Consider these three images.
Can you see more than one picture? Can you see the old woman and the young lady in the first? Do you see the balding men in the other two and the village scenes? Unless you can train your eye to go elsewhere, your mind often only perceives one expression of the image upon first look. If you can get your eye to identify the outline of the alternate image, you have a hope of seeing the whole. It works the same way with a magic show. Using slight-of-hand, the magician expertly persuades your eye into misdirection so that you cannot perceive the real act that is so often occurring right in front of you. This kind of trickery can be awfully convincing. Spiritual misdirection and illusion occur more frequently that you might imagine. That’s why I’ve entitled this lesson, “Two Sides to the Same Coin.”
In the first part of the chapter we learn that Daniel has adjusted quite well to the incoming government of the Medes and Persians. In fact, King Darius, who has the utmost confidence in Daniel, has made plans to place him in authority over all of Babylon, which does not set well with the other ruling directors. They look intently into Daniel’s life to find any fault with which they can discredit Daniel in the hope of hindering his success. They find none, and without alternatives, they decide to conjure up a scenario to trap him.
These men suggested a new law to King Darius, appealing to his ego. The law stated that no one could pray to any other god or person, except to the King himself for 30 days, or suffer a night in the den of hungry lions. In those days Persian law signed into effect was irrevocable, and when Daniel became aware of it, what did he do? He sought God for help and guidance in the quiet of his room. He got on his knees and he prayed. Exactly what the men anticipated, and they immediately reported to the king.
It sounds very similar to King Nebuchadnezzar’s mandate in chapter three, but unlike Nebuchadnezzar, King Darius was very distraught over the news. I’m sure it never crossed his mind that these men were deceiving and misdirecting him. He spent all day trying to undo what the law had put into effect, but alas, there was nothing he could do. He had no alternative but to arrest Daniel and hope that God would save him.
Sure enough, Daniel’s life was intact come morning, and scripture states that when Daniel was lifted from the den there was not a scratch on him. Absolutely a miracle, because these lions were hungry. When I read this, I feel amazed that God chose to intervene on Daniel’s behalf. I feel relieved to see such a happy ending, but I immediately find myself asking the question, “Would God save me from the lions?”
I know there aren’t always happy endings, so can I trust God here? Awfully similar to the question we asked when we studied Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in chapter three. In that study we learned from these young men that even with the possibility of our circumstance ending in a worst-case-scenario, it doesn’t change the reality of our God nor our response to Him.
But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up. (Daniel 3:18 NLT emphasis added)
This week I want to build upon that sentiment with what we see from Daniel.
APPEARANCE OF DEFEAT
I mentioned last week that pictures of Christ are embedded throughout the book of Daniel and chapter six is certainly no exception. Quickly, I’ll list the parallels from this passage of scripture.
- Daniel lived a blameless life and his adversaries could find no fault. Christ lived a blameless life and his adversaries could find no fault.
- Daniel was betrayed with a conjured offense. Christ was betrayed with a conjured offense.
- Daniel was sent into a pit of lions for death. Christ was sent below, into hell, carrying death with him.
- A stone with the king’s seal was placed to prevent Daniel’s escape. A stone with a seal was placed on the tomb of Jesus to keep anyone from stealing the body.
- Daniel was lifted out of the pit of death into new life, unscathed. Christ was also lifted out of hell, resurrected into new life.
- Daniel began as a lowly exile and rose to a position of ruling authority, second only to the king. Christ began as a lowly carpenter’s boy and rose to a position of ruling authority at the right hand of God.
In my study this week, I found that by comparing Daniel’s life to that of Jesus, it helps answer my question, “Will God save me from the lions?” in an unexpected way. I realized this was not the question for this text. The question itself actually introduces misdirection. Allow me to explain by going back to the words of Jesus as he teaches the disciples shortly before his arrest.
I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me, but I will do what the Father requires of me so that the world will know that I love the Father. Come let’s be going. (John 14:30-31 NLT)
Think about his statement. When you read it, what stands out to you? If I’m honest, I noticed that my eye was subtly persuaded. As I read this statement, my eye was trained on “the ruler of this world approaches.” It occurred to me that when I ask the question, “Will God save me from the lions,” it’s because my eye betrays my fear. My eye is focused on the lions. The truth is, the lions in the den only had the appearance of defeat. It’s misdirection. The enemy succeeds in his illusion if he can get our eye to move away from reality and onto the illusion he attempts to create. Because of the crucifixion, the ruler of this world only has the appearance of defeat.
John the Baptist
From the beginning of his life, while still in the womb, John’s purpose was clearly spelled out by heaven. John the Baptist would be raised as pious leader and would prepare the way of the Lord. His life was dedicated to ministry, and his ministry was dedicated to preaching repentance of sin, baptizing in water, and preparing an entire nation for Messiah. He immediately recognized that his purpose had been fulfilled when Jesus approached him in the Jordan River. John saw it with his own eyes when the dove descended upon Jesus and God’s voice confirmed it from heaven.
However, not long afterward, John was arrested and jailed for his public criticisms of King Herod’s sins. I’m sure he saw the writing on the wall while he was in jail, and he knew his life was approaching the end. John was eventually beheaded as a prize for Herod’s daughter.
Prior to his execution, the gospels tell us that John sent his disciples to find Jesus and confirm that he was indeed Messiah. Until now I’ve always seen this part of the narrative as a moment of doubt for John. Maybe the encroachment of death was overwhelming him with fear. But could it also have been an attempt to keep his eyes focused on God? I’m sure enemy forces were actively working to persuade his eye elsewhere, but could John have wanted confirmation of the truth he held deep to battle these forces? Did he doubt, or did he want to ensure his eye was focused on God? Two sides to the same coin, really, but that’s exactly the issue I’m raising.
Fear and faith are two sides to the same coin and it comes down to where we rest our gaze.
Stephen the Zealot
Stephen was among the first in the early church to be killed for his faith in Christ. He boldly spoke to the religious leaders about the truth of Christ and in so doing made his accusations against them quite clear. Furious, they responded with an immediate sentencing for stoning. Actually it was more like a knee-jerk reaction, and I can hardly imagine a worse way to die. But listen to the account of his experience right before his death.
The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!” (Acts 7:54-56 NLT)
At that they rushed him outside and stoned him. It’s clear to me where Stephen’s eye was focused in that moment. It could have been focused on the stones, but no, they were trained on the Son of Man. As a result he was empowered by the Holy Spirit to request that God not charge his accusers with this sin.
Before you jump to the thought that Jesus was perfect and could do anything, remember that he was fully human here. He left his glory in heaven to be fully human. The night of his arrest, Jesus went to Gethsemane to pray because he was deeply distressed.
He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
He went on a little farther and fell to the ground… “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Mark 14:34-36 NLT)
Scripture goes on to say that the disciples had fallen asleep while they were supposed to be keeping watch. Jesus returns to pray and again finds them asleep. He repeats this three times. Each time he returned to pray he repeated the prayer from above. The stress and fear was real. His eyes could have been focused on the cup, but he retrained them back to God the Father each and every time.
Getting back to our passage we find Daniel in the lion’s den. Let’s look at his testimony when Darius greets him in the morning.
Daniel answered, “Long live the king! My God sent his angel to shut the lion’s 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.” (Daniel 6:21-22 NLT)
No doubt Daniel had his eyes trained on the angel and not on the lions. So the question isn’t, “Will God save me from the lions?” it’s more like, “Will I see the angel God has sent?”
As we’ve studied Daniel now for eight weeks, you’ve probably asked yourself more than once, “Could I really stand firm as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? I hope I can, but I’m not sure.” There is a truth that undergirded their firm foundation, and it undergirds our faith as well.
When Jesus said, “I don’t have much more time to talk with you, for the ruler of this world approaches,” he was speaking of Satan as ruler of this world. Jesus also said,
“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b NLT)
The truth that undergirded Daniel’s faith and ours is out of this world! Literally. If we keep reading in John, Jesus’ prayer expands on this concept.
I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to this world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. (John 17:13-16 NLT emphasis added)
While the lions certainly are a part of this world, we are not. The lions only have the appearance of death, because our life is found above, in the eternal. Whether or not our circumstance plays out into a worst-case-scenario, God will be glorified and his presence with us will not be affected in the least. This is the essence of faith. Faith allows us to “see” the angels in every circumstance while fear tries to persuade our eyes toward the lions.
Fear and faith are two sides to the same coin and it comes down to where we rest our gaze. The Apostle Paul says it plainly.
For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweigh them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (II Corinthians 4:17-18 NLT)