait for us. Why should they? No reason. What we’re saying is we’re more important than the people who are waiting for us. We’ve made a career out of it, many of us. Punctuality is an expression of godliness. Doesn’t sound very grand, does it? But it’s very, very important, especially when you’re waiting for someone with whom you’ve made an appointment. Attention to detail—not slaphappy, not slapdash, not take it or leave it—kindly, honest, and so on.
The real question when you examine this kind of integrity in a man like Daniel is simply this: “Does my walk with God permeate my life? Does it affect my work on a Monday through Saturday? Does my Christianity come out in the quality and commitment of my work, or am I relying on badges and stickers and things hanging off the back of my car?” That stuff’s easy! I don’t have anything hanging off the back of my car because I’m so conscious of how difficult it is to drive my car in a way that would be true to anything that I might have hanging off the back of it. People in my office are not impressed with badges and with stickers. They’re going to be impressed with punctuality, with kindliness, with attention to detail, with honesty, with helpfulness, with all those things. Those are the things that will mark you out in a world that is increasingly chaotic. Those are the things that will give you an opportunity to be seen as different among the rest. And yet, as Christians, many of us are slipshod in those things, believing that we can simply testify to our experience of Christ. And our non-Christian colleagues and employees are saying to themselves, “Where does this thing that they keep talking about express itself? If they have a new life, as they say, where in the world is the new lifestyle? For presumably it is impossible to have the one without the other.”
And so, because he was, if you like, core in his commitment to Christ, his colleagues were disgusted with him. They were unable to catch him out in the responsibilities of his job. And so they recognize that their only possibility of success will be to catch him out on some matter relating to the law of his God. That’s at the end of verse 5. They get together with one another, they have a committee meeting, they say, “You know, this is not going very well. There’s nothing that we can point to in his life. There’s nothing in his job, there’s nothing in his desk, he’s got no skeletons in his closet, he’s not hiding anything, he’s not fiddling the books—he’s doing nothing wrong! We’ll never do it—unless, of course, it has something to do with the law of his God. Hmm!” they said.
And then, in verses 6 through 9, we’re provided with the record of the way in which they persuade the king to issue an edict which would be short enough for them to cope with but which would last long enough to give them time to trap Daniel. You’ll notice that there if your Bible is open, as it should be. The royal administrators and all the gang have “agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man…” They’re clever enough not just to say “to Daniel’s God,” ’cause that would look like they were trying to get Daniel, you know. And, of course, they’re not really trying to get Daniel. Of course they are! “… who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king…”
Crawlers, every one of them! Creeps! That’s what they are. You understand what a creep is, or a crawler? They’re people who always trying to ingratiate themselves with a boss: “Now, we don’t want anybody praying to anybody for the next thirty days—unless, of course, they’d like to pray to you, O king.” The king must have said, “Yes, that’s okay. Yes. If they want to pray to me or honor me, that will be fine.” “And what we want you to do, king, is this: the edict shall say that we’ll throw them in the lions’ den.” Verse 8: “Now, O king, issue the decree … put it in writing so that it can[’t] be altered—in accordance with the laws of the Medes and [the] Persians, which cannot be repealed.” You see, they’re always going to have to tell the king what the law says, ’cause the king, he doesn’t got a clue what’s going on most of the time anyway, ’cause he’s out fishing, golfing, doing all the stuff that kings do. “So King Darius put the decree in writing.” He was out of touch.
You know, can I say this with kindness? The reporters followed Ronald Reagan’s last four years, harried him, confronted him with so many things, saying to him, “President Reagan, we believe you’re out of touch.” He kept replying, “No, I’m in charge.” When it came to the Iran–Contra scandal, they said to him, “President Reagan, you’re in charge,” to which he replied, “I’m out of touch.” And the fact of the matter is that in many circumstances, at the high-ranking levels of government, people in the Darius mode are often completely susceptible to those around them, who control things to a far greater degree than we would ever realize.
And so they manipulate him. They go to the king en masse, ’cause they’re cowardly. “The administrators and the satraps,” verse 6, “went as a group to the king.” They went as a group, and then, in verse 7, they were less than truthful. They said, “The royal administrators, [the] prefects, [the] satraps, [the] advisors and [the] governors,” note, “have all agreed.” Three-letter word: “all agreed.” Not so! If Darius had been in touch, he might have said, “Is Daniel in on this?”—and he would have caught them in their own web. But he didn’t! They manipulate him.
They are cool. They are calculated. Their spite and their hatred is deep-seated for Daniel. There was no question of them doing the deed with their own daggers. These guys don’t even have the guts of the Roman senators in relationship to Julius Caesar. This is not Brutus and Cassius: “There is a time taken of the flood which leads on…” Oh, no! They’re not going to do it. There’s no “Beware the Ides of March” from these jokers. No chance! No, these are guileful in their intentions. They seek to wrap themselves in some form of ostensible innocence, and then they will be able to lay the death of Daniel at the feet of the innocent king. It’s a perfect plot! “We’ll get the king to do it. The king will sign it. The king can’t repeal it. Daniel will fall for it. Daniel will be dead. And then we’ll be able to go on from there.”
So the laws were changed, the penalties were set, the trap was charged, as it were, and in the end, the system would accomplish what each of them would have been too horrified to do by themselves—because they must have sat around and said, “We are, after all, honorable men. We are concerned only for our king and concerned for our country.”
Now, ask yourself this question: Why would Daniel be despised? He hadn’t done one bad thing to these folks. It’s not as though Daniel had risen to a position of usefulness in the kingdom as a result of trampling on people’s heads. They might have been able to forgive him that in any case, because after all, they would be able to identify with it. What they couldn’t handle in this man Daniel was his unswerving commitment to his God. He lived in such a way as to display an unshakable conviction as to the power and might of God.
Now, it wasn’t that the others were irreligious. They had their gods. But they didn’t like the fanaticism of Daniel. It pricked their consciences, and it made them feel uncomfortable. And as we’re going to see, when Daniel got down on his knees and turned his face towards Jerusalem and he prayed, he wasn’t going through his personal religious exercises; he was declaring his conviction about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Jacob. He was saying, “The God that I worship, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Jacob, is the final truth—indeed, he is all truth.” And by Daniel’s conviction concerning this God, those who were his colleagues were bright enough to realize, “If what Daniel says is true concerning this God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Jacob, then our gods are irrelevant, they are unfounded, they have no substance whatsoever.” It left them no space for believing that their religious expressions were equally valid.
Now, are you following me? Because I’m about to apply this. Think it out. People do not care tonight if you walk out the door and tell them you’re religious. They do not even care if you tell them that you believe in Jesus. They can handle that and much more beside. What they cannot handle is you saying this: “The Jews are monotheists, and we believe in the Trinity. We cannot both be right. The Hindus believe that god has incarnated himself many times; we as Christians believe he has done so once and savingly in Jesus. We cannot both be right.” They cannot stand that we would express the words of Jesus, “I am the good shepherd. I lay down my life for my sheep. All who ever came before me are thieves and robbers.” They cannot cope with the notion that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes to the Father but by him. They cannot handle the preaching of the apostle Peter when he says, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name given under heaven among men by which they must be saved.” Secular man in twentieth-century America cannot cope with this!
And if you are prepared to bear testimony to this in your anthropology class in university, if you are prepared to give profession of this as you meet with a smart group of ladies for coffee in some smart little club somewhere, then get ready for all the antagonism and all the venom and all the spite that lovely people can muster against you. And that is exactly what was happening to Daniel. It wasn’t that he was a bad guy. It was simply that they couldn’t cope with the fact that Daniel said, “This is truth, and outside of this there is no truth.” And in the pluralistic, syncretistic generation in which we live, where all roads lead to heaven like they lead to Timbuktu, where tolerance is the issue, not truth, then for us to declare truth in a way that is apparently intolerant is absolutely intolerable for people who don’t believe in being intolerant. Think it out!
The hatred that is unleashed against this is presumably what Paul refers to as the mystery of lawlessness, or the “secret power of lawlessness,” in 2 Thessalonians 2:7. Think about it. Consider Jesus. What basis was there for anything unleashed against Jesus? He was the one who had healed the blind. He was the one who took babies on his lap. He was the one who had dealt with the kind of women that others would despise and categorize as hateful. And yet the trial of Jesus was hypocritical, it was fraudulent, it was illegal, it was propped up by corruption, and it was done by weak-willed men. Isaiah 53 says “He was despised and rejected by men,” he was “a man of sorrows,” and he was “familiar with suffering.” Question: Is the absence of that kind of persecution in our lives as a result of how wonderful we are and how victorious we are in our Christian living? Or is it even distinctly possible that the absence of that kind of intervention by our peer group in our lives is because we do not have the spirit of Daniel within us, and we are prepared to compromise where it matters most and where it hurts the fastest and the sorest in our lives?
There is only one country in the whole world that has more church attendance than America—and that is Éire, Southern Ireland, held in the grip of phenomenal Roman Catholicism. This place is full of church, full of religion, but God is a cosmic principle, God is a figment of the imagination, God is whatever we want him to be. And people are prepared to talk for long about that, until we start to speak about the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is perfect, who is powerful, who is plural, and who is praiseworthy.
Thirdly, he was disciplined. Distinguished, despised, disciplined.
This characteristic in Daniel’s life was actually the foundation of their plot. This plot could not work if Daniel was not as consistent as he had been. If his commitment had been spasmodic—if he had been like some of us, bursts of enthusiasm followed by chronic inertia—then they could never have been sure of catching him. When they went to his house—and you’ll notice they go to his house again as a group in verse 11: “Then these men went as a group.” Can you imagine them all sitting around saying, “Well, are you going?” Say, “Well, I’m not going on my own, I’ll tell you that.” “Well, what about two of us? I think we should all go together. I think it would be nicer together, don’t you?” And “then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying.” They knew they would find Daniel praying.
And having caught him, they returned to the king. They’ve caught Daniel; now they’re gonna catch the king. We’re in verse 12: “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?” They’re closing down on him now. “The king answered, ‘The decree stands’”—and then he adds, showing that he’d learned quite a bit—“‘in accordance with the laws of the Medes and [the] Persians, which [of course] cannot be repealed.’” “Very good king. We got you there. You got it good.”
Verse 13: “Then they said to the king, ‘Daniel’”—now, notice this description—“‘Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah…’” You think they hold him in high esteem, huh? I mean, they could have said, “Daniel, who’s going to be the prime minister of this whole operation,” or “Daniel, your favorite,” or “Daniel, the key guy.” No, no: “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah,” he “pays no attention to you, O king.” That wasn’t true! He paid attention to the king all the way through. Why do you think the king was going to put him in charge of everything? The king’s not stupid. He wasn’t going to put the guy in charge who didn’t pay attention to him. He had served the country better than any of the rest of them, with all the consistency and integrity that we’ve seen. It was on account of his loyalty and his attentiveness that he was in line for the top job. He “pays no attention to you, O king, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.”
Now, I wonder if any of us have got the impression that Daniel’s activity in prayer was somehow prompted by the king’s edict, so that it was nothing other than a display of defiance. Did you ever think about it in those terms? The king says, “You can’t pray,” and we said, “We’re gonna pray.” What a lot of nonsense about praying in public schools, if I might say in passing—which I probably shouldn’t, but I just did, so now we’re into it. Did you ever hear such a lot of stuff about praying in the schools? People don’t even pray in their churches, for crying out loud! They don’t even pray in their homes with their kids. How many of you fathers have prayed outside the church with your children in the last seven days? Well, don’t come bothering me about writing to my congressman about your kids praying in their school—a silent minute whereby they can pray to some great pluralistic, syncretistic deity and have whatever thoughts they want to have about whatever they want to have, and we’ll let it go at that.
Daniel’s prayer was not a knee-jerk reaction to the edict of the king. It was not a display of defiance. He prays three times a day, and he does it with the windows open. “Oh,” says somebody, “well, you know, I can understand him quietly in a corner somewhere, you know, bowing his head over his meal, and people wondering whether he’s scratching his head or saying a prayer.” We can understand that kind of thing. We’ve got that down tremendously now.
I was a boy growing up, Roman Catholics used to always cross themselves on the bus when they passed the Roman Catholic church. Did they do that here in America? When they passed the Grotto at Lourdes, and I could always tell who the Roman Catholics were when I was sitting on the bus, ’cause they always crossed themselves every time they passed the Roman Catholic church because the Virgin Mary was out there. But the really bold ones crossed themselves: “Hey, we don’t care!” The not-so-bold ones, they would do this little thing on their forehead. So as I’m coming to the church, I’m watching for all these people always scratching their foreheads. Some of us, we don’t have the guts enough to just stand right up on the table and say a prayer in the restaurant. Who cares? I don’t care! Let them know: “We’re really thankful for this food, Lord.” Enough of this stuff here. Don’t go scratching your head if you don’t want to pray. Just don’t pray! ’Cause the Lord knows; he says, “Forget it. He’s only scratching his head. He’s not praying.”
So it’s not an act of defiance. Look at verse 13. Look at verse 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.’” Now, here’s the key word coming up—second word in the sentence, which you’ll find in between the first word and the third word: “He still prays.” “He still prays three times a day.” They don’t go and say, “Hey, he started praying.” “He still prays.” Look ahead at verse 16: “whom you serve continually.” Look back to the final phrase in verse 10: “Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.”
You see, for Daniel, his walk with God—his run with God, if you like—was not spasmodic or intermittent. It was a cross-country run that was going to last all of his life. He was steady, he was disciplined; he was a classic example of the priority of forming holy habits. And as I’ve said to you before, it was his unswerving commitment to consistency that made it possible for his friends to catch him out. As loyal as he was to the king and to the empire, to the kingdom, there could be no doubt about his allegiance to the kingdom of God. His daily regimen of prayer, with his gaze towards Jerusalem, displayed to all who knew him where he believed the truth was to be found, where he believed all men in all time must look for their salvation. He was looking away. He was looking beyond the world and the kingdoms of his friends. He was looking off to Jerusalem. He was looking off to the place, if you like, almost in his mind’s eye, to the one who would come, the one who would be the fulfillment of much which he was foreshadowing, the one who would bear in his body on the tree our sins and our rebellion and our hate. And when he turned his gaze out there, he looked forward to all of that. And his friends couldn’t stand it, no more than our friends can stand it today.
And we ought not to think of him sitting at a big bay window somewhere, making a right clown of himself. Because the windows in the Eastern world at that time were small and they were up high. They were high up in the wall, and they were up high to protect from heat and to protect from robbers. And so, if you’ve got the picture, as is usually drawn in our Bible stories, of Daniel sitting at a big picture window somewhere, hanging out, and all the people in the street are looking at him as Daniel makes an ostensible kind of pharisaical profession of his prayers, it’s probably totally inaccurate. If you want a picture, here it is: it is the violation of his personal privacy within his own home as he went about his continued commitment to Jesus Christ, and people invaded his home and the privacy of his own godly commitment to unearth him from that and to drag him before the king.
How many times could a godless society come and find us in the privacy of our homes on our knees in prayer to God? How many times could we have been dragged away in the last seven days from our diligent commitment to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Jacob? How many of our friends know that if they would come to us three times a day, one time a day, one time every two days, one time every week, would they find us committed to our God in this way?
You see, the spirit of Daniel is such a challenge, such an encouragement. And remember, he’s probably seventy-five years old! He’s right at the stage where he can say, “Ach, let the younger ones go to the prayer meeting. After all, my day’s done, my race is run, I’m over and I’m through. Bring on the youngsters! They’re the future.” Well, they’re the future, but they’re watching you. We’re watching you to see how you finish. ’Cause we’ve run this far, but we don’t know how to finish unless you show us. He had made the habit of prayer such an integral part of his life that probably the very momentum of the custom itself would have been enough to keep him faithful with or without a sense of inspiration.
See, there’s the problem for many of us in relation to prayer: we don’t pray ’cause we “don’t feel like praying.” We go to corporate prayer meetings and sit in silence, which is a phenomenal waste of time. We can do that at home. We can all split up. We can do it by computer or something like that. The reason we come together to pray is to pray. Now, is there validity to silent prayer? Of course there is! I’m not saying that. But it is such a dreadful chore when twenty of us all sit around, and we all play this game of “Who’s on first?” you know, and it’s just absolutely woeful. Make a determined commitment tonight: if you go to a prayer meeting, pray at it, won’t you? After all, that’s why it was convened. It really just only makes sense.
And presumably there were times when Daniel’s prayers gave him refreshment, gave him inspiration, and there were other times when his prayers gave him no immediate satisfaction. He got up off his knees after his time one, and he says, “Well, I prayed.” After time two: “Well, I prayed.” After time three: “Well, I prayed.” But he had established it as a fixed point in his life, no matter how he felt, and by it he maintained the reality and strength of his communion with God.
Now, the decree was really straightforward: “You just have to stop for thirty days.” And you read on in Daniel, you discover that it was probably true that he was going to get discharged and be able to go home before too long. He might have rationalized this edict and said, “You know what? I’ve been here for so long, all of my life, and God has preserved me. It’d be really dumb to get myself killed in the last few years.” Or he could have said to himself, “You know what? I’ve stored up such a phenomenal amount of praying that I think the Lord would let me off for thirty days. You know, what’s thirty days out of seventy years? You know, I’ve done a lot of praying. If you back out thirty days, it’s not that significant.”
Not Daniel. And if he had, we wouldn’t know him. If he’d done that, there’d be no story! If he’d done that, there’d be no biblical record. In the same way that if he hadn’t learned in the upbringing of his home something about the exclusive relationship with God, then he would never have taken the stand that he took as a youth and influenced his friends with him when they said, “We don’t want that stuff. We’ll just eat vegetables, and we’ll have glasses of water.” It was back in his youth that he made that fixed point. He nailed it home. It was a fixed point for God, irrespective how he felt, irrespective of what anyone else said—said, “This is me, this is God, this is my commitment.” And now, at seventy-five or eighty years of age, that which he farmed into his life in his youth comes to fruition.
What are we gonna be at the age of eighty? Only an extension of what we are at the age of eighteen, God, in his mercy, working in our lives. If you’re funny when you’re eighteen, you’re gonna be hilarious by the time you’re eighty-one. If you’re an old crab when you’re seventeen, may the Lord be gracious to you when you get to seventy-one, and everybody else around you. If you’re a nitpicker at twenty, you’re going to be just unbearable at eighty-five. Daniel’s courage and his stability and his vigor are a challenge to us all.
Well, we got to finish this up. Why did he do this? So that he could feel good about himself? It’s really hard living in a world of instant gratification, isn’t it? Where the appeal to us for commitment and consistency is based largely on what it will do for us. Now, this doesn’t work here with Daniel. Because what this is going to do for Daniel is get him in a dreadful predicament where instead of eating lunch, he becomes lunch. So there’s no sense in which there’s a great plus in it for him—say, “This is fabulous! I’ll just keep praying, because I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be in a den of lions.”
You know, this summer I traveled to London. Just before I left, for some reason I was in a shopping precinct, and I was going in a door, and there was an advertisement—this is in Ohio—encouraging me to give blood. You know what it said? Truth: “Feel good about yourself. Give blood.” Okay? When I got to London, in the Underground, the very first morning there, I’m hacking my way through the city, they’re appealing for blood. The picture is of a tiny child hooked up to all kinds of drips and medical, clinical apparatus, and the sign says, “Try telling him you’re afraid of a pinprick.” I said, “Here we’ve got it.” And this is not to deify London, because there is much that we can complain about there, but the polarization was so obvious. In the one place they’re saying, “For the good of another, extend yourself.” Here they’re saying, “For the good of yourself, do something so you’ll feel good.”
Why is it so hard to get commitment out of young people? ’Cause they’re living their whole life that way! You tell them, “You know that Jesus Christ said, ‘Unless you take up your cross and follow me and cash in your chips and go for gold, you just even can’t be my disciple’?” “Oh, don’t give us that kind of hard gospel stuff. That sounds like the gospel according to Jesus or something.” That’s exactly what it is, you cloth-eared nitwits! That’s exactly what it is! There is no other gospel except the gospel according to Jesus. What an unbelievable nonsense!
Well, I better finish this up. The youngsters are fed up with this, I know. But let me tell you this. Let me nail home this challenge to my own heart about discipline.
Some years ago, I met a little Irishman called T. S. Mooney. I’ve told you about him before. Fine wee man, bachelor all his days, a banker and a distinguished Christian layman in Northern Ireland. I asked him, “T. S., why did you never get married?”
He said, “Because the desirable was always unattainable, and the attainable was always undesirable.”
I said, “Surely that can’t be the reason.”
He says, “Yes.” He says, “I’d rather go through life wanting what I don’t have than having what I don’t want.”
He died a few years after that—not because he said that. In the final years of his life, I was privileged to be taken into what he referred to as his “rogues’ gallery.” He lived in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. I stayed with him for one week; I could tell you from now until midnight tonight stories about that, unbelievable stories. But I stayed with him for a week. In his home he had large fifteen-foot ceilings, and he had an old-fashioned cornice that ran around it, and he had placed photographs of young men all the way around this room. It was a huge, big room. He had been a Bible class teacher. Indeed, on his tombstone it says, “Here lies T. S. Mooney, for fifty years the leader of Londonderry Crusaders class.” For fifty years he taught boys, every Sunday afternoon except in the summer holidays. I asked him, “What were you doing?”—“What are you doing?” because I was with him towards the end—“What are you doing? What’s your purpose in this class?” He answered—he was the master of this succinct phrase—he said, “I want every boy to have a Bible in his hand, a Savior in his heart, and a purpose in his life.”
The rogues’ gallery were the people for whom he prayed. When I stayed with him for a week, he went to bed after me and got up before me every single time. By this time, he was seventy-nine years of age. They found him in his apartment in Londonderry, where he lived alone. His housekeeper arrived; calling out to him, received no response; and went into his room and found him fully dressed in his little tweed suit with a little vest that he always wore, and he was crushed across his bed. And when they lifted his body off of his bed, underneath were the little lists that he always kept in his vest and his Bible—all the names of the rogues, as he put it, for whom he prayed.
What’s the likelihood of that being the way someone finds us at our homegoing? Is there even a possibility at this point in your life or in mine that we could die in that situation? You’ll never die in it unless you live in it.
And it was on account of his discipline that he was dumped. This sermon has now become a series. Notice, and we will finish. But you’re well used to that. The only trouble is I have to go home. Verse 16. Verse 16. “Why don’t you go home?” shouted someone.
Verse 16: “So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him [in] the lions’ den.” And “the king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!’” What a thought! “Threw him [in].” “Threw him [in].” The little bit that I read on this suggested that there was a ramp for the animals to go down, and there was a hole for the people to go through. It made me think that every putrefying culture will take more concern for its animals than it will do for its people. Think about where we are in relationship to that.
The decision, from a human perspective, verse 17, was irreversible: “A stone was brought … placed over the mouth of the den.” The seal was jointly done to ensure that neither the king nor the officials could independently interfere with it. Verse 18: the evening passed with nobody eating. The king wasn’t eating, the lions weren’t eating; nobody was eating. The king was not watching TV; he had no “entertainment … brought to him.” “At the first light of dawn, the king got up.” It was probably easy, ’cause he hadn’t really been to his bed. There had been more agitation in the palace then there ever was down in the den. Sleeplessness is all over this book of Daniel, especially the first six chapters. Kings, nobody’s sleeping. Kings can’t sleep for some reason—all kinds of reasons: they’re all awake, they’re all dreaming, they’re all crazy. And here he was, the crazy king, wandering his bedroom, waiting for the “first light of dawn.” As soon as dawn creeps in, Darius creeps out down to the den. What’s he gonna find? Will Daniel be there? Or will he be singing, “[He’s] in pieces, bits and pieces,” you know? That’s for those of you who are older.
No, that’s not what’s gonna happen to him. Because—and here’s the final point—he was delivered. He was delivered!
Can you imagine the guy running down the thing? He knew that he’d been manipulated into this. He knew that of all people, Daniel shouldn’t have been in that den. He knew that they trapped him, and he knew that he couldn’t get out of it. There was no way that he could reverse it. He tried to do that. Right up until the last moment, he tried to do that.
And in verse 20: “When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice.” You bet your life it was an anguished voice! I don’t know what an anguished voice sounds like particularly, but his was anguished. Daniel’s reply presumably wasn’t: “Daniel answered, ‘O king, live forever!’” And then he explained that he had been fine for two reasons: verse 22, he was innocent of the charge; verse 23, “he … trusted in his God.” He’d been thrown in, hell had done its best against him, and he had come out triumphant.
It’s hard not to read these events and see a foreshadowing of the one who was to come after him—another who was despised and rejected, another who was convicted on trumped-up charges, another one who was left behind a sealed den, and another who on the dawn of that morning was discovered to be alive. And so Daniel proves in his life that the powers of the world to come have broken in in anticipation of what it will be when the King comes to reign. And so Darius is transformed also.
Verse 25, he writes a letter to “all the peoples, [the] nations and [the] men of every language throughout the land,” and he proclaims concerning Daniel’s God, “He lives!” concerning Daniel’s God, “He reigns!” concerning Daniel’s God, “He rescues!” The dark side of Daniel’s deliverance is the judgment that falls on those who had sought to destroy the kingdom of God. For empires come and empires go, kings rise and fall, fashions and lifestyles change, but “a mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.” The powerful impact of one solitary life.
Most of us won’t even be a footnote in church history. I don’t care. It would be fine just to have influenced one other concerning the things of the kingdom.
I want to speak to you young men in these dying moments, and I want to say to you, in the words of the children’s song—and young women too—“I dare you to be a Daniel.” I think of my own son tonight. He’s fourteen years old; I have a twelve-year-old and an eleven-year-old daughter. I dare you to be a Daniel, I dare you to stand alone, I dare you to have a purpose for it, and I dare you to make it known. Go out and live boldly. Don’t say, “I am only one.” And if you do, say this: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. What I can do I ought to do, and what I ought to do, by God’s grace, I will do.” And to you folks who are a wee bit further on the race, don’t lie down now, because the last fifty meters are crucial.
Let us pray together:
Our God and our Father, we thank you for your great and awesome provision for us in the Bible. We thank you for the Spirit’s work illumining it to our hearts and minds. May the love of the Lord Jesus draw us to himself, and may the joy of the Lord Jesus give us strength to serve him, and may the peace of the Lord Jesus fill our hearts and make us bold like Daniel. To the glory of your great name we pray. Amen.
 Joshua 14:10–12 (paraphrased).
 Philip P. Bliss, “Dare to Be a Daniel” (1873).
 Micah 6:8 (paraphrased).
 William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, 4.3 (paraphrased).
 Shakespeare, 1.2.
 John 10:8, 11 (paraphrased).
 See John 14:6.
 Acts 4:12 (paraphrased).
 Isaiah 53:3 (NIV 1984).
 Daniel 1:12 (paraphrased).
 See also Matthew 10:38; 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; 14:27.
 The Dave Clark Five, “Bits and Pieces” (1964).
 Martin Luther, trans. Frederick H. Hedge “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (1529, 1852).
 Attributed to Edward Everett Hale in A Year of Beautiful Thoughts, ed. Jeanie A. B. Greenough (New York: Thomas Y. Cromwell and Co., 1902), 172. Paraphrased.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.