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Today is a Good Day to Die

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Daniel 6:16–22

16 So the king gave the command, and they brought Daniel and cast him into the den of lions. But the king spoke, saying to Daniel, “Your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you.” 17 Then a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the signets of his lords, that the purpose concerning Daniel might not be changed.

18 Now the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; and no [f]musicians were brought before him. Also his sleep went from him. 19 Then the king arose very early in the morning and went in haste to the den of lions. 20 And when he came to the den, he cried out with a lamenting voice to Daniel. The king spoke, saying to Daniel, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?”

21 Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! 22 My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him; and also, O king, I have done no wrong before you.”

In the spring of 2020, America sat entranced before their televisions and stared at an Oklahoma train wreck. “The Tiger King” had sprung up from the artificial world of reality TV to provide a diversion for millions of viewers in the middle of a pandemic, lockdown, and quarantine. The slow-motion personal disasters of “Joe Exotic” and his ill-fated tiger zoo were the perfect antidote for the nation’s anxieties over COVID-19 and the dwindling supplies of toilet paper.

Bigger than life characters, huge cats, and murder became the talk of social media, and it was also the talk of Babylon as we see in Daniel, Chapter 6.

Daniel has survived the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of his culture and home. He has survived not one, but three different kings and has risen to a valued official position. These megalomaniacal potentates, great kings of the ancient Near East, cast offenders into fiery furnaces and shake their fists at God. And yet Daniel keeps his faith and seems to show no fear in the face of the dictates of their pagan regimes.

After surviving intense dream therapy sessions with Nebuchadnezzar and God’s own graffiti with Balshazzar, Daniel now faces a new threat: Darius the Great. Darius has issued his dictate to punish worshippers of any god but himself, and it is the perfect trap set by enemies of Daniel, whom they know holds a stronger faith in God than ever before.

This law by Darius is proof that a government of men is weak and brittle. An earthly government that seeks to supplant God will eventually demand allegiance at the point of a sword, no matter how well intended or freedom-loving it may claim to be. 

G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Once abolish the God, and the government becomes the God.” (“Very Christian Democracy,” Christendom in Dublin)  He also riffed on Marx’ “religion is the opium of the people” by saying that “irreligion is the opium of the people.” Those who only believe in the things of this world will grow supine and passive but those who believe in higher things will be willing to fight for them.  

Without a focus on the divine transcendence of God and His authority over creation, people will seek to follow the strongest thing in this world. The State will quickly fill this vacuum. Unlike God, satisfied by the perfect work of His Son on the cross, the State is never satisfied.

The State is certainly not satisfied by Daniel’s principled stand, and suddenly the prophet has run afoul of yet another rash king’s oath. This scene has amazing parallels to the event in Chapter 3 and Nebuchadnezzar’s command to worship his idol of gold. Darius has demanded the same of himself and now Daniel is under penalty of death—death by lion!

Imagine this for a second. Could you handle this with the seeming peace and grace that Daniel seems to have as he hears this news?

“It is a good day to die.” The words of Chief Dan George, the character Old Lodge Skins plays in the classic movie “Little Big Man”, echo what may have been an actual Sioux war cry, but in the movie it signifies a man who has seen all the pain that this world can offer and musters his last dignity to face eternity with courage.

Daniel here faces eternity through “death by big cat” with the courage and conviction of a man who knows that God will receive glory even if he dies. Maybe especially if he dies!

“It is a good day to die.” Is it, really? I do not know if I could face death like this as well as Daniel did.

However, you face your own sharp-toothed man eaters every day. You may not be forced by the government to renounce your faith in Christ, but you do live in a world of daily choices that push you into the jaws of temptation and compromise.  You may never encounter a den of lions, but you are challenged in your belief in God’s sovereignty and Christ’s sufficiency over your sins and self-devotion

The lions you meet reside in the den of your daily temptations. You are tempted by your addictions to alcohol, binge on food, or even crave the endorphin rush that comes from being praised by others.

We are tempted to deny God in these daily things because we forget that He has sovereign power over all things, even your pain, fear and loneliness.

Ligon Duncan reminds us that “temptation is not a battle, it's a war. Satan doesn't tempt you once and leave you alone, or twice and leave you alone. He is always looking for an opportunity to undo you. And so our victories in temptation are not victories so that we might immediately enter into rest. They are victories in order to prepare us for the next and the greater temptations which we will face.”

Part of quarantined America’s fascination with the antics of the “Tiger King” was how he carried on with an illusion of control. He treated enormous deadly beasts almost as pets in his ramshackle tiger zoo. He made rash and destructive life decisions that left broken relationships and suicide in his wake. A plot to murder a rival became his downfall that ended with the “Tiger King” in prison.

This “illusion of control” is what we cling to when we try to manage our own temptations and sins and do not place them at the foot of the cross of Christ. This requires us to die to those old ways as surely as if being eaten by a lion.

Paul says in I Corinthians 15:31, “I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.”  The battle against temptation is a constant struggle.

Daniel knew who had more power, God or Darius. The earthly king may have cast him to the lions but the eternal king was the only one who could have shut their mouths.

Before Daniel faced the den of lions, he faced the temptation to seek the favor of Darius. How easy it could have been for him to say something clever, appeal to his own years of service as a reason for exemption, or to simply worship God in secret, as so many Christians in persecuted lands today must do. 

No. To Daniel it was a good day to die.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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