The Song of a Broom
The Song of a Broom
Sunday school pictures of a ruddy faced lad in a lions' den have scant resemblance to the actual situation described in this sixth and last chapter of Daniel's life story. Daniel was more than 90 years old when these events unfolded. You might think he had earned a little rest and relaxation for those "retirement" years, but God still was using the faithful prophet. Age apparently is no barrier to spiritual usefulness. In Daniel's case, glorious gospel truths that have been building through the chapters describing his life in Babylon reach their climax.
As we come to the end of what is Act One in the Book of Daniel (chapters 1-6 describing Daniel's life), it's helpful to review the key images or events that play a pivotal role in piecing together the gospel message of Daniel.
In chapter one, Daniel and his friends were kept healthy on a dangerous diet of vegetable soup, as God communicated to his people, "I remember you." In chapter two, Nebuchadnezzar's multi-layered statue was displaced by a heavenly Rock, as God assures his people, "I will rescue you." In chapter three, one "like a son of the gods" appears with Daniel's friends in a fiery furnace to demonstrate God's Immanuel principle: "I am right here with you." In chapter four, Nebuchadnezzar's restoration from animal-like insanity communicates God's vital message to his own idolatrous people: "I restore the humble." In an important but gracious contrast, chapter five reveals the writing on the wall that humbles an arrogant King Belshazzar and discloses God's loving warning of judgment to all people in all times: "I remove the proud."
Now as we come to this concluding chapter of the biographical portions of the Book of Daniel, the final brick in the foundation of Daniel's gospel message gets laid, preparing us for the glorious prophecies of God's future work in the chapters that remain. What is the final gospel truth that a loving God will unveil in this chapter? It is not complicated. The Lord allows the aged Daniel to face his greatest challenge in a lion's den to say to his people then and to us now: "Trust me."
Here is how that message unfolds: A new king reigned over Babylon. Darius the Mede was the conquering ruler who, like the Babylonian kings before him, recognized the wisdom of Daniel. Darius selected the aging prophet for his cabinet. Daniel became one of only three administrators who governed Babylon. But Daniel's new rise to power was still incomplete. Daniel so excelled at his cabinet post that the king decided to put him solely in charge of the whole Babylonian government.
Other cabinet members and lesser officials were not pleased. They tried to dig up some dirt to ruin Daniel. But he was too honest. No trumped up charge would stick. Then the growing jealousy of the evil officials mutated into a warped ingenuity. "Let's use Daniel's religious convictions to trap him," they plotted. The officials appealed to the pagan king's pride. "O King," they said, "you are so great; no one should pray to anyone but you. It is actually an insult for anyone to recognize any being greater than your magnificence. Why not issue a royal decree, which cannot be challenged or altered, which will punish anyone who would insult your greatness by praying to anyone but you?"
The king's pride trapped him. He ordered the lions' den for those who would pray to any god but him. Little did the king know of the fate his pride had determined for his friend, Daniel. The decree was issued. The lions' appetite whetted. And Daniel faced his greatest trial yet.
The song of a broom
Four more days and she would be seventeen. It would be her father's birthday, too, but this year there would be no party. America was mired in the Great Depression, and her father was dying. Instead of gathering presents, the family (a mom and seven children) gathered around a rickety bed and prayed over the sound of his labored breathing.
On the day of the funeral, the girl's mother, with her seven children, trudged through the mud to a simple grave. A small crowd of women friends also came, the men could not or would not afford the time off work. The teenage girl, who could only find work as a maid, had to borrow a dress for the occasion. When the family went home, she carefully folded it smooth and lay next to it on her bed.
A sense of desolation seemed to crush her. It was over—not just the funeral, but everything was over. Seven kids, no real income, the house so heavily mortgaged it would not be theirs for long. She was old enough to know these things and to despair because of them. Even the silence of the room seemed to weigh on her and choke hope out of her.
And then she heard it. Breaking the oppressive silence came the tentative whisk-whisk of a broom on the kitchen floor. Then the sound came again, more determined this time: Whisk-Whisk. Her mother who had not spoken for three days was re-assuming her household duties. The broom went whisk-whisk, and the sound said more than her mother could voice: "Life goes on. All is not lost. We have trusted the Lord and still we will. We will press on and live again." Later, in her diary, the girl would write how powerful was the gentle sound of her mother taking up that simple household task in kindling new hope and faith in the child's heart:
The world is not entirely fallen in, all is not lost, there is hope, life will go on—all of this was said in the sound of a broom, which indicated there were still things worth doing. Her mother was pressing on. The assumption of the duties of everyday life was itself an expression of a faith that there was a future. In the gentle rhythm of the broom came a song of hope and triumph over trial. Whisk-whisk went the broom and in the repeat of each stroke and counter-sweep it whispered, "trust and live, trust and live."
It was enough. The girl rose from the bed ready to take up her own tasks and resume her life with new courage and hope. Many difficulties still lay ahead. The tragedy had not vanished. She would face more tragedy later in life. Far away in future days, a primitive people in South America would kill her missionary husband, Jim Elliot, leaving her—like her mother—alone to raise children. But never again would life be empty, hopeless, or purposeless. All the What shall we do? and What comes next? questions had been answered in the faith song of her mother's broom: "Trust and live, trust and live." Many times in life she would recall that song and sing it in her heart to reclaim the hope and courage needed for the challenges of a new day.
This retelling of missionary Elisabeth Elliot's teenage experience seems to capture many of the truths of this final chapter of Daniel's biography. The attitudes and actions that lead the prophet from trial to triumph echo in the broom's song. These same truths are meant to lead us from difficulty to victory in our lives. We cry out in our anguish, "O God, tell me what to do. What do you expect of me?" Against such adversity that threatens to crush faith and life from us, the Bible provides the calming echo of a prophet's broom. He sweeps away the confusion of our circumstances and the complexity of our questions with this gentle reminder: "Trust and live."
The signs of trust
The most evident sign of Daniel's trust is his faithful prayer. When the decree comes forbidding prayer upon pain of horrible death, Daniel does as he had always done. "Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before" (6:10). When devotion seemed only to promote disaster, Daniel remained faithful. His prayer was public, as a testimony to others of his faith. His prayer was also persistent. We should remember Daniel encouraged similar prayer at an earlier phase of his life in the face of Nebuchadnezzar's threats (2:18). From his youth to old age, in crises and out of crises, Daniel prayed. In addition, Daniel's prayer included thanksgiving. So much does he trust his God that he gives thanks for the grace surrounding him, despite the crisis that now envelops him. It is almost as though Daniel has already read the words the Apostle Paul will write in a future century: "In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" (Philippians 4:6). Daniel did not question whether praying was the wisest course of action or whether the probable consequences outweighed God's requirements. He simply turned to God in trust as he always had.
Daniel's prayer in the face of threat is so obvious a sign of trust that we may miss something else that is also evident. We should remember why Daniel is being set-up by his detractors. He has lived with integrity and applied his gifts of insight and management with excellence for the sake of the land his people inhabit (6:3). Knowingly or unknowingly, he has honored the previous instruction of the prophet Jeremiah. At the beginning of Israel's captivity, Jeremiah urged the captives to seek the welfare of the city of their captors (29:7).
Jeremiah's instruction and Daniel's example have embroiled God's people in ethical discussions ever since. How can God ask us to work for the good of those who stand in opposition to him, and what are the limits of such work? The answers can be complex, but the principle is not. We are to bring the righteousness, grace, and rule of our God to all dimensions of our lives. Paul writes, "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31). The world—even the enemies of our God (which we once were)—must know his nature and his heart by our reflection of his wisdom and character in all places: where we live, where we work, and, even, where we struggle.
We live to reflect our God and to reclaim the world that he is redeeming for his own glory. Daniel showed his dedication to his God by doing his very best to exemplify God's standards in his occupation, as well as in his religious duties. He trusted God enough to serve him in secular endeavors, as well as religious ones. He refused to recognize walls that would separate secular from sacred obligations, demonstrating that he would trust God enough to serve him in every context of life.
The sign of Daniel's trust was not merely a valiant stand in a crisis but a life of dedication exhibited across decades, before a succession of empires, and without the support of his own people. His was the kind of life an author has described as "a long obedience in the same direction." His trust was evident in a path of godly service that extended in every context over a lifetime. Perhaps such prayer and dedication on the part of Daniel strikes us as neither significant nor relevant to ordinary Christians like us. After all, Daniel was a prophet—a super saint. He was supposed to be incredibly committed. But stereotyping this man's trust with such a "super spiritual" label actually ruins his testimony. By making Daniel's trust unrealistic, we rob ourselves of the help we need when reality makes such trust seem impossible.
The tests of trust
Bible teachers often refer to Daniel as one of the great "success" stories of the Scriptures. Such a perspective results from a very selective gathering of facts from the prophet's life. A more honest weighing of all the facts will cause us to speak less of "Daniel the Great" and more of "Daniel the Tested." No victory lasts. No triumph makes more than the most fleeting of spiritual impressions on his history, culture, or circumstances. As far as Daniel knew, his life had been spent in fruitlessness.
Daniel ministered in this pagan land for most of a century, and what did he have to show for it? Almost nothing. The account says that "all" the officials of the king turned against Daniel, and King Darius himself was willing to endorse their idolatry of himself (6:7). The people of this land were no more believing in Daniel's God than when the prophet entered the land as a young man. No spiritual awakening was recorded to have swept the land during his long life. Babylon was unchanged. Though some kings listened to him, their successors did not. Kings and kingdoms had come and gone, but still the rulers were idolatrous, wicked, and cruel.
Daniel's positions and influence seemed to come and go with purposeless frequency. Yes, he had offered a lifetime of honest administration and godly counsel in government service, but what was his reward? For all his wisdom, integrity, and faithfulness, Daniel is an old man facing the jealousy of peers, the idolatrous arrogance of a king, and a death sentence in a lions' den.
Still, all the trials could be considered worth the suffering and disappointment if there was some evidence of the fruit of his ministry among Daniel's own people. But there was no fruit. Not only was Babylon unchanged, Israel seemed unchanged. There is no uprising to rescue him, and no crowd petitions the king to save their prophet. Daniel is the only one mentioned who still prays to his God in the face of the king's edict.
Daniel's life seems to have had little effect on the spiritual progress of his own people. No revival was recorded among them. No repentance sweeps through them. The chosen nation remained in captivity despite Daniel's political power, and their hearts seem similarly bound despite his prophetic ministry. When these "chosen people" returned to Israel after Daniel's death, their spiritual understanding had so eroded they could not even remember the language in which God's law was written, much less the standards and traditions it described.
Daniel trusted the Lord and served long, hard, and faithfully. But the only fruit of his faith is jealousy, accusation, and advancing years that make him too old to ever go back to his homeland. His circumstance could well justify his asking the question Leonardo de Vinci asked on his death bed: "Did I do anything?" For despite the intelligence and designs of the Renaissance man, very little actually resulted from his efforts within his lifetime. And, despite all these trials and failures, God called upon the aged Daniel to face yet another threat to his life and faith.
The full story of Daniel's life does not seem to inspire much trust. This is certainly not the "blessed" life prosperity preachers promise to crowds of people longing for easier lives and instant success. Yet, in Daniel's life we discover the contexts of reality that make trust in our God both difficult and precious.
In a church I pastored, there was an older man named Earl. He was one of those special men that pastors come to identify as foundation stones of the churches they serve. Pastors come and go. The church goes through triumphs and tragedies, disputes and wrangles, but the foundation stones stand firm, and the church stands because of them. Earl is a foundation stone of foundation stones. He has simply been there week in and week out, year after year, for more than three-quarters of a century. When pastors have erred (become too old or come too young), when sheep have wandered, when wolves have crept in and scattered the flock or attacked him personally, Earl has remained faithful to his duty. Wherever his gifts have been needed—whether for higher office or lower—he has served gladly and without complaint. When others who are less mature or jealous for the respect given him have slandered his name, Earl has responded with silence and compassion. He has simply and faithfully done his duty.
Yet, despite his great contributions to the life of the church, I recognize with sadness that Earl's own life contains much personal tragedy. He married late in life, not because he was not attractive or intelligent or lacked ability. Earl had more than his share of these qualities. He would have been considered "quite a catch" in his younger days. But Earl put aside his own interests and career as a young man to take care of the family farm for his ailing parents. He spent his early years taking care of their waning years. Eventually, after his parents died of prolonged illnesses, Earl married and raised his family in a modest lifestyle provided by the small farm that had consumed his early career opportunities and adult life.
In his later years, however, it seemed as though Earl's sacrifices might finally pay off. The local coal industry was booming and his farm lay right over a huge vein of coal. A mining company began to work the vein on an adjacent property and the value of Earl's land skyrocketed. The coal company offered Earl a premium price for his entire farm. Earl sold his land. For the first time in his life he now knew financial security and success. But it was the nature of the man to sacrifice for others, so, again, he sacrificed. After buying another home for himself, he purchased homes for the children he loved. There was still money left over, and, wanting to protect his future, Earl wisely invested in home-building in the booming local economy. He built quality homes—homes characteristic of the man.
But no one knew that the boom was about to go bust. The most prudent investments would soon look very foolish. Changing federal pollution standards would soon make the soft, high-sulphur coal of the region extremely difficult to market. The marketing difficulties put many miners out of work. The coal boom never happened. Instead of needing new homes to house the anticipated influx of new mining families, the housing market was flooded with the older homes of families departing the region. Besides the mining decline, the rural economy experienced the double whammy of the national farm crisis. Family after family went bankrupt and moved away. Earl's quality homes did not have a chance of selling.
He went broke. Earl not only lost the money invested in the new homes, he lost his own home and his children's homes. No one ever would know fully how painful all of this personal tragedy was for Earl. He never said, and he never complained. But Sunday after Sunday I watched Earl as any pastor does a man whom he loves and respects but who is suffering. I learned to read what was behind the firm handshake and jovial greeting. Somewhere deep in those eyes, always full of compassion for others, were hints of frustration and pain. Those eyes confessed, "All I have done has been frustrated. I have lost the family farm, the money from it, my home, and my children's security. All I have done all my life is fail and fail and fail."
What did Earl do in the face of his great personal tragedy? He just did his duty. He remained a foundation stone. When the unscrupulous offered him quick ways out of his financial difficulties, he maintained his integrity. When the church was being racked by the tensions and transitions created by the devastation of the local economy, Earl was steady and faithful in his support of the Lord's work. The temptations came to give in to bitterness, fear, and pessimism, but Earl never wavered from godliness. In those difficult years, I believe we remained a church more because of Earl's commitment to duty, than because of any pastoral effort or financial plan or building program. He remained solid, and as a result, we kept standing.
Perhaps, to some, Earl's duty seems foolish and fruitless, especially in the light of his own personal difficulties. But I know better. Because of his faithfulness during his losses, our church survived. Earl became more than a foundation stone; he became a beacon of hope and Christian maturity for younger men in our congregation who also were losing jobs and homes. They lost a great deal, but with Earl's example and encouragement, they did not lose faith. From that church eight young people have now gone to seminary to train for ministry. And this young pastor now teaches at that seminary, in part because of supposed successes he experienced in that church (though this young pastor knows who truly provided the stability to make the successes possible). The lives of all these young men in ministry will literally touch hundreds, perhaps thousands, and many will come to know Jesus as a result. Earl would have gladly given up all he lost—and more—if only one person would commit his life to Jesus Christ as a result. Instead, thousands have lived for Christ as a result of Earl's faithfulness.
Earl never saw the spiritual fruit of his labors, but he trusted that his God would bring the fruit when the time was right. Such trust in the face of events that test our faith has always been the driving force behind the greatest of spiritual movements. That is why Martin Luther wrote these words:
Though this world, with devils filled should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear for God has willed his truth to triumph through us.
Through the faithfulness of his people, God determines to overcome the dark forces of this world. Our trust does not eradicate all present trials, but when we believe tears of today will be dried by triumphs of tomorrow, we will find the strength to live for our God. Frustration and tragedy may still come, but they cannot overwhelm the purposes of our God or the usefulness of our lives when we continue in the duties he sets before us. For these reasons, the account of Daniel in the lions' den not only encourages us to trust in God, but to live for him.
Live with courage.
Because he trusted in his Lord, Daniel was able to live for God in a great variety of circumstances. The circumstances that climax his life and most capture our hearts are those that require great courage. We should recognize that these accounts are recorded precisely for this purpose. Through Daniel's example, the Bible inspires us to live with courage when circumstances and threats tempt us to compromise. Theological sensitivity should keep us from praising Daniel's courage apart from the God who granted it, but the scruples that keep us from aspiring to Daniel's heroism are mistaken. Our trust in God should fill us with the courage to live for him.
Daniel knew the consequences of his prayers. The prophet knew that his commitment to his God would cost him everything: his respect, his position, his life. Still, he continued his spiritual disciplines. Devotion to God trumped personal safety. In contexts where the greatest consequence of spiritual devotion is the ridicule of family or friends, we may forget the costs that others have paid for their faith or that may be required of us if Christ is really about more than the promotion of our personal gain. What would it mean for us to join the ranks of those 19th century missionaries who packed their belongings in coffins before sailing to Africa because they expected to give their lives for God? What would it mean for us to lose all respect in the eyes of peers because we gave our careers for the lives of those abandoned to shame, like Amy Carmichael, who fought for the lives of children forced into temple prostitution in India during the Victorian Era, when her mission was scandalous to mention in churches? In an era where the sex trade and sexual slavery is the greatest in world history, the question is worth asking of today's Christian leaders.
Those of you who are called to preach should not forget that you may also be called to risk everything. The nation of Canada has made the biblical discussion of homosexuality outlawed hate speech. As the United States polarizes over politics, expectations of what preachers should or should not say in the pulpit also increasingly raises emotions and costs careers. And as our culture pluralizes, calls for tolerance make preaching the uniqueness of salvation in Jesus Christ the one thing increasingly not tolerated. Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda has warned us that one of the most dangerous things to the American Church is that we have ceased to believe in evil and therefore have become blind to its real threats.
I know that as you sit here, you can resolve to make a difference. And you may really mean it. But you are not really ready to live with courage if your only resolution is to live for the Lord even if it costs you everything. Daniel is teaching us something even harder. We are being called to live for the Lord not only when it costs us everything, but also when it changes nothing.
Daniel's faithfulness to duty was challenged by more than personal tragedy. Not everyone can identify with the internal struggles that must have confronted Daniel, but we can all identify with him in his struggle against external forces of evil about him. Daniel did his duty in the face of great institutional sin. Consider how imposing the forces with which he contended were. He was alone in his stand of faith against all the other advisers of the king. The law—the unchangeable decree of the Medes and Persians—opposed Daniel. Even the king had no power to alter this law. Injustice ruled. Idolatry dominated. Israel remained in powerless captivity. And there is no record of thousands of his countrymen rising to give him support. What could one man do against such overwhelming institutional and national evil? What would it matter for one person to take a stand against an entire nation, culture, and tradition of godlessness? Who would even care if Daniel did his personal duty to God? So if duty made no difference, why do it?
Do you recognize the temptation Daniel faced? It is the temptation that argues that because it will make no difference what I do, it does not matter what I do. It is the game children play with their parents (and adults play with God) when we want to get away with what we know is wrong. A young teenager asks his parents about going to see a movie with questionable content. His mother replies, "No, John, you know we don't support that kind of entertainment." What's John's likely reply? "Aw, c'mon, Mom. They're not going to close down the theater just because we don't go." What is the implicit argument? Because it will make no difference, it does not matter.
Adults use the same argument. We say to ourselves, Because this product or practice or stand for integrity and justice will make no difference, it does not matter. Since what I do will affect nothing, there is no duty required. Such reasoning leads countless people in lockstep into desperation.
What does each of the following organizations or people have in common? Enron, AIG, Freddie Mac, Goldman-Sachs, Martha Stewart, Inc., the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Atlanta Falcons, Lehman Brothers, Toyota, the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, the National Baptist Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church in America, the Illinois Governor, David Letterman, Arthur Anderson, Abu Ghraib Prison, Pat Tillman. If you tire of reading this list, recognize it could be much longer. As diverse as the individuals or organizations in the list may seem, they actually share something in common. Each person or institution cited gained notoriety in the national news as either a party to, or a victim of, scandal. People determined to allow or do what they knew was wrong because they believed such wrongdoing was common and their objection would make no difference.
Daniel teaches us that duty remains even when sin seems unaffected by it. Even when the sin is so large that our efforts to oppose it seem meaningless, God requires our faithfulness. The sin may be so large and powerful that to oppose it places us in positions of ridicule and personal jeopardy. Still, God says to stand our ground and live for him.
The Book of Daniel is as much about courage in the face of overwhelming odds as it is about divine rescue. In fact, it is about the importance and worth of courage because of divine rescue. If all I was to tell you would be that a grace message will be warmly received, causing your church and your reputation to flourish, I would betray you. Some of you will go to hard places where the church will not thrive, where the community will oppose you, where your family will question you, where you will feel alone, and where you will wonder if there is any obligation, because your life seems to make no difference. For such times and places, Daniel is a great grace. He is God's provision of hope—the message that individual lives can make a difference in difficult places.
We who will face ministry in difficult places and who wonder if the evil is too great ever to turn back should remember that Daniel was not the last of a faithful clan who gave themselves to God's purposes when it seemed no purpose would be served. When it seemed as though a culture could never be retrieved, the Lord called a man named Timothy Dwight to Yale College in 1795. The awakenings experienced under his grandfather, Jonathan Edwards, were long forgotten. Yale had come under the influence of the French Enlightenment and the students' heroes were not Peter and Paul, but Voltaire and Rousseau. The school once founded to be a Christian institution was known not only for drunkenness and infidelity but for its vehement opposition to all things related to Christ. Lyman Beecher reported that Christian students identified themselves to one another with secret notes, because it was dangerous to be known as a believer. Into this hotbed of French philosophy and Christian apathy, Timothy Dwight began to preach and teach on the trustworthiness of Scripture. He stayed on this same subject for six months. The result was first ridicule, then rage, and then revival. When he courageously put position and prestige on the line even when it seemed that the stand would cost him everything and change nothing, the Lord changed everything.
Live in hope.
Believing that the Lord can change everything through us, beyond us, or after us is what should keep us living courageously, because we are living in hope—the confidence that our God will fulfill purposes through us if we will stand for him.
One family vacation, we visited the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. The dunes in this park are not mere sand piles. These shifting mountains climb as high as 900 feet and run for miles as a result of wind-driven sand funneled through a great mountain pass. Through the dunes runs a river—a tributary of the Rio Grande. The water of the river is dispersed by the quantity of sand into so many rivulets that the entire river broadens and shallows out to wading depth. Even our children could walk across this river. They loved the giant, fast-flowing wading pool. When Jordan was only three- or four-years old, he particularly enjoyed standing firm in one of the rivulets against the current that threatened to bowl him over. It was laughable to watch—a child trying to hold back a river. Yet, a minor miracle occurred whenever our son stood his ground. When Jordan would stand firm, the sand in the current would begin to pile up against him. The sand would gather at his feet and then heap up around his knees and, eventually, the river would go around him. When the child stood his ground, the river was turned away.
Our society's sin can seem like a river that threatens to overwhelm God's children. Perhaps the river that threatens you is a crisis of integrity, the pressures of immorality, or some other institutional sin. Perhaps the problem that is overwhelming you is on your job. The world says: Give in. The stand you take will make no difference. Why get yourself in trouble? Why sacrifice for nothing? God says: Dig in. Plant your feet firmly on my Word and let me triumph through you.
The trials may be at school, at work, or in your own family where others are pressuring you to abandon your stand for the Lord. You may not be able to see any value or results from your stand. Still stand! We carve a piece of the kingdom of God out of this world whenever we claim any corner of it for him. God can use you to build his kingdom if you stand your ground, because you are never alone in your stand for him.
Notice how Scripture records the direction Daniel prayed during his daily devotions. Daniel prayed in "his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem" (6:10). Why did Daniel direct his prayer to the holy city of Israel? Was Jerusalem like Mecca—did you have to be facing the right direction or your prayers would not work? Did God stay in Jerusalem? No, of course Daniel did not believe that God, who had miraculously saved him time after time in Babylon, resided only in Jerusalem. Why, then, did Daniel focus on Jerusalem?
Remember that Daniel is a prophet. Following this final chapter of the prophet's life history are Daniel's amazing prophesies of the victories to come in Jerusalem. The captives from Israel will return to the holy city. Jerusalem will be restored, and from the former ruins will rise the Savior. This Savior will defeat forever the enemy who prowls the earth "like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). As Daniel did his duty, his physical eyes could see only ruin, despair, and danger. But, through the eyes of faith, Daniel saw much more. By focusing on Jerusalem he saw sure victory, future triumph, and certain hope. Through the eyes of hope, ruined Jerusalem shone yet as the great symbol of God's abiding faithfulness to those he would defend. Daniel was faithful before the threat of raging lions, because he trusted in the One who shuts the mouth of the great lion called Satan.
The sign of God's faithfulness that we all remember is Daniel's rescue from the lions. But the greater sign that proves the value of Daniel's hope for his nation and for us is almost hidden in the last words of this chapter. The chapter ends with these words, "So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and during the reign of Cyrus the Persian" (6:28). The name of the final ruler is most important because under this ruler the people of Israel began to return to their homeland. And because they returned to Israel, ultimately a child would be born in the city of David who would be Christ, our Lord. Daniel's influence and God's promise finally were fulfilled according to the hope Daniel maintained into his old age.
The message to Daniel's people and to us is that our hope in God is not misplaced. Though we may have to wait to see the results of our faithfulness—and may never see them until we are with him—our God will accomplish his purposes. So we trust him and live for him. Because we know that God shut the mouths of lions for Daniel and subsequently, shut the mouth of the raging lion who seeks to devour us, we trust our Savior and live for him. We always live in the hope of the ultimate and eternal victory he will provide for us.
Like a steel locomotive hurtling through history, the gospel progresses on the timeline God has designed to rescue his people. Institutions may fail to reflect him, empires may conspire to oppose him, and his own people may fail him, but the gospel prevails as God has designed. Pastor Wyatt George of Carbondale, Illinois, tells of an amazing Christmas card he received from retired missionary friends Vincent and Margaret Crossett. In the 1940s the Crossetts were missionaries in mainland China. They struggled against poverty and paganism in a remote village to tell others about Jesus. The work was slow and painstaking. Yet after much sacrifice, a small church (we might call it a simple Bible study) seemed almost established. But right on the threshold of this small triumph for the kingdom of God, Satan began his prowl. The communist Chinese government inaugurated the Cultural Revolution of 1948-49. All foreign missionaries were forced to leave the country.
The Crossetts hated to leave. Their fledgling flock of believers hardly seemed ready to stand the coming onslaught. An atheistic, dictatorial government dedicated to wiping out all Christian influence began its rule with ruthless power. How could the little church survive? The situation seemed impossible. What could the Crossetts do? From a worldly perspective, there was nothing to do. The church appeared destined for extinction. But the Crossetts do not see as the world sees. They saw no reason to despair, because, through eyes of faith, they saw a God who is faithful to those who honor him.
The Crossetts continued to do their duty. Yes, the walls of China went up, and the missionaries were closed out—but not their prayers. For nearly forty years, the Crossetts daily kept their prayer windows opened toward China. They did their duty in the faith that God could triumph, though an institution of sin had swept the land like a mighty river. The Crossetts heard nothing and knew nothing of their friends for four decades, but still they dutifully prayed for God to be victorious in the church they left behind.
Finally, the walls of China came down again. As the political climate changed, this ancient, eastern land again opened to the West. The Crossetts returned. They hastened to the village where they had left the tiny, struggling group of believers. There was no small church in the village anymore. Instead, from that Bible study had grown a church of 4,000 people. This church had spawned other churches. In the surrounding region nearly a dozen churches, each with a membership of no less than a thousand people, had sprung up. All the Crossetts did was pray; it was all they could do. But with their faith and duty God triumphed. He turned back the flood of evil. He shut the lions' mouths. The God of Daniel is alive and well. The victories of God are as near as faith and duty.
Oh, Christian, what are you facing today? Is it sin around you or in you that is so great that you cannot see the sense of fighting it? Fight it. Stand your ground. Do what is right, and let God take care of the rest. He can and he will, because in his time and for his glory, God shuts lions' mouths. There may be so much wrong—so much upheaval and confusion—that you wonder what to do. And, even if you know what to do, you may wonder, What's the use? You think nothing could change your boss or your marriage or your circumstances. Things can appear to be such a mess that there seems to be no chance of ever straightening them out. But, however confusing the circumstances, God still explains clearly what he expects.
We cry out in anguish, "What do you want from me, God? Surely you have some new answers for this mess. Tell me what you want me to do." God answers. He is speaking now, softly and gently. Listen: Whisk-Whisk.
No matter the trial, God asks you to listen to the sound of a broom, a broom called Daniel. That broom is sweeping away all the clutter of our situations and the confusion of our questions. Do you hear it? The broom whispers, Whisk-Whisk. It calls, Trust and live. Trust your Lord and live for him. He does not ask you to solve the problem. He simply sweeps clean the path to his purpose. His promise rings: mercy and victory. These promises are forever. So, trust and live.
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?
Bryan Chapell is the senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois.