Rico Tice is one of the founders of the Christianity Explored course. On one occasion he went to visit a friend of his who was dying of cancer. As they talked curiosity got the better of him and he blurted out, 'Spencer, what is it like to die?' (He says that he regretted his words the instant they came out of his mouth).
Spencer simply replied, 'Rico, Christ is risen!' The fact that Jesus had conquered death and promises eternal life to his people meant that death has lost its sting.
As we look at this chapter from Daniel I want us to see that this is a resurrection story. Daniel emerging from the place of death causes us to think of Jesus coming out of the tomb. Hope in resurrection helps us die well, like Spencer, and live well, like Daniel.
Daniel - a man of integrity and prayer
We first met Daniel when he was in his teens. The Babylonians, who were the superpower of the time, had conquered Jerusalem and taken many of its citizens into exile. Daniel faithfully served in the Babylonian government for seventy years. Then the Persians replaced the Babylonians as the superpower. Now Daniel is in his eighties and serving the Persians.
King Darius of Persia has made Daniel one of three officials who oversee the satraps (regional governors). He is so capable and diligent at this task that the king plans to give Daniel control over the whole kingdom. This provokes the jealousy of his colleagues. So they put together a plot to trap him. Daniel may be loyal to the king but he has a greater loyalty to God.
So they go to the king and say, 'make a rule that anyone who prayers to any god other than you over the next thirty days will be fed to the lions.' It seems a good idea to the king, after all it will have the effect of rallying his new subjects around him. The king signs this injunction into irrevocable law.
Off hand I can't think of any situation in our country where obeying the law would conflict with obeying God. Indeed, it is only in very rare situations where Christians are called to civil disobedience. But I can think of many situations where standing for Christ will annoy your boss. 'Tell them I'm not in', 'don't run that transaction through the books', 'talk the product up'; but we are guided by the Spirit of truth.
Daniel cannot forgo his prayer life to obey Darius. Indeed, look at Daniel's prayer life. He prays three times a day on his knees facing Jerusalem. This is not like the Muslim rule about praying three times a day facing Mecca. There was no rule that stated that Daniel had to pray this way. But Daniel was a man who developed healthy prayer habits.
I am not into rules for prayer. At their worst made up rules make us self-righteous. But prayer habits are healthy. So why does Daniel pray three times a day? He prays three times a day because that centres his day in prayer. No doubt he brings the day before God as he begins the morning, looking ahead to what faces him and acknowledging his dependence on God. No doubt he ends the day thanking God for his strength and seeking God's forgiveness for the ways in which he let God down. He also remembers God in the middle of the day and focuses his mind in praise of God.
Why would be kneel as he prays? There is no rule that says we have to adopt any posture for prayer. But kneeling was what you did before a king. God is our Father, we can call him Abba (like daddy), but he is also our king and worthy of reverence and awe.
Why does he face Jerusalem? He faces Jerusalem because he knows that God will establish his messiah in Jerusalem. Until that messiah comes God has not finished with that city. The coming of that Messiah is his hope. He prays to a God who is involved in history. Likewise, as we pray, we must not forget the messiah Daniel looked forward to. We approach God with confidence because of his cross, we have been invited to ask in his name, and we look forward to his return.
Jesus - a man of integrity and prayer
I want us to see Jesus when we read through the Old Testament. One of the ways the Old Testament prepares us for Jesus is through the patterns set by the leaders and heroes that God gives. When those leaders act in a godly way we are reminded that the messiah that is to come would be perfect. But the Old Testament also shows God's leaders failing. When we see them fail we realise that the perfect leader was yet to come. Unlike many of God's Old Testament heroes we don't hear of Daniel's failings, but he was a flawed person like us all.
Daniel points to Christ in being a man of integrity and prayer. Like Jesus he was willing to go against the flow. Like Jesus he made his stand. Like Jesus he was prepared to face death in order to honour God. We read that Jesus had healthy prayer habits too. Jesus knew the need of getting far from the maddening crowd to pray. 'Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed' (Mark 1:35). It doesn't have to be in the morning, but find sometime when you can pray on your own. Jesus also knew the importance of praying before important decisions and events - so we read of how he spent considerable prayer before choosing his disciples and before facing the cross.
There is one other way that I believe that this passage points to Jesus and his mission. Daniel is willing to face death out of loyalty to God. So was Jesus. But, unlike Jesus, Daniel did not have to die. The angel closed the mouths' of the lions. As Daniel emerges from the lions' den the picture looks like a resurrection. Jesus also emerged from the pit unharmed. Daniel's resurrection led to people praising Daniel's God. We praise the God of the risen Son.
“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.”
This is a resurrection story. As Daniel emerges from the place of death our minds are brought to the Saviour who comes out of a tomb. That risen Saviour promises that his people will also be raised from the grave. That is a fact that not only helps us die well, it helps us live well too. It helps us remain faithful, even when people want us to compromise, to realise that this world and its rewards are not all we have to look forward to. Indeed the resurrection of Jesus delights our hearts for it tells us that our sins have been paid for and our hope is sure.
There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me.