June 7, 2024
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Commitment in Exile Manuscript

SERMON TITLE: Commitment in Exile
‌TEXT: Daniel 6:1-28 (NLT)
‌SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
‌DATE: 6-9-24

Take notes here

WELCOME

As always it’s a joy to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And there’s one thing I want you to know — and this is true if you’re worshiping with us for the first time — are joining us at our North Main Campus or are with our friends in Bucyrus — I want you to know that God loves you and that I love you too.

SERIES INTRO

After a week off — we’re returning to our series in the book of Daniel today— looking at what it means to live in exile. And — we have quite a bit to cover — so let’s turn to our text, read it, and see what we can learn from a moment in Daniel’s life that I’m guessing — Christian or not — you’re probably familiar with. We’ll be in Daniel chapter six — beginning in verse one.

Daniel 6:1–28 (NLT)
1 Darius the Mede decided to divide the kingdom into 120 provinces, and he appointed a high officer to rule over each province. 2 The king also chose Daniel and two others as administrators to supervise the high officers and protect the king’s interests. 3 Daniel soon proved himself more capable than all the other administrators and high officers. Because of Daniel’s great ability, the king made plans to place him over the entire empire. 4 Then the other administrators and high officers began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling government affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize or condemn. He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy. 5 So they concluded, “Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.” 6 So the administrators and high officers went to the king and said, “Long live King Darius! 7 We are all in agreement — we administrators, officials, high officers, advisers, and governors — that the king should make a law that will be strictly enforced. Give orders that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human — except to you, Your Majesty — will be thrown into the den of lions. 8 And now, Your Majesty, issue and sign this law so it cannot be changed, an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.” 9 So King Darius signed the law. 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. 11 Then the officials went together to Daniel’s house and found him praying and asking for God’s help. 12 So they went straight to the king and reminded him about his law. “Did you not sign a law that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human — except to you, Your Majesty — will be thrown into the den of lions?” “Yes,” the king replied, “that decision stands; it is an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.” 13 Then they told the king, “That man Daniel, one of the captives from Judah, is ignoring you and your law. He still prays to his God three times a day.” 14 Hearing this, the king was deeply troubled, and he tried to think of a way to save Daniel. He spent the rest of the day looking for a way to get Daniel out of this predicament. 15 In the evening the men went together to the king and said, “Your Majesty, you know that according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, no law that the king signs can be changed.” 16 So at last the king gave orders for Daniel to be arrested and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to him, “May your God, whom you serve so faithfully, rescue you.” 17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den. The king sealed the stone with his own royal seal and the seals of his nobles, so that no one could rescue Daniel. 18 Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night fasting. He refused his usual entertainment and couldn’t sleep at all that night. 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.

INTRODUCTION

As I said — a familiar moment in Daniel’s life — but I do wonder if we’ve made a mistake in the title we give this story — Daniel and the Lion’s Den. I like Daniel and the Angel’s Den better — as the angel — not the lions — plays a more significant role in Daniel’s story. But I’m guessing that tradition will keep all of us — including me — calling this moment Daniel and the Lion’s Den.

Now — if you experienced a bit of deja vu — if this story felt eerily familiar to you — even if you wouldn’t consider yourself to be a Bible scholar — the reason is most likely due to how similar this moment in Daniel’s life is to what his three friends experienced back in chapter three with the fiery furnace. Daniel’s friends were forced to bow down to a statue or be thrown into a furnace — and they refused. Here — a decree’s been issued where only prayers to the king can be made or you’ll be thrown into a different pit — not a furnace — but a lion’s den — and this time it’s Daniel who refuses.

Let this remind us — we who follow Jesus — that in exile — we’ll experience opposition from those who disagree with our faith. This shouldn’t surprise us. Not even when this happens to us as we’re good citizens, productive employees, and kind to our neighbors. For this world is not our home — this nation is not where our primary citizenship lies — thus we should not be surprised when we experience opposition.

There are a few ways we can respond to this idea — of knowing that our faith in Jesus will result in us facing opposition. First, we can try to hide our faith — attempt to fly under the cultural radar. Adapting to culture as a means of avoiding opposition — even if it means compromising what you believe. And this is much easier to do than most of us are willing to admit. This is where you don’t agree with culture — like, for instance — the many different events that will happen to celebrate Pride month. But — it’s easier to throw a dollar in the donation bucket being passed around the office than it is to face the reaction if you don’t. It’s easier to say yes to the invitation rather than suffer the loss of a friendship. You don’t agree — but you go along anyway — often out of fear — hiding what you really believe — or maybe hiding what you wished you really believed.

Another option is to adopt the values of this land of exile — something many self-identified Christians have done. I’m an equal opportunity offender — and since I just used Pride month as an example — let’s consider something else this land of exile uses to get us to compromise our faith. Let’s talk about how we’ve adopted this land of exile’s addiction to our phones. We say that “phones are neutral tools that can be used for good or ill” and other noble sounding statements — but then we — I’m talking to Christians, but this is a universal behavior that all of us are caught up in — we all say we’re not addicted to our phones while we sit at the dinner table with our family or friends and can’t stop staring at our screens. Or we come to church or go to our Life Group — and while the preacher’s preaching — or while the someone in our small group is sharing — we’re “multitasking” — supposedly listening but — in reality — we’re completely checked out because we’re scrolling on our phones.

A couple of months ago I decided to try something radical — and no — I didn’t get rid of my phone — I just deleted all of the fun and distracting apps off of it. No YouTube. No internet browser. And — you know what I discovered? You can only look at the weather app so many times before you’re bored with your phone — it’s amazing — and — there’s a constant temptation to put those apps back on my phone. I dare you to prove what you’re thinking right now — which is — “I’m not addicted to my phone like you are, Josh.” OK. Delete all the fun stuff off of it then. “Well, I don’t want to be extreme or anything. I can manage my phone usage just fine.”

Ask your family. Or the person who sits behind you at church and sees you scrolling on your phone during the sermon. Or the people in your Life Group — ask them if they feel like you care more about your phone than you do about them. Show someone your screen time — or whatever it’s called on an Android. I’m not asking you to share your bank account — just how much you look at your phone — why is that so offensive? And why would some of us rather show others our bank account than our screen time? Maybe because we’ve adopted a habit of this land of exile that isn’t good — that isn’t holy?

We can adapt, we can adopt, or we can resist. Some of what I just brought up is how we practice resistance in this land of exile. Again — I’m not anti-phone — I’m just against it being more important in our lives than our faith, family, and friends. And it’s way too common to hear Christians say, “I don’t have time to read my Bible” when their screen time would say otherwise.

But resistance requires us being committed to God and how he’s told us to live — even while we live in this land of exile. And this idea of resistance — through our commitment — comes from the key verse in our chapter — verse ten — which states…

Daniel 6:10 (NLT)
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 knew both what the land of exile demanded of him and what his commitment to God required of him — and he chose commitment to God regardless of the consequences. 

COMMITTED CITIZENS

Now — before we dismiss this as being an example of a “spiritual superhero” — something us regular followers of Jesus aren’t capable of doing — let’s remind ourselves of the situation Daniel found himself in. We’re back in verse one — where we see — according to one pastor — “for all his wisdom, integrity, and faithfulness Daniel reaped the jealousy of peers, the hatred of the ungodly, a plot against his life, and a death sentence in a lions’ den.” (Rodney Stortz)

Daniel 6:1–5 (NLT)
1
Darius the Mede decided to divide the kingdom into 120 provinces, and he appointed a high officer to rule over each province. 2 The king also chose Daniel and two others as administrators to supervise the high officers and protect the king’s interests. 3 Daniel soon proved himself more capable than all the other administrators and high officers. Because of Daniel’s great ability, the king made plans to place him over the entire empire. 4 Then the other administrators and high officers began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling government affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize or condemn. He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy. 5 So they concluded, “Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.”

Now — and this will be hard to fathom — but Daniel is somewhere around ninety years old at this point in his life. He’s been serving the kings of Babylon around seventy years. His homeland was conquered because of the sin of his people, he was brought in to serve the kings, his life has been under threat multiple times, and — now — after nothing but decades of faithful service — he’s still facing opposition. I don’t know about you — but it’s easy for me to think, “Doesn’t Daniel deserve a break? A little ‘R and R’ in his twilight years.” In many ways — all of Daniel’s life has been lived in a lion’s den — just now — the danger was a literal one.

Did you know that there’s no retiring out of being used by God? As one pastor has said about Daniel, “Age apparently is no barrier to spiritual usefulness.” (Bryan Chapell)

Though he’s faithfully served God and the kings of Babylon for decades — Daniel hasn’t allowed his age to excuse him from continuing to serve both God and the current king of his land of exile. From the early years of his life until the end — for we have no record that Daniel ever returns to his homeland — he faithfully serves in the land where God has placed him while recognizing that his primary commitment was always to God.

Since we’re nearing the end of Daniel’s life — I want you to consider what you might’ve thought — if you were him — about the meaning of success. Has Daniel’s life been successful? Here he is again — with his life being threatened — would you say that his commitment to God — while being a faithful citizen in this land of exile — would you say that his life has mattered — has it made a difference — has it been a success?

I bring this up because it’s common for people today — Christian or not — to want to make a difference. And — often — we want the difference we’ve made to be measurable in some tangible way. Here’s one way this often plays out in the life of a Christian. We come to faith in Christ, are on fire for him, want to make a difference, want our unbelieving family and friends to come to know and believe in Jesus, want there to be less injustice in the world, want to see orphans cared for, for love to spread, for peace to reign. And we start off believing that God will use us to make a difference. Individual Christians think this — churches think this — denominations think this. Making a difference becomes a measurement — if not the measurement — of success.

But then some years go by. Your family and friends still don’t believe. Injustice still goes on. Hate continues to spread. New wars begin. And — it’s common to start to wonder — “Am I making any difference?” Churches start to ask, “If our doors closed would our community even notice?” Denominations start to change the definition of success so they can still tell a story that encourages their members.

But here’s Daniel nearing the end of his life. His opponents even admit that he’s lived a life safe from criticism and condemnation. According to their view — his opponent’s view — he was faithful, responsible, and trustworthy. He’s a model Babylonian citizen and a committed follower of Yahweh. And he’s willing to follow his God even if it costs him his life. But the harder lesson that the end of Daniel’s life teaches us is the lesson of following God — even when doing so — seems to change nothing.

Something I’ve learned as a pastor — and this is something I try to bring up often when I mentor younger pastors — is the need for them to develop the characteristic of faithfully shepherding God’s church — and sticking with it — even sticking with a local congregation — when it seems like the net gain will be nothing. This land of exile calls this failure — and I want to acknowledge that it could very well be failure — on the pastor, on the local church, there may be many who contribute to it being a failure. But faithfulness as a pastor is no guarantee that anyone will come to faith in Christ, it’s no guarantee that anyone will be baptized, that anyone will become a new member of the church, that anyone will be reading their Bibles, or praying more, or serving or giving or showing up on Sundays. Yet these are the kinds of measurements of success that have our pastoral hearts. When the numbers go up — pastors get excited. When the numbers go down — pastors get depressed.

When the numbers go up — the congregation thinks the pastor’s doing a great job. When the numbers go down — the congregation wonders what’s wrong.

Again — if you were Daniel — around ninety years old — have been nothing but faithful to God and a committed citizen of the land in which you live — would you interpret this moment in your life — another group of folks out to get you — as a sign that your life has been a success?

I think the reason why this question is so hard to answer is because — though Daniel is no “superhero saint” — we realize that our commitment to God — compared to his — well — it doesn’t compare. I mean his opponents only have good things to say about him. There’s no, “Why is Daniel so judgmental of all of us who don’t believe in his God?” There’s no accusation against him — they don’t even try to make something up because they know his reputation is solid. So the only thing they can go after is his commitment to his God.

What would have to change in your life so that the only thing someone could bring up against you is your commitment to Jesus? Maybe that’s a bit overwhelming of a question for you — I know it is for me — so let’s make it a bit simpler.

If you claim to be a disciple of Jesus — someone who believes in him — what’s one thing in your life — right now — that needs to change so that it’s no longer an accusation used against you? Where — instead of it — you can start to sharpen your commitment to Jesus?

For example, maybe for your whole life people have brought up your anger or your pessimism or your neediness or overspending or overworking or cussing or — whatever it is that — in your mind — “people just need to get over” — when — in reality — and according to God’s Word — it’s actually an ungodly habit that needs to be replaced with a greater commitment to Jesus.

Daniel’s commitment to God was the reason why others were out to get him — and they knew that his commitment to God was the only way to get him. What a statement about Daniel by those who opposed him! What a statement this would be about us by those who oppose us — “it’s their commitment to their God — that’s the only way we’ll ever be able to stop them — we’ll have to go after their commitment to Jesus.”

COMMITTED WORSHIPERS

And now we turn to their plan and Daniel’s response. We’re in verse six.

Daniel 6:6–13 (NLT)
6
So the administrators and high officers went to the king and said, “Long live King Darius! 7 We are all in agreement — we administrators, officials, high officers, advisers, and governors — that the king should make a law that will be strictly enforced. Give orders that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human — except to you, Your Majesty — will be thrown into the den of lions. 8 And now, Your Majesty, issue and sign this law so it cannot be changed, an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.” 9 So King Darius signed the law. 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. 11 Then the officials went together to Daniel’s house and found him praying and asking for God’s help. 12 So they went straight to the king and reminded him about his law. “Did you not sign a law that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human — except to you, Your Majesty — will be thrown into the den of lions?” “Yes,” the king replied, “that decision stands; it is an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.” 13 Then they told the king, “That man Daniel, one of the captives from Judah, is ignoring you and your law. He still prays to his God three times a day.”

What a conniving plan they come up with — to force the citizens of the land to pray only to the king. Again — deja vu — of the golden statue and the citizens being forced to bow down and worship it. There was resistance then and Daniel resists now. Resistance to authority can be warranted — but the examples we have in Scripture show us that resistance is warranted only when what’s being resisted is an action that will force us to compromise our faith. And — to be clear — not our opinion or personal preferences about the faith — but — like what we’ve seen in Daniel — forced worship or forced prayer to something or someone other than our God.

I’m sure there was much — in the nation of Babylon — that Daniel disagreed with — and yet he found a way to live committed to his God without living in constant resistance against the authority of the land. And this is something we Christians can learn from him — as we often get all out of sorts — in our relationship with the governing authority of our nation — especially when that other political party is in charge. 

When to resist the government — and when not to — is something we usually don’t give much thought to until the government makes a decision we don’t like. Yet Daniel and his friends resisted only when the government forced them to worship or pray to something other than their God — they didn’t resist against every decision they didn’t like — only when the decision forced them to worship or pray to something other than their God. 

So — how about a little homework for the week? I’m going to give some examples that I’d love for you to think through this week — discuss these with your Life Group if you’re not on summer break. Some of these examples will be times when to resist the government — but not all of them will be — only some. And make sure you discuss these with your Bibles open and with a willingness to submit to God’s Word on the matter and not simply allow your opinion — political or otherwise — to dictate when you resist and when you don’t. 

And — no responses right now — please — just some scenarios for you to consider when to resist or when not to. If the government…

Required churches to display an American flag on stage and say the pledge of allegiance during our worship services. Resist or not?

If the government required churches to worship at specific times (like Sundays at 9am and 11am). Resist or not?

If the government required churches to say the Lord’s Prayer during each service.

Or required churches to help people register to vote.

What if the government required churches to perform same-sex marriages?

Or required churches to only use the King James Version of the Bible.

Or required churches to have a seminary trained pastor.

That’s enough to liven up your life group or water cooler discussions this week — the point is that we need to really think through — biblically — when resistance to authority is warranted and when it’s sinful rebellion. 

Back to Daniel and his response to this government enforced prayer regulation. Daniel’s opponents knew that his commitment to God would trump this law of the land. They were certain that he’d rather face a den of lions than violate his commitment to his God. Again — what a reputation Daniel had even among those who wanted him dead. God help us — your people — to grow in our commitment to you.

CONCLUSION

And how does Daniel respond to the new law? When he heard the law had been signed by the king — he went home — and I love how the New Living Translation puts it — knelt down as usual in his upstairs room and prayed…just as he had always done. And did you notice the first word used to describe his prayer? It was there in verse ten. He gave thanks to God. Wow. He gives thanks even in the midst of another chaotic moment living in exile. Yes — in the next verse — we discover that he also asks God for help — but the first words used to describe his prayer — in this moment — is thanksgiving.

What words would describe your prayers when life — in this land of exile — is chaotic for you? Crying out to God for help is completely understandable — but are you thankful to God as well? Complaining to God — in prayer — again — I get it — complaining isn’t only the easiest form of conversation — it’s also the easiest form of prayer — but complaining isn’t meant to be the only characteristic of our prayer life.

And while Daniel continues to do what he’s always done — his opponents catch him praying. Have you ever wondered why — if God could close the mouths of the lions — why he didn’t close the eyes of Daniel’s opponents? Seems like if one’s possible — the other is too. As one Bible commentary explains, “Certainly, [God] could have done that, but his purpose was not to save Daniel from trials but to save Daniel through trials…there were lessons that Daniel and those around him would learn, that could be learned only by Daniel going into the den of lions…God is not committed to our comfort. He is not committed to making our path through life smooth. He is committed to sanctifying us and demonstrating his own glory in and through us; and, very often, that commitment means he will subject [us] to pressures that would certainly shatter us, were his grace not sufficient. (Reformed Bible Commentary)

How open are you to God’s sanctifying work in your life — his commitment to making you more holy, more like Jesus, more committed to him? How open are you to your life being a lesson for others to learn from — even if the lesson is how to suffer well? I know these aren’t lessons any of us would volunteer for — thank God he doesn’t ask for volunteers because we’re often not nearly as committed to our spiritual growth as he is and — for that reason — these are situation he’ll put us in — not only for our spiritual benefit — but for the benefit of others as well.

Now — I know what you’re thinking — “we haven’t even gotten to the lion’s den part of the story.” You’re right — we’ll get there next time. For now — let’s pray.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, this was said earlier — and now we make it our prayer: help us — your people — to grow in our commitment to you. We need your power, vision, and desire for us to be our desire for us — so that we live in this land of exile committed to you.

Holy Spirit, you are the fulfillment of a promise given to us by Jesus. You live in all who believe in Christ. And you are not a Spirit of fear — but are a Spirit of power, love, and self-control. Strengthen us by your power as we look to the love of our Savior and his commitment to us — so we live committed to him.

And — Jesus — to you we say thank you. For you faced temptations while here on earth — and they were not pretend — the temptations were real. And yet you were so committed to your Father and accomplishing his will that — even at the cost of your life — you refused to bow down to the expectations of this land of exile. And — you did so — for our salvation — and also as our example of what it means to now live faithfully committed to following you.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — for any who feel the pressure to conform to the values of this land of exile — to compromise their faith — may you give them a taste of your never-ending love for them, a glimpse of your promised presence with them, and a touch of your power — so they — and all of us — remain committed to you. And we pray all of this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

BENEDICTION

May you go committed to your God and Savior — Jesus Christ — while you live in this land of exile. Amen.

God loves you. I love you. You are sent.