Have you ever tried to be good believing that if you caused no trouble, did all your chores, smiled enough, and obeyed God’s law that all would be well? And, then it wasn’t.
When we get to the sixth chapter of Daniel, the Jews in exile have been beaten up by the conqueror’s tide. They kings just keep on coming! We’ve met King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the dreamer; King Belshazzar of the banquet; and now, we meet king Darius of Medes.
During each reign, the exiles from Israel, represented by Daniel and his friends, try to make a life in a foreign nation while holding on to their faith in God.
You might remember when we first met Daniel he successfully made a friend of the palace guard. Daniel did not want to eat the roasts of the banquet hall and requested the palace guard give to him, instead, simpler food like vegetables. The palace guard protested, saying that he would lose his job if Daniel became skinnier and weaker than the others. So, Daniel, responding to the guard’s need, said, “let’s give it a try for a week. If I appear any less fit than the others, then you can give me the palace food.” Well, Daniel stayed just as healthy and strong as all the rest. Daniel listened and responded to the need of the palace guard and both thrived.
Cool, right? What an example! And yet…
In Chapter 3, Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who are known to be good leaders and loyal to the king, are thrown into the fiery furnace for worshipping their God instead of the king’s statue. King Nebuchadnezzar, angered by their unrepentance, shouts, “who is the god who can save you?”
And, praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the three men walk out of the fire unscathed.
Cool, right? What an example! And yet…
By the time we get to chapter 6, you would think we would be beyond the need to throw Israel to the lions. Daniel has done everything right. He is so good that the king is considering giving him the top position! The other administrators and satraps, who want to take him down cannot find any grounds against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs (6:4).
They say, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.”
In the same sentence they tell of Daniel’s great ability to govern, they proclaim his faithfulness to God. They know to whom he answers.
Cool, right? What an example!
Daniel is competent, friendly, kind, and faithful both to the king and to God.
His political enemies, seeking to keep their power, pull out the old trick and convince the king to make a law that anyone who bows down to a god other than the king, shall be thrown into the lion’s den. The king agrees.
The king who recognizes Daniel is faithful to his God, and only his God, agrees to this stupid edict that had been out of play for years. What a moron! Is he really that dumb that he can’t see through the guile of the satraps and administrators? Come on, what do the exiles have to do to be able to live in peace?!
It is like the Looney tunes Wiley Coyote using TNT once again to try to blow up the roadrunner. The coyote never gets it; never leaves the roadrunner for easier prey. And while the roadrunner never stops running, he is unfazed by the Coyote…he continues to do what he always does…”beep beep”…he runs.
Like Wiley Coyote the kings never understand the limits of their power. Even the most friendly king Darius repeats Nebuchadnezzar’s blunder. Spurred on by his advisors, he makes the edict that all must worship him and him alone and sets his coyotes lose.
So Daniel is given the choice his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego once faced, the choice between empire and God. And Daniel, unfazed by the cost, does what he always does, he chooses God:
“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.”
He does what he has always done, he prays. And, he doesn’t care who sees him.
The roadrunner runs; the man of God prays.
And, on this day, when his life is in danger, we are told that Daniel prays a prayer of thanksgiving.
Meanwhile, the king’s men scurry about with their dynamite.
“Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. 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?”
When the king hears it is Daniel about whom they speak, we are told that, unlike Nebuchadnezzar’s furious order to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to him, King Darius works until sunset to try to free Daniel.
See, see, King Darius cares for Daniel. He is the best king of all of them.
Cool right? What an example! And yet…
Daniel was put into the den of lions.
“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.”
“At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lion’s den.”
At the first light…
And while the stone was not rolled away, there were no bones, Daniel was alive and well.
He was alive and well, but the stone was not rolled away.
Daniel’s fate still rests with the inept king.
Daniel’s faithfulness cannot move the large, heavy rock that is the empire.
I see two stones. Two very large boulders meant to keep faith in. The stone that kept Daniel in the Lion’s Den and the stone that was placed in front of Jesus’ tomb. This first stone tells of the power of the empire to keep a people down. And the other tells of the faith of God to raise people up! The first sign of Jesus’ resurrection is that the stone had been moved.
But that is to come. Daniel and the exiles experience a world in which their faith cannot move the stone. The empire is simply too strong. And so, the book of Daniel turns from legend telling to apocalyptic visions of God’s justice. Because faith cannot move the stone, the exiles retreat from this world into the spiritual world.
In present day, I’ve heard my brothers and sisters in this neighborhood speak about spiritual warfare, about fasting, and seeking visions. The feeling is there is a rock that is keeping them in the den…only faith can help them see the light despite the dark and the lion’s roar.
You don’t have to be poor to believe we are under spiritual siege.
We are in a battle against religious terrorism. Indeed I proclaim there is a spiritual war going on. We are in a battle against evil which causes frustrated and isolated people to shoot up schools and movie theaters and churches. There is a spiritual war going on. When young people continue to needlessly lose their lives because of the fear that exists between police and people of color, there is a spiritual war going on.
It is so much easier to blame guns or the hijab or police or the one who was shot. No one is asking…what was the tenor of the faith they followed? For most…there was no faith. For the few, there was a distorted version of God.
There is a spiritual war going on.
We are called to enter the battle. In North Long Beach, we come face to face with the scars of those who have gotten beaten up. We must enter the battle. Let’s make sure we are prayed up. Let’s make sure we have a habit of prayer and that the prayer begins not with God do this or that but with thanksgiving! Allow God to strengthen your spirit.
The spiritual work allows us to be in the den of lions and live.
Don’t give up on believing the empire can change.
But…when the empire is stupid…when the empire is pushing you down…when the empire rather throw you to the lions than question its beliefs…be ready to go to war. Because your God can still be found in the dark. Your God can save you from the flood. Your God will not let the lions have you.
Daniel, and Daniels family, live!
Those who entrapped Daniel are thrown to the lions…both them and their families. The schemers, who put their faith in their ability to control the king, die. Their way is not allowed to continue on.
The exiles live!
Now we have a king that lasts beyond the empires! Our king, Jesus, can move the stone from the inside of the den, of the tomb. He can move the stone that was meant to keep him and us in. He can move the stone from the inside!
Look for him!
He’s the extra man in the fire.
Listen for him!
In the dark, he’s the one calling your name.
Reach out to him!
He’s the one taking you by the hand leading you outward into the dawn.
No stone can keep him in the dark. He’s got you. He’s got me.
The one who can move the stone from the inside!