Presented on The Lutheran Hour on November 15, 2020
By Pastor Gerard Bolling, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Daniel 6
A Reading from Daniel 6:
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. At this time, 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 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."
So these administrators and satraps went as a group to the king and said: "May King Darius live forever! 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 human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions' den. Now, Your Majesty, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered—in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed." So King Darius put the decree in writing.
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. 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 human being except to you, Your Majesty, would be thrown into the lions' den?"
The king answered, "The decree stands—in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed."
Then they said to the king, "Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, Your Majesty, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day." When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him.
Then the men went as a group to King Darius and said to him, "Remember, Your Majesty, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed."
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!"
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. 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.
At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions' den. 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?"
Daniel answered, "May the king live forever! 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, Your Majesty."
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.
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.
Then King Darius wrote to all the nations and peoples of every language in all the earth:
"May you prosper greatly!
"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. 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."
So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Both of my children were born on the same exact day, at nearly the same exact time, at the same exact birth weight, just two years apart from one another. My son Lincoln was born on October 5, 2016, at 12:07 p.m. at 8 lbs. 9 oz. My daughter Monroe was born on October 5, 2018, at 11:32 a.m. at 8 lbs. 9 oz. Both the first and second time around as a parent, there has been no greater joy than holding that baby in the palm on my hands. Small as ever, scrunched into a little ball, as they curled their little hand around your finger. And suddenly the world seems to get a whole lot smaller as I watch my child, as I hold my child, as they drift their way to sleep. There's no better moment that that. You realize at a moment like that that incredibly small child you hold in in the crux of your arms is resting because they lean on the forearms of someone bigger than them—someone meant to protect them, to love them, and to care for them.
Well, as children do, my kids have grown. The pencil on the table by my kitchen cabinet grows dull as it marks my children up from the 20 and 21 inches they started vertically into heights that are still unknown, as they turned 2 and 4 years old recently, and they're still growing. And with each passing year, with each October 5, my children make many wishes. And of course, as children do, they wish for more toys to crowd my living room floor, or for sweet treats to fill their tummies with—but they never fail to wish for one singular thing. Consistently, they say, "I wish I was bigger." Bigger! It is always about being bigger. Wanting to be taller, faster, stronger, more capable, more advanced—bigger! Children have it set in their minds to get bigger.
And as adults, we have other thoughts on being bigger—thoughts that likely crossed Daniel's mind in our reading for today. See it says in the Word of God that Daniel, a servant of God, began distinguishing himself as a worker. In other words, he was getting bigger as he grew in his vocation as a commissioner over the satraps of the kingdom, so that the king would not suffer loss but instead, the kingdom would expand. He became bigger as he was being considered for a promotion, being he was such an excellent commissioner, and word began to travel that King Darius was fond of him.
Daniel was growing from a servant to a ruler of many, the hypothetical pencil was dull with its dashing of his progress along the doorpost of life. He was getting bigger—and as he grew, as people do, jealousy began to spread as an eraser to his pencil marks. So much so, that he found himself subjected to be lowered into a lion's den—a pit where nature's cats ruled, to be devoured by something bigger than him. And as He is lowered down to the pit of lions, the deepest pit, Daniel is likely reminded of just how small he is.
I am a 90's baby—and toys were at an all-time high in the 1990s. Best toys ever made! One of my favorite toys when I was young was a toy you could hardly play with. See, it would come in a pack of two. They were these sort of spongey little sea creatures like a starfish or an octopus. And you would leave one sea creature on your nightstand and take the other sea creature and put it into a clear glass of tap water. You go to sleep that night, and when you woke up something astonishing would happen. One starfish that you left out on the table, well, that starfish would stay the same size. But the other starfish that you put into the glass of water would be so big that its body would pour out of the glass of water, onto the night table even, and it would grow that big overnight. It got so much bigger with nothing ever happening! "What a miracle!" my young mind would think!
But when I became older, I realized something. The starfish wasn't getting any bigger on its own. Instead, the starfish would soak up all the water into its pores; it would fill it up and it would go to the size that I had seen with my eyes. It was never the starfish actually getting bigger. It was the water entering the starfish that gave it its size.
See Daniel understood that though He was lowered into the lion's pit, there stood another with him. That he, like us, was just a miserable little, dried-up creature on a nightstand, not capable of anything, not useful for anything, that he would never get bigger. But what Daniel knew was that God was with him—if God poured out His Spirit into Daniel—then it would fill him up and he would be able to stand in the lions pit! Because there was another who was subjected to be lowered into a pit. There was another who was made to face the lions of death. There was another who had a large rock rolled against it, as it was to be His tomb. There was another who had His tomb sealed and shut. There was another who stayed there all day Friday, all day Saturday, and all night Saturday night, but early Sunday morning, rose again. And when that woman ran to the tomb, the women ran and were panicking, and they said, "Where did they take Jesus?" Just like when King Darius woke up after a sleepless night, and he screamed to Daniel "Daniel, servant of God, whom you serve continually, God—has He rescued you from the lions!?"
Daniel, just like Jesus, lived because the living God is bigger than the lions, bigger than sin, bigger than death, bigger than the devil—the living God who's able to part the Red Sea, who's able to cause giants to fall, who's able to cause cities to crumble and the mouths of lions to be shut, that living God who is bigger, who is greater, that is the God whom we call Savior! And most of all—His plans are bigger.
One of the most emotional ministry experiences I have ever had was at Barnes Jewish Hospital here in St. Louis. One of our members at Bethlehem Lutheran Church had just had a baby. Normally, this would be a happy and joyous occasion, but in his case it was a very worrisome one. See, this baby was born four months early. The prognosis was not good. I was asked to come and baptize the baby and spend some time with her, as her future was unpredictable.
I arrived at the hospital and made my way up to the NICU. And as I walked in and greeted the family, I walked up to the smallest child to date that I had ever seen in my life. A child who could barely fit in the palm of anyone's hands. I lightly stroked her head, and I used an eye dropper to baptize her in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And that day, with many unknowns ahead, the very certain promise of God was bestowed upon that child. And as I left the hospital in tears, I realized that if God's purpose for me to become a pastor was simply to baptize that child—then it was worth it.
See, the thing about life in Christ is that you see often times what you experience is bigger than you—what you experience is actually God showing Himself to His people. It wasn't about you after all. It was about Him and the work that He was doing through you and in you.
Daniel 6:26 shows God doing something bigger than Daniel being in a lion's den. God takes that one experience that Daniel had, and God magnifies it! God moves King Darius' heart to declare that in every part of the kingdom that people fear and know the God of Daniel! God touches lives through Daniel. God makes His family bigger through the faithfulness of Daniel.
So, instead of the rallying cry of "I wish I was bigger!"—we ought to thank God for helping us realize that He is bigger. And we can soak in His promises that fill us up. Until the pencil marks are needed no more, and we go to enter our rest in Him. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
Reflections for November 15, 2020
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour, celebrating 90 years of Bringing Christ to the Nation—and the Nations to the Church. For free online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to lutheranhour.org. and we're joined now by our Lutheran Hour Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: We just heard a message from Pastor Gerard Bolling, who is a graduate of Concordia University Chicago, which also happens to be the institution where our interview guest is serving currently and has served as a professor for the last 20 years. I'm speaking again with Dr. Andrew Steinmann. Welcome back, Andy.
Andrew Steinmann: Good to be back with you.
Mike Zeigler: What keeps you energized to teach the Old Testament after all these years?
Andrew Steinmann: The thing that really excites me about the Old Testament is no matter where you are, if you understand it correctly, it's pointing you to Jesus. And I'm excited to show my students it's not a history book per se. It's a book about the coming Savior.
Mike Zeigler: What insights does Daniel have for us as we witness to our faith in Jesus?
Andrew Steinmann: Well, I think one of the great insights that Daniel gives us is Daniel and his companions back in chapter 2, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, speak to the moment. They use the moment to speak about their faith and to share their faith. They don't speak about it in abstract terms, but they actually talk about the context they're in to the people that they are bringing God's Word to. When Daniel is confronted about his worship of God, and he's going to be thrown into the lion's den, Daniel uses the context to speak to Darius, and you get the feeling that Darius knows he's been kind of cornered. And Darius wants to find a way to get rid of this problem with Daniel. Daniel says, "Don't worry about it. I know God's in control."
He basically comforts Darius in that context, and we can contrast that to chapter 2. The context is one where Nebuchadnezzar is trying to force Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to worship their god, and they are a little more defiant than Daniel is because of that context. But they use that context to say to the king, "No matter how powerful you are, our God is more powerful. We're not going to give in to you."
And so the book of Daniel teaches us to use the context and to be sensitive to the context we're in when we are bringing the Word of God to people, to understand what their situation is, and to try to use the Word of God as it speaks to their particular situation. And I think that's so very important because it's so easy just to have our own agenda— "Well, you've got to know this about Jesus. You've got to know that about the Word of God" —instead of saying, what is it that's in the Word of God that speaks to the situation of the person to whom I am trying to be a servant of Christ towards?
Mike Zeigler: How might that help gain a hearing for the Good News of Jesus?
Andrew Steinmann: There's always a natural resistance when you're speaking to somebody who doesn't know Jesus, who's not a Christian, and especially in our culture where oftentimes there's a suspicion of Christians. Among people who don't know us, they oftentimes wonder, 'What kind of weird people are these?" And so to show that we can empathize with them, that we understand their concerns and their needs, automatically begins to bridge that gap. And then it gives us the opportunity to let them see what we see in Jesus Christ as the solution to all life's pressing problems. Not that life's pressing problems are going to go away when they know Jesus. We know that doesn't happen. We still have them as Christians. But that we have the comfort of Christ in the midst of all those troubles and anxieties and worries.
And this is something that we all do imperfectly, and I have to admit, I've failed at times, not always putting myself in my students' shoes when they ask a question. But I at least try to ask myself what is behind that question? Why are they asking that particular question, and one, another one? So then when I tailor my answer, hopefully, I'm answering in a way that meets that need that they felt bubbling up as they asked that question.
And then, I can follow up by saying, I hope I brought you some comfort. Is there something else I can do, or some other words I can give you if I haven't done that? That also helps reinforce, hopefully, a relationship that we've established. Whether we like to admit it or not, most of bringing people to Jesus is about relationships.
Mike Zeigler: Right.
Andrew Steinmann: I'm sure there are people who have found a Bible—maybe they found the Gideon's Bible in their hotel room—and they read it, and they became a Christian. But most people become a Christian because of relationships they've had. With me, it was my parents. They brought me to church. They nurtured me. With other people, it's a friend or a co-worker or somebody they've gotten to know. And it's those relationships through which the Holy Spirit works to bring people to Jesus, and so we work on that.
And that's what Daniel does in the book. He works on that relationship with the kings he serves. Those relationships enabled him to give the kings he serves insight into what God is trying to tell them. And even if, in Daniel's case, I'm not sure Nebuchadnezzar actually ever becomes a Christian, but he becomes more and more appreciative of what Daniel has said. And maybe at the end of his life, Nebuchadnezzar did become a believer in the Savior to come. The same thing with Darius later on. The book doesn't tell us that these two men became believers in the Savior to come, but it leads us to believe that they were on the way there. And hopefully, they did make it, for their sake.
Mike Zeigler: And I appreciate how you say it started with Daniel seeing in them a common humanity; he cares for these kings, even though they are cruel, even though they did so much damage to his own people. Or even back to chapter 2, how he identifies with the wise men. He appeals to Nebuchadnezzar to not put the wise men to death. He starts by identifying it, and then, like you said, using that as a relationship, or starting with a relationship, to move forward.
Andrew Steinmann: It seems to me that what God has done is a call to us to be in relationships with those around us and not just our fellow Christians; although that's obviously a very blessed relationship we have. But to be in relationships with others around us so that the Holy Spirit can work through those, and the words we bring and the examples we set to bring people toward Jesus and, hopefully, all the way to Jesus.
Mike Zeigler: And we pray that He will help us recognize the moment when it comes and have the courage to speak.
Andrew Steinmann: Yes.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you for joining us again, Andy. We'll talk again later, as we get later in the book, okay?
Andrew Steinmann: Okay. Thank you.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"The Day Is Surely Drawing Near" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)