ďWhen Faith Is Not FreeĒ

Daniel 6:1-28

October 12, 2003

 

††††††††† One of the books on Karaís bookshelf is called, ďBabyís First Bible,Ē and itís a book of some of the more famous Bible stories from Genesis through the Gospels.The stories, such as Adam and Eve in the garden, Noahís ark, and Jesus calming the raging sea, are depicted in cute, cartoon-like pictures.One of the stories in this book is the story of Daniel and the lionsí den, which has a very content looking Daniel standing in a bright and open lionís den petting a couple of harmless, smiling lions as a couple of other lions look on.But what else would you expect from a childrenís book.And yet, that is how we sometimes think about these stories when we read them in Bible Ė as cute, cartoon-like stories.†††

A child-like perspective is a great way to start, but we canít always continue to read these stories with child-like eyes or even a child-like faith.At some point in our faith journey, we must begin to read the Bible and these stories with adult eyes and with a more mature faith.I am convinced that the Bible was never meant to be some kind of fairy tale, myth like, feel good book that we read and then say, ďOh, isnít that nice.ĒThe Bible was and is meant to change us, sometimes rubbing us the wrong way, sometimes making us think and feel differently about something or even someone, sometimes opening our eyes to much larger issues than ourselves, but always revealing to us how we as Godís people should live in faith and obedience to the living and active God who speaks through it.

††††††††† Our text for today is one of those passages, one of those Biblical stories, that has the power to transform, if we are willing to let it, if we are willing to open ourselves up to the Spirit of the living God who speaks through it, if we are willing to be changed by it.This is how it has been for me through this last week as I read again the story of Daniel in the lionsí den.

††††††††† In some way or another, we are all familiar with this story, whether we know it in great detail or have some kind of idea about what happened in it.This story is one of those great stories about faithfulness, not just about Danielís faithfulness, but most importantly about Godís faithfulness.To the Israelites in captivity, hearing this story would be great reminder to them about how God has not and will not abandoned them in their plight under the hands of the various empires that ruled them.This is a story of fidelity, of character, of promise, not of Daniel, but of the only One who has the power to not only shut the mouths of ravenous, voracious lions, but to make a pagan king sing praises to the God whose kingdom has no end.But there is another part of this story that cannot be overlooked or neglected.Itís the part of the story that got Daniel thrown into the lionsí den in the first place.Itís the part of the story that all of us would do well to prayerfully consider where we stand and how we would respond in such a similar circumstance.

††††††††† Daniel was under the direct authority of King Darius the Meade, and Daniel was an important figure in the Dariusí kingdom, so much so that Darius had planned to promote him over the whole kingdom.But the rest of the members of Dariusí administration were jealous of Danielís rise up the political ladder, so they set out to destroy him.But they couldnít find anything he had done wrong to get him in trouble with the king.There was no complaint against him, no negligence, no corruption, nothing that would be valid grounds for a death sentence, let alone a dismissal.They decided that their only way to get rid of Daniel would be to make it impossible for him to practice his faith.So thatís what they do.Using the kingís fear of losing power and authority, they set up the perfect trap for Daniel by getting the king to sign an imperial edict, which stated that for thirty days no one would be allowed to pray to anyone or anything except King Darius.The penalty for going against the edict was none other than death Ė a horrible, ghastly, painful death by the lions.

††††††††† But then, in verse 10, the text says something remarkable, ďAlthough Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done before.Ē

††††††††† Daniel knew what the edict was!He knew it!He knew what the penalty was for failing to follow the edict, he knew that he would become a marked man the moment he went to his house to pray, but he went anyway fully knowing what would happen if he was caught.He went anyway, three times a day, to a house where everyone knew he lived, to an upstairs room that every eye could see, that had windows open so that every ear could hear.He went anyway, just as he had always done before.

††††††††† Imagine for a moment living in a very different country than we do know.Imagine for a moment that itís Sunday morning, the first day of the week Ė itís the Lordís Day.You wake up while it is still dark outside, get dressed in non-conspicuous clothes, go to your closet and remove a part of the wall, revealing a hidden compartment in which you have a copy of the Bible, not a barely opened, just-off-the-shelf, new Bible, but an old, ragged Bible that has a ripped cover and some torn pages.

You hide the Bible in the sleeve of your coat, open the door to your house, and begin walking in the dark.You walk from your house to Draft Ave.Your careful not to be seen by the slow moving car that drives up and down the street on Sunday mornings.You know that if they get you, it is all over, because you have heard the stories about the interrogations, the imprisonments, the torture, and even the deaths.

You pass by Stump Elementary school, pass by a white house, and pass by an empty lot that sits in a groove of trees, in darkness.A church once stood there, but it is gone now, bulldozed down by the state three years ago when Christianity was banned.You pass by the now empty lot, and walk the rest of the way to a house in a neighborhood.You walk to the door, quietly knock on it, and the door opens to a darkened house.You are escorted downstairs to a basement with no windows, with only candlelight to illuminate the room.There you see, sitting on the floor, your brothers and sisters in Christ; others who had also walked in the dark hours of the morning to the only house church in Stuarts Draft.You are greeted with the passing of the peace of Christ, but you are not just another member, you are their pastor, their preacher, for you are the only one who still has a Bible in the whole townÖsome say even in all of Augusta county.

Could you do it?Could you stand up against the authority and power of the state?Would you do it?Would you be able to continue to practice your faith knowing that it would mean your death if you were caught?Would you be able to remain faithful knowing that the death that awaited you would be a horrific death?Would you continue to practice your faith knowing that if you were caught, not only would you suffer, but your whole family as well?Could you do it?Would you do it?

History is filled with the names and stories of countless men and women who have been imprisoned, tortured, and even killed for their faith, names and stories that go back hundreds of years before Jesus and well after the church was formed.The most familiar names to us are those of the Christian faith such as The Apostle Paul, all but one of the Apostles, including Peter, who was crucified upside down because he believed he wasnít worthy enough to die in the same manner as our Lord Jesus, and other names you are probably not so familiar with such as Perpetua and Felicitas, two women who were martyred in 202 under the emporer, Septimius Severus.††

The story of their death is terrible, but one such incident has always left an imprint on my mind since the first time I read it.Perpetua was a young, well-to-do woman who was nursing an infant child.When she was arrested with the four other new converts, who would all die with her, her father tried to persuade her to save her life by abandoning her faith.She answered that just as everything has a name it is useless to try to give it a different name, she had the name of Christian, and this could not be changed.(Gonzalez, Justo. The Story of Christianity, v. 1. Harper Collins Publishers; pp. 83-84).This is just one of countless stories of the many persecutions that challenged the faith and obedience of the Christian church during itís first three centuries, but there are other names and other stories of persecutions that have taken place, not in just previous centuries, but in this century.

One such story began on January 30, 1933 when Adolf Hitler was elected Reich Chancellor of Germany, which saw the rise to power of the National Socialists.As the Nazi machine grew in power, it became clear that Christianity was going to be a threat to their plan to exterminate the Jews.May we never forget the 6 million Jews who were killed for being Jewish.In an effort to keep Christianity at bay, the Naziís gathered together some German Christian supporters, who were seduced by nationalistic pride, and used them to preach to the masses the need for racial superiority.However, there were some who refused to follow the edicts of the Nazi empire.

Karl Barth, Martin Niemoller, Dietrich Bonhoffer, and other German pastors, created a resistance effort known as the German Evangelical Church, and it would be Karl Barth, one of the most influential reformed theologians of the century, who would author the Barmen Declaration, which called upon the church to trust and obey Jesus Christ and not to follow Hitler.The Barmen Declaration would eventually become one of the confessions in our Presbyterian Book of Confessions.But many of these pastors would pay the price for speaking out against Hitler.Some were arrested.Some were tortured.Some were sent to Nazi concentration camps, and some, like Bonhoffer, were executed for their faith.

And there are more stories.Just listen to these stories taken from real life news reports, not from 60-70 years ago, but from this year.

Southeast Asia, August 22-- A group of 12 Christians in Laos are under extreme pressure to abandon their faith while being held in prison, according to a report from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). The 12 were in a group of 21 Christians from the Bru minority tribe living in Muang Nong in Savannakhet Province in the south of Laos, who were arrested and imprisoned in May 2003 for refusing to renounce their faith. Nine of them have now been released, but the 12 leaders remain in detention. The Muang Nong district police chief and district administrative head told the Christians they would be released if they signed affidavits stating they would no longer follow Christ or worship Him. However, the 12 rejected the proposal and therefore remain in prison.

Africa, September 17 -- Police in the Eritrean capital of Asmara continued the country-wide crackdown, arresting another 12 evangelical Christians on September 7 while they were meeting in a private house for worship. Nearly all those arrested were described as young people, all members of the Dubre Bethel Church in Asmara. Yesterday, after nine days in custody at Asmaraís Police Station No. 5, the police chief demanded that each of the 12 prisoners sign a commitment to deny their faith in order to be released. When the six women and six men refused, he ordered that all their food rations be withheld. Meanwhile, evangelical church leaders have been unable to learn the fate of 57 young people arrested and locked into metal containers since August 19 and 20 as punishment for having Bibles with them during their summer military camp at Sawa. At least 230 evangelical Christians are currently jailed for their faith in Eritrea.

China, September 3 Ė 170 house church Christians were arrested in Central Eastern Asia when a worship service was interrupted by the authorities.  The majority were fingerprinted, fined, and released, but fourteen church leaders are still being held and could be imprisoned.

Balkanabad/Minsk/Budapest, Sept 1 Ė Baptists and other protestants have been banned from having worship services and are being fined for each service they do have.  This came after a raid on a church service on August 24th when the Christians were taken to the 6th division of the regional police department, which deals with terrorism and religious extremism.

Mexico, Sept 12 Ė Worship has been prohibited in the local evangelical church in Cuatecometl, one of Mexicoís central states, according to reports.  Three Mexican men were imprisoned and beaten for three days, and then told that if they return to this church their lands and houses will be confiscated.  The pastor was threatened with death, and told not to re-enter the region.Listen to these statistics:

Since the death of Jesus Christ 2000 years ago,

43,000,000 Christians have become martyrs.

Over 50% of these were in the last century alone.

More than 200 million Christians face persecution each day Ė

60% are children.

Every day over 300 are killed for their faith in Jesus Christ.††

††††††††† All of us Christians in the west, and especially in this country, who confess Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, need to think long and hard about our own commitment to our faith, and our own faithful witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.We need to think long and hard about the message we send to all those who suffer for the faith by our national average of 40-50% worship attendance, by our Biblical illiteracy, and even by our national apathy to religious suffering around the world.

††††††††† Our greatest problem is not that we canít practice our faith, but that we donít have to.We donít have to come to worship, we donít have to pray and read the Bible, we donít have to make a commitment, if we donít want to.We are free to do whatever we wish.We are free to go and come to church as we please, anytime we wish.We are free to carry a Bible around with us at all times, even out in the open. We are free to come together to worship and fellowship anytime day or night.And we are even free to tell others about Jesus.And yet our churches continue to lose members at an alarming rate.

Are we taking our faith too much for granted?Have we become so comfortable in our faith that we can practice it if we want to and not practice it if we donít?Have we become so comfortable in our faith that grace has become cheap grace for us?Do we dare believe that we would be able to stand and affirm our faith in the face of death?

Daniel stood up to the power and authority that threatened him with death and continued to practice his faith as he had done before.He didnít do because he wanted to thumb his nose at the king.He didnít do it by getting a band of rebels together and storming the kingís palace.He didnít do it because he wanted to become a martyr.He did it because it was the right thing to do, because his God and his faithfulness and obedience to his God were more important to him than life itself.He did it because he wanted to do it, because he was called to do it as one of Godís people.

††††††††† Brothers and sisters, we should rejoice everyday that we are free to practice our faith has we are led by the Spirit of Christ to do it, and we should give thanks to the living and active God above who has blessed us with such a freedom.But we can never let our freedom become a stumbling block to our faithfulness and obedience.

We certainly face our own struggles and frustrations even in this country over church and state issues, but we must continue to practice our faith at every opportunity, regardless of the consequences.We must continue to be a voice for the voices that are being silenced all over the world.We must continue to reach out to those who are suffering and dying around the world because of their faith in Jesus Christ, but most of all, we must continue to be faithful and obedient Christians.

By doing this, we send a clear and loud message to all those who continue to oppress and destroy our brothers and sisters that we will never lose hope, that we will not stop practicing our faith, because our God is a living God, who endures forever, whose kingdom shall never be destroyed and whose dominion has no end, because our God delivers and saves, works signs and wonders in heaven and earth, because our God, not only saved Daniel from the power of the lions all those years ago, but promises to also save those who are faithful today as well.†† Amen.