Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church
1It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom one hundred twenty satraps, stationed throughout the whole kingdom, 2 and over them three presidents, including Daniel; to these the satraps gave account, so that the king might suffer no loss. 3 Soon Daniel distinguished himself above all the other presidents and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him, and the king planned to appoint him over the whole kingdom. 4 So the presidents and the satraps tried to find grounds for complaint against Daniel in connection with the kingdom. But they could find no grounds for complaint or any corruption, because he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption could be found in him. 5 The men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”
6 So the presidents and satraps conspired and came to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! 7 All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an interdict, that whoever prays to anyone, divine or human, for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions. 8 Now, O king, establish the interdict and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” 9 Therefore King Darius signed the document and interdict.
10 Although 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 previously. (Daniel 6:1-10, NRSV)
I’m not sure if all children still say the Pledge of Allegiance every day in class but when I was a kid it was the way we began every school day. Stand up. Turn towards the flag in the corner. Hand over heart. Everybody in unison. “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” As a first grader I didn’t even know what half those words meant. I did know, however, that they meant something important.
As adults we don’t often have a chance to say the Pledge of Allegiance. I was at a Boy Scout function not long ago, however, and we were all invited to stand, face the flag in the corner and, with hand over heart, say those familiar words in unison. It might have been 20 years or more since I’d recited the pledge and something interesting happened that day when I did. You see, as a child these were words I used to say without thinking. Now an adult, however, I’m not somebody who goes around thoughtlessly pledging my allegiance to any old thing. In fact, I’ve come to take such pledges quite seriously, whether made in a courthouse or a schoolhouse or in a church sanctuary.
Now, some of you might accuse me of overthinking it all, but as I said the words of the pledge that day with the Boy Scouts I found myself wanting to clarify a few things. How far, really, doe my allegiance to this flag go? Yes, I pledge allegiance to a nation under God. But what happens if this nation ceases to be under God, if it refuses to submit to God and God’s ways? What happens to my allegiance then? Yes, I pledge my allegiance to a country committed to freedom and justice for all. So what happens when my country only seeks justice and freedom for some? How far does my allegiance to this nation or to this society really go?
Let me be very clear. I love my country and I am extraordinarily grateful to be an American. Every time the national anthem is sung at a baseball game or played at the Olympics as our flag is raised, something inside me swells. I don’t think that being an American makes me better than people of other nations, but I am still grateful, even proud, of my heritage and my citizenship. Furthermore, as a Christian my faith teaches me that God put me in this context to work for the flourishing of this nation and this culture. I believe it is God’s desire to bless America, as it is God’s desire to bless all nations and all peoples. As his servant, therefore, I believe he calls me to work with him to see this nation experience his blessing.
In all this, Daniel is a remarkable model for us. He’s particularly remarkable because he is not in Babylon as a citizen but as an exile, against his will. And yet that is where God had him at that time. And so Daniel, after the heart of God, is willing to dedicate himself to the advancement of that nation and that culture. He works for the prosperity of the city, doing whatever he can to help them flourish. This did not go unnoticed. Darius, the king in Babylon at that time, saw in Daniel a man of integrity and generosity, recognized that in spite of his status as an exile he nonetheless worked for the good of the people of Babylon, and so decided to make him the most important and trusted official in the whole kingdom.
All this reminds me of something Jesus once said. At one point Jesus told his followers that they were the salt of the earth. In those days, salt was a preservative. Nobody had ice or refrigerators, which meant that if you wanted to keep your flank steak from rotting you packed it in salt. Here’s Jesus’ point. Christians are to work for the preservation of the world around us, immersing ourselves into places in our world that otherwise will fall apart, be destroyed, or lost. Jesus cares deeply about this world. So must his followers.
So do you? Are you somebody like Daniel who is committed to doing whatever you can to see the nation where you live flourish? Not at the expense of other nations, of course. God’s people want all nations to flourish. But this society is the context into which God has placed us at this time. Are we salt? Are we working for the preservation, for the well-being of our city, our neighborhoods, our schools, our work places? I believe that God wants the people of all nations to enjoy the freedom and justice we say our nation stands for. Christians, the people of God, ought to have a reputation, as Daniel did, as people who work as hard as anybody else for the good will of society. And so to the extent that my nation, and the culture within which I find myself, is committed to these things then yes, I wholeheartedly pledge my allegiance to the flag.
And here’s the problem. Too often the nations and cultures of this world, including our own, advocate positions or practices which run counter to God’s design and will for us all. Sometimes the decisions and priorities of this nation do not lead to freedom and justice for all. Sometimes the values of our culture are not “under God” but are, instead, in opposition to the truth we are given in God’s Word. And so as God’s people, what do we do then? To whom then do we pledge our allegiance when our allegiances are pulling us in different directions?
I was born in Denver into a family of Denver Bronco fans. From an early age I began to root for the Orange Crush, as they were known in those days. For years, John Elway, their Hall of Fame quarterback, was my absolute favorite athlete on the planet. When I was nine years old my family moved from Denver to San Francisco. In spite of the success that came to the local team there a few years after that, I remained true to my Broncos. My parents, however, though still saying they were Broncos fans, began to cheer as well for the 49ers when that team began to find success in the 80’s. The frenzy of the fans around the Bay Area simply clouded their judgment and divided their allegiances.
Now, this all worked okay as long as the two teams didn’t play one another. But it all became too much for me to handle when the two teams did meet in the Super Bowl at the end of the ’89 season and my parents – who are otherwise lovely and honorable people – told me that they were going to be cheering for both teams. To this day it’s inconceivable to me how this was possible. Since their retirement folks have since moved back to Denver and now claim they have allegiance to the Broncos once again. Whatever. I guess I should be grateful they didn’t decide to retire in Dallas!
What happens when your allegiances clash, when maintaining allegiance over here calls into question your allegiance over there? In Daniel’s case there were others there in Babylon who had not pledged their allegiance to the advancement of the city as he had. They were, instead, committed to their own personal advancement. And so like some politicians in our day who, out of self-interest or self-preservation, vote the party line instead of voting for what would be best for the country, these men resented Daniel for his royal appointment even though he was the person best qualified for the job. They then used their influence to change the values of that culture. Because Darius was not a wise leader, he was convinced by them to pass laws that were self-serving instead of pursuing an agenda which would help the whole city prosper and flourish.
All at once Daniel’s allegiances clash. If he pledges allegiance to “the flag”, he must neglect praying to his God. If he pledges his allegiance to his God, he will go against the law of the land. So what does Daniel decide? For him it’s a no-brainer. Fully understanding the potential consequences of his choice, Daniel pledges his allegiance to his God and continues to go into his room three times a day and pray towards Jerusalem, as was his practice. He doesn’t complain. He doesn’t challenge the constitutionality of the no-prayer law in court. He doesn’t call up the Babylonian justice league to see if they will help defend his rights. He simply continues to honor his God in the way he believed he was called to honor his God.
Daniel’s example challenges me. You see, I love my country. I enjoy the culture of which I am apart. But what happens when the direction of America, either overtly in the laws and policies of our government, or subtly in the shifting of cultural values and ideals, moves in a direction that begins to run counter to the direction I believe Jesus is leading us? Am I willing to continue to follow Jesus even though doing so puts me at odds with those around me and may even bring difficulty or hardship upon myself or my family? Am I willing to be attached for my convictions when others come after me because I don’t trust first in the powers and authorities of this world but trust first in the power and authority of heaven?
It would be good for you to ask yourself these questions. As followers of Jesus in America we are not in danger of being executed as Daniel was in danger of being executed, and like other Christians around our world today are in danger of being executed for their faith. However, if you pledge your ultimate allegiance to Christ, you are going to find yourself continually at odds with the direction in which this society is moving. In fact, I would go as far as to say that if you believe you are truly seeking to follow Jesus but there is no place in your life right now where others in the world around you are mocking you, attacking you, even hating you, then you might rightly question if you really are following Jesus in the first place. As one writer put it to Christians, “If there is nowhere that the world is misunderstanding you, laughing at you, deriding you, or talking behind your back then you are probably being a coward.”
Remember, Jesus teaches his followers to lift up those others neglect, to welcome those others shun, to love and pray for enemies others hate, to reject the false promise of fulfillment through material wealth, to honor the sacredness of marriage and family, to forgive those who hurt us, to refrain from worshiping created things, to embrace humility. These are not the values of our culture. They are sometimes not even the values of the leaders of our nation. If you then are a follower of Jesus, do you have the courage and conviction to set yourself against the misguided values of our culture, not in a spirit of condemnation but in a spirit of love, and to do so even if you that means you will pay a high price for doing so?
Again, I believe Christians are called to make great sacrifices for our nation, our city, our neighborhoods, to work tirelessly for the well-being of all who live in whatever nation they call home. But this is to be sacrifice without compromise. We have allegiance to our nation, our city, our neighborhoods, our community, but only to the extent that we do not compromise our primary allegiance, which is to Christ.
The American flag is placed outside the doors of this sanctuary, and its placement in that spot is not by accident. There are those who would say that the flag has no place in the church at all. I would disagree. As I hope I’ve made clear by now, scripture teaches us that we are to show our nation honor and serve our nation as best we can. Writing as an involuntary subject of the Roman Empire, Peter wrote to the early church in I Peter 2:17, “Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” Christ’s followers are to honor the emperor of their land, whatever land that might be. If we were in Brazil, we should have a Brazilian flag outside the sanctuary as a sign of honor. Because we are in America, we have an American flag outside those doors to remind us that we are to honor the nation we call home for now and to work tirelessly for its good.
There are others, however, who argue that the flag should not be left outside those doors but should be front and center here in the sanctuary. In many churches, in fact, the American flag hangs right up front beside the cross. It doesn’t here. And I’m glad for that. Yes, we are to honor the emperor, but first we are to fear God. The fact that we leave the flag just outside our place of worship and hang only the cross at the front of our sanctuary is a clear reminder to us of our ultimate allegiance, an allegiance which, at times, may lead us to stand against our nation or our culture. When we pledge allegiance to the flag we pledge to sacrifice for the nation for which it stands, but to sacrifice without compromising our ultimate allegiance.
This is exactly what Daniel does. Because of his commitment to the prosperity of Babylon he has become the most trusted official in all the land. Still, in spite of the fact that he knows his prayers go against the law of the land and will likely earn him a reservation in the lion’s den, Daniel prays anyway. And through we’re not told the content of his prayers, from what we know of Daniel we should not be surprised to find out that he was praying for Babylon in the very moment he was disobeying Babylonian law. Sacrifice, but sacrifice without compromise.
Last week, as he walked us through the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Jim pointed out that these were men who did not have an “if” faith but a “though” faith. They didn’t trust God only if good things happened. They trusted God even though difficult things happened. Daniel has that same sort of faith. His security and his identity were solely rooted in God rather than in his circumstances.
Many of you have read ahead and you know what happens to Daniel. His conspirators find Daniel just as they hoped they would, praying in his room. Immediately they bring charges against him to the king, applying the no-prayer law they had just lobbied the king to pass. When Darius heard the charge he was greatly distressed and made every possible effort to find a loophole in the law that would spare Daniel’s life. Persian law at that time, however, made this impossible. Once a king decreed a law, it could not be revoked. Therefore, since what existed in Daniel, a higher allegiance, did not exist in Darius, the king orders the guards to come at once to take Daniel and throw him into the den of lions. And as the stone is brought to seal the entrance to what has essentially become Daniel’s tomb, Darius calls out to Daniel, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!” When the stone was in place the king sealed the entrance with his ring, signifying that according to the law of the land nothing now could be done concerning Daniel’s fate. What Darius did not know, but was about to discover, was that Daniel was not subject to the law of the land.
We’re told that night that the king could not sleep. We’re not told how Daniel slept. Wouldn’t it be ironic, however, if the man in the lion’s den got a better night’s sleep than the man in the palace? At the break of day, the king is out of bed racing to the den of lions. At once he cries out, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?” What’s happened to Darius? Servant of the living God? Has something happened during his sleepless night that has begun to change his allegiance?
You know how the story ends. Daniel is lifted out of the lion’s den, not a scratch on him, proclaiming that the living God had, in fact, shut the mouths of the lions and spared his life. And this is the point of the story where the preacher is supposed to say, “See. This is what we are to learn here. If you trust in God he will keep you from all harm. And if harm does come to you it’s probably because you have not trusted God like Daniel trusted God.” Isn’t this the moral of the story that many of us have been taught since we first read about Daniel in our children’s Bibles?
Here’s the problem with that moral. Years after Daniel there came another servant of God who demonstrated, to an extent never seen before or since, an allegiance to heaven above all things. Who, more than this man, ever sacrificed as much for the well-being of the nations of this world? Who, more than this man, was absolutely unwilling to compromise his primary allegiance as he did so? Jesus Christ, God’s Son come to earth as one of us, trusted his Father in all things, in all times, in all places. And in turn, did God keep him from harm?
As Jesus is dying on the cross, he cries out to his Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His prayer is a quote from the first line of Psalm 22. Later in that Psalm we read this, “They open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.” Jesus, the true and better Daniel, went into the real den, saw the real stone rolled over to cover the entrance, and was torn from limb to limb by the real lions of this world, sin and death.
Does God keep from harm all who love him and trust him? No. Thankfully, no. Bod sent Jesus Christ, his Son and the King of Heaven, into this world to give himself fully and sacrificially to the nations of this world. As he did so, he refused to compromise his ultimate allegiance. Along the way some people were drawn to him, even gave their lives to following him. Others, however, hated him and still hate him. Those forces of hatred came after him as they would also come after us. But unlike Daniel, Jesus was not spared. God allowed his Son to be devoured. On our behalf, Jesus, the greater Daniel, was allowed to be devoured by that which would devour us.
But then three days later, after many in Jerusalem had spent a sleepless night, the Gospels tell us that Jesus’ disciples, men whose allegiances had been compromised only days before, rushed to the tomb in hopes that somehow the news might be true, that Jesus had in fact been delivered from the den of lions. When they found the tomb empty, and later met Jesus face to face and saw that his wounds were now only scars, I like to think they remembered the words old Darius spoke outside the lion’s den that day when he saw Daniel delivered from death:
For he is the living God,
His kingdom shall never be destroyed,
and his dominion has no end.
He delivers and rescues,
he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth;
for he has saved Daniel, [the true and greater Daniel],
from the power of the lions.”
Friends, I stand here to proclaim to you today that Jesus Christ has gone into the lion’s den so that you do not have to. He is the Living God and can be trusted. As we do trust him, we are given a secure place in his kingdom which can never be destroyed and a permanent identity as his sons and daughters which can never be taken from us. With that security and identity, therefore, we can follow him into this world and, in turn, give ourselves away for the well-being of our neighborhoods, our city, our nation, our planet. Some will see our sacrifice and be drawn to us and, ultimately, drawn to the One who has made the greater sacrifice for them as well as for us. Others will attack us and come after us as they attacked him and came after him. But in the end, what can the world ever really do to those who ultimately pledge their allegiance to the One who has already overcome the world?
The Next Step
A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Re-read the passage from Daniel 6. Read the whole chapter to get the whole story. What stands out to you from this amazing story?
Though a Jew in exile in Babylon against his will, Daniel was committed to the advancement of the city of his captors. Why? What do we have to learn here from Daniel?
How would you like to see our church more sacrificially serve our city and our community, perhaps even gaining the favor of outsiders as Daniel did?
For Daniel, his allegiance to his God surpassed his allegiance to the laws of the land. Do your allegiances line up in the same way?
When have your allegiance to God and your allegiance to your nation or your community been at odds with one another? What did you do?
Are there places in your life where your allegiance to Jesus has led others around you to misunderstand you, laugh at you, deride you, talk behind your back, or even attack you? How have you responded? Did you respond like Daniel responded? Like Jesus responded?
What should American Christians mean when they pledge allegiance to the flag? How do Peter’s words in II Peter 2:17 help us answer this question: “Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
How is Jesus the truer and greater Daniel?