God of the Impossible:  Daniel and the Lions

February 17, 2019

 

Good morning!  My name is Jenn Ballenger, and I serve as one of the pastors at Newark Naz, and it’s good to be with you again today. This week, Pastor Josue and I had the privilege of gathering with over 4,000 pastors and leaders in the Church of the Nazarene from USA and Canada.  We participated in the M19 conference, where we were reminded of our mission to be about evangelism and discipleship.  We worshipped together, participated in workshops, and got to engage in conversations with friends and ministry partners in our region.  It was a great reminder that we, Newark Naz, are a part of a much bigger family, and we, church, have an important job to introduce family, friends, and neighbors to Jesus through our words, actions, and attitudes.  We also have the important job of helping others grow in their faith as we continue to make disciples.  I am thankful to be a part of such a great church.

 

Well, today is our last week in our series, “God of the Impossible.” (image of sermon series) We’ve been walking through some Old Testament stories where people were dealing with situations, relationships, and challenges—that seemed IMPOSSIBLE to overcome.  We’ve been reminded that we have an all powerful, ever present God who goes before us, who is willing and able to do the IMPOSSIBLE. Today we end our series by looking at a day in the life of Daniel, and the way God did the impossible once again.  However, we’re not just looking at what God did, but rather I want us to look at the way Daniel lived that allowed God to do the IMPOSSIBLE in and through him.

 

Context:

As Pastor Eric shared with us last week with the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judah and captured the people of God.  The king selected only the strong, healthy, and best looking Hebrew young men to be trained for three years and then they would service in his royal service.  They would have been teenagers when they were first selected. Daniel and his three friends were among those selected and they were educated, trained, and fed well.  

 

However, King Nebuchadnezzar did every thing he could to make them forget about their homeland and the One True God they served.  He changed their Hebrew names, which included names and attributes of God, and he gave them Babylonian names, trying to try to remove any connection they had to their God. 

 

Daniel and his three friends were intentionally exposed to the Babylonian culture in an attempt to turn them away from the Jewish faith. Time after time in the book of Daniel we find them put to the test in one form or another. They were given new homes, new names and even new diets. And, last week, in Daniel chapter 3, we saw how Daniel’s three friends refused to bow to an image of the king and were thrown into a fiery furnace.  Once again, God did the IMPOSSIBLE in the lives of his people. 

 

The Babylonians could change every thing in Daniel’s life, but they could not change his heart. Daniel and his three friends decided in their hearts that they would obey God’s word and they refused to conform to the world around them.

 

By the time you get to chapter 6, where our story for today is found, Daniel is around 80 years old. Although Daniel was a foreigner and not in his home country, because of his integrity and character, Daniel had secured a place of leadership and prominence in the government of the kings in Babylon. 

 

The new king’s name was Darius and he also liked Daniel.  He knew that Daniel was a good worker so he decided to put Daniel in charge of the whole country.  The other servants of the king were very jealous of Daniel and they tried to find something that would get Daniel in trouble.  They were trying to get him fired, but Daniel obeyed God so they couldn't find anything.

 

Finally these men said to each other, "We can't find any reason for the king to fire Daniel.  The only way we could get him to disobey the king is if we made a law against his god."  So they went to king Darius and said, "O great king, you are so wonderful that no one should pray to anyone but you."

 

The king said, "That sounds like a great idea!"  Then the men continued, "All of your workers have agreed that this should be done and that anyone that prays to any other god should be thrown into the lions den." 

 

The workers lied and said that everyone who worked for the king agreed, but of course they never talked to Daniel because they knew he wouldn't agree.  The king didn't know this, so he made the law and it couldn't be changed.

 

The IMPOSSIBLE Situation:

So, here we are, we’ve come to the IMPOSSIBLE situation again—the law is passed that you can only pray to the king, but Daniel knows the law of God and knows you only pray to the One true God.  What should he do?  What would you do?

Let’s look at Daniel 6, verse 10 and see what Daniel did:

10 But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.

 

Daniel didn’t hesitate at all—he heard the law and went right home and prayed.  Can you believe it?  Why do you think he continued to pray without hesitation?  Was it because he was there when his friends refused to bow down to the idol, and he saw how God rescued them?  He definitely had that experience to pull from!  However, I think the reason he went home and prayed immediately, was because of what it says at the end of that verse—just as he had always done.  Praying to God was a part of his normal, every day routine.  His prayer life was central to who he was and how he lived. 

 

Let’s look at that a moment:  What did Daniel’s prayer life look like?

  • He prayed in his upper room – this was private prayer, made with no intention to impress others.
  • He prayed with his windows open toward Jerusalem, remembering the place of sacrifice even when there was no sacrifice.
    • He prayed according to Scripture, because in 1 Kings 8 Solomon asked God to give special notice to the prayers of His people when they prayed towards Jerusalem and the temple: And may You hear the supplication of Your servant 
  • He knelt down on his knees, his posture was one of humility, reverence, and respect as he lowered himself before the Father
  • He prayed three times that day, We also remember that Daniel was one of three governors over an empire – yet still had time to pray. 
    • The three times a day are the amount of times he prayed formally.  It is more likely that he prayed all day long, as he was in constant communication with God.  However, three times he stopped and formally found this posture of prayer.
  • He prayed and gave thanks, because great prayer is filled with thanksgiving.

 

Prayer was a priority and a way of life for Daniel.  I wonder, does your prayer life look like this?  

 

Isaac Miller’s “Vending Machine” metaphor on prayer

 

Vs. 

 

Billy Graham once noted: “Prayer is not about using God it is more often about getting us in a position where God can use us.”

 

Graham shared, “I watched the deck hands on the great liner United States as they docked that ship in NY Harbor. First they threw out a rope to the men on the dock. Then, inside the boat the great motors went to work and pulled on the great cable. But, oddly enough, the pier wasn’t pulled out to the ship; the ship was pulled snugly up to the pier. (Show ship/rope image)

 

Prayer is the rope that pulls God and us together. But it doesn’t pull God down to us… it pulls us to God. We must learn to say with Christ, the master of the art of praying: ‘Not my will; but Thine be done.’”

 

Daniel understood this, and prayer for him was his lifeline—it was his connection to God that helped him to be the man of character and integrity that he was known for.  Even though there was great risk, Daniel continued praying to the one true God—because his connection to God was more important than anything else—even his life.  

 

So, picking back up with the story, the men who worked for the king, who were trying to trap Daniel, went as a group to Daniel's house and found him praying and asking God for help.  So they ran straight to the king and told him.

 

When the king heard this he was very sad.  He really liked Daniel and he didn't want him to die.  He tried everything to get the law changed to stop Daniel from being thrown in the lions' den, but the men came to him and reminded him that the law could not be changed and Daniel would have to be punished.

 

So at the end of the day the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions' den.  The king said to Daniel, "I hope your God who you serve and pray to will rescue you!" A large, heavy stone was rolled in front of the den and the king went back to his palace with tears in his eyes.  That night King Darius couldn't eat or sleep he was so worried for Daniel.

 

If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to Daniel chapter 6, beginning with verse 19, I invite you to hear the Word of the Lord and see what God does in the midst of this IMPOSSIBLE situation:

 

Text:  Daniel 6:19-28  -- 19 Very early the next morning, the king got up and hurried out to the lions’ den.20 When he got there, he called out in anguish, “Daniel, servant of the living God! Was your God, whom you serve so faithfully, able to rescue you from the lions?”

 

21 Daniel answered, “Long live the king! 22 My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight. And I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.”

23 The king was overjoyed and ordered that Daniel be lifted from the den. Not a scratch was found on him, for he had trusted in his God.

24 Then the king gave orders to arrest the men who had maliciously accused Daniel. He had them thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. The lions leaped on them and tore them apart before they even hit the floor of the den.

25 Then King Darius sent this message to the people of every race and nation and language throughout the world:

“Peace and prosperity to you!

26 “I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel. For he is the living God, and he will endure forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed, and his rule will never end. 27 He rescues and saves his people; he performs miraculous signs and wonders in the heavens and on 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.

(This is the Word of God for the people of God. Response: Thanks be to God.)

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Friends, can you believe what God did in this IMPOSSIBLE situation?  Daniel should have died, but God saved him! Daniel told King Darius that God sent His angel to shut the lions’ mouth. (Show Daniel and Lions image)  I wonder what that looked like?  This is one of those times I wish Scripture told us more—what really happened in the lion’s den that night?  What I’m fairly confident of, although Scripture doesn’t tell us, is that Daniel prayed in the lions’ den.  He did not need to start praying, because he faced the lions, but I believe he prayed because the habit of prayer was well ingrained in his life.

 

 

We don’t know if Daniel saw an angel or not, but he certainly knew that God sent His angel to rescue him.  Did you notice how this portion of Scripture isn’t told from Daniel’s perspective?  We don’t know what happened with Daniel in the lion’s den, instead, we know what king Darius was doing—he was worried and afraid.  He couldn’t eat or sleep. Undoubtedly, Daniel had a better night’s rest than Darius.  

 

And, scripture tells us the king ran to the lion’s den as soon as it was morning.  I think it’s incredibly interesting what the king yells out, once he arrives at the lion’s den.  Verse 20 tells us the king said, “Daniel, servant of the living God! Was your God, whom you serve so faithfully, able to rescue you from the lions?”  Did you catch that?  Daniel, servant of the living God—King Darius hadn’t seen God that way before.  He, the king, was seen as a god, which is why the law was made for people to pray to him. And, in this moment, Darius names God as the living god—even before Daniel responds that he is still alive.  AND, when Daniel does reply that he made it, and that God shut the mouths of the lions, the king gets Daniel out and then immediately sends word out to the entire country, that God is the living God.  And, from this point forward, the people were to fear/worship and show reverence towards the one, true God. Daniel’s God was to be their God.  

 

God did the IMPOSSIBLE once again!  Not only did he rescue Daniel from the lions, but maybe the greater act was that God became the God of the Babylonians—you know, the people who did every thing they could to remove God from the lives of those they captured.  The same people who changed the names, the education, the ways the Jewish people worshipped and practiced their faith—these same people were now called to worship God!  And, not just during King Darius’ reign.  Verse 28 says that it was during the reign of the next king, Cyrus the Persian, too.  Friends, this is a miracle!     

 

Because of Daniel’s faithfulness and the deep connection that he had to God through his prayer life, God was able to do incredible things.  

 

Closing Illustrations:  Harmon and Lula Schmelzenbach—(pronounced Shmel-zen-baugh)

 

Harmon and Lula Schmelzenbach felt called to an area in Africa where no white missionaries had been allowed to go: Piggs Peak, where the Swazi Queen resided.

After they had been in the area for nearly a year, the Swazi Queen finally agreed to let the Schmelzenbachs buy some land and build a mission. However, the local witch doctors warned the people that if they listened to the missionaries, that they would be cursed. Therefore, the people were afraid of Harmon Schmelzenbach and his family. One day, a group of African soldiers marched past the mission and approached the Queen about allowing them to push the missionaries off the land or even allowing them to kill the Schmelzenbachs. For reasons explainable only by divine providence, the soldiers were told that they could not do anything to harm the missionaries. Later these same men became very good friends of Harmon Schmelzenbach.

Eventually small groups of people were converted, starting with the women whose husbands would allow them to make their own decisions for their souls, and eventually some young men. In 1923, a great revival grew out of a passionate vision God had given to an African pastor. 7 years of faithful living and prayer before a single convert was made! 1907-1914

 

Look, once again, God not only does the IMPOSSIBLE in the lives of the Schmelzenbachs, but because of their faithfulness, their connection to God, and life of prayer, it changed the lives of over 700.000 people and several generations!  

 

This call to a life of prayer is for all of us here today.  Let me be clear—we don’t pray SO THAT God will act in mighty ways.  No, that’s back to the vending machine idea.  In fact, Eugene Peterson-- “Prayers are tools not for doing or getting but for being and becoming.”

 

Our call is to be so deeply connected to God through a life of prayer that we become the people God calls us to be.  We live a life of prayer so that we are people who know God, love God, and live like God calls us to.  In living a life of prayer, we are connected to God so that in the good, we are celebrating with God and giving him the praise and thanks for what he’s done.  And, when we face the bad—the broken relationships, impossible situations, the walls and the giants that seem to big, when we feel like we’re in the fiery furnace or facing lions—no matter what, we will already be in a posture where God will know what we need—and we’ll be postured in a way that God can move in a mighty way as he continues to do the IMPOSSIBLE in our lives. 

 

Prayer isn’t about the words we say.  Instead, it has everything to do with the ONE who hears them.  May prayer not just be an activity we participate in, but rather that it really would be a way of life.  

SONG:

Song for prayer response with prayer team.  

Pray and then sing song together.