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Worship Theme: The Reformation of the Church
Sermon Theme: Has Your God Been Able to Rescue You?
It was a truth that Daniel knew full well. That’s why he didn’t violently defend his property or fight to the death when a foreign army came knocking at his door in Judah. He knew the truth so well: “God was his strength and shield.” That’s why he stayed faithful, even to a foreign king, even one that declared himself to be a god. Daniel served his king faithfully and worshipped the Triune God alone. Darius was his God given king, but “God was his strength and shield.” That’s why Daniel continued to pray, even when it became illegal to pray to anyone but King Darius. Even in the face of that threat, even when he knew it could cost him his life, Daniel could and did say: “God is my strength and my shield.”
Daniel knew it! The King was about to know it! I pray that you know it too! King Darius’ question is so powerfully answered in Daniel’s life and in ours. Has Your God Been Able to Rescue You? He has and he does every day.
His peers had plotted against him. He wasn’t like everyone else. He was a Hebrew in a foreign land. He was the stranger in the Babylonian boy’s club and now a new king but same old realty – Medes and Persians leading, and one Hebrew - Daniel. Daniel was faithful to the king – too faithful some thought. He was more faithful to King Darius than some of the king’s own native people and that was making them look bad. Daniel was climbing the ladder of recognition faster than they were and it made them upset. So, they hatched a plan. A really simple plan, actually. They would pit Darius’ arrogance and Daniel’s faithfulness against each other. They would trick the king into making Daniel’s faith illegal and then force him to put Daniel to death. It was a brilliantly simple plan. And it worked. They got the king to sign it into law. They got Daniel to openly disobey it. And they got the king reluctantly stand behind his decree, even when the jaws of their trap snapped down on dear Daniel.
Can you imagine the temptation to conform that Daniel would have faced? You could almost hear his friends. “Dude, Daniel. Just cool it. Master the art of the silent prayer, or at least close the windows!” Don’t be so outspokenly faithful, otherwise it’s not going to end well.” You can imagine the temptation to just keep it down, to just make religion his own personal thing and hide his real feelings, his real faith. “Be faithful, please the Lord, but do it in the privacy of your own home.” That way no one knows and no one gets hurt!” Do you think the tempter tried to get Daniel with ‘the ends justifies the means’ argument? “Just give up on praying for a month – it’s only thirty days. Be a closet Christian for just a little while. After all, what good are you to God or his people if you are torn to shreds by the lions? Just do what you have to do get by!”
You can imagine those temptations that Daniel felt, because they have been felt by us. We’ve been tempted to keep our faith to ourselves. We are faced with a far less severe consequences than Daniel, but we still crumble and fall apart. We let the devil tell us that there are lions out there. Lions named Rejection, Loneliness, and Fear. Lions named Unemployment, named Poverty, named Despair. And then he tells us that those things will devour us if we try to live the way that our God wants. If we stand on God’s Word, soon will come the fall. If we try to share his love, the love that others show us will be gone. If we go against our culture’s grain with any opinion or thought, they will eat us alive – leaving only pain, hardship and strife. And we allow our hearts to be filled with fear so that we believe him. We are afraid of those lions. And just like that, the devil’s trap is set against us, and snap, down it comes!
Martin Luther experienced those temptations as well. He was tempted to go with the flow of the Catholic Church into which he was born. He was confronted with obstacles at every turn. The more that he read God’s Word the fiercer the temptations but the more confidence he found in the truth. Luther had his Lions. Those church leaders who should have been shepherding God’s people were really lions, looking to gain from their people’s insecurities and profit from their fear. And the chief lion was a man named – you aren’t going to believe this – his name was Leo (who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor). Pope Leo X was the leader of the church, yet he was far more concerned with financial gain than he was with spiritual gain and maturity for his people. He began the sale of indulgences whereby people were told that if they paid some money, they could have their sins forgiven. What a lion was Leo! Trashing the truth of God’s Word and peddling something far different for his own gain. Martin Luther’s message was a threat to Leo’s prosperity. The devil had been using that Lion to distract people’s attention from the truth of God’s Word. Now Luther was going to bring the truth of the gospel out of the dungeon and back into the light of day. You know the way the devil works. And Luther wasn’t going to succeed without a fight.
Leo the Lion labeled Luther a heretic and warned the people how dangerous his teachings were. That was 1520. It was 9 months later that he stood before the Diet of Worms. There another lion in the Devil’s pride attacked. Emperor Charles V asked Luther, demanded that Luther recant – to take back all his writings and to admit that he was wrong. It was there that Luther made his famous speech: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason…I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I Stand, I can do no other. May God help me. Amen.”
And the verdict came soon after. Charles put a ban on Luther’s head and made it legal for anyone to take his life. In an instant, any and every one became a lion. Any and every one posed a threat to him and could attack him without warning.
But, like he did for Daniel, God closed the mouths of those lions. They would not devour his prophet. Instead he would continue preaching and teaching. Shortly after those words were spoken, Luther was pretend kidnapped by his friends and taken to Wartburg Castle, where he translated the New Testament into German, so that his people could come to the understanding and faith that he had found in the Word of God. After a year, he came out of hiding, and every day God closed the mouths of the lions who could have devoured him, who could have taken his life. He taught God’s Word and preached his truth until he died in 1546.
Daniel and Luther – God’s men, faced the lions and overcame. Extraordinary men with extraordinary faith. But you know what else they shared in common. Sin. They were both sinners. Though each won a great victory, neither assumed credit for themselves. Neither basked in the glory or looked to take the credit for themselves. (Martin Luther hated the name Lutheran because it wasn’t about him. He preferred to call his new church Evangelical – because it’s about the good news about Jesus.)
You see, Daniel and Luther were sinners, which is why they were as passionate as they were about worshipping God. They worshipped God and praised him and faced death for him, because he was their life. He was their strength. He was their trusty shield and weapon. Daniel looked forward to the Messiah to come. Luther pointed back to the gospel that was being lost, that of free and full forgiveness in Jesus. They knew weakness in themselves, but strength in God’s love. They knew death was theirs because of sin, but life is theirs by grace. They knew hopelessness and despair on their own, but a hope filled future in God’s love.
You see, Jesus faced the lions for us. He didn’t just dismiss them; he defeated the lions. And he started from the top down. Your enemy the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). The lion tried to devour Jesus, but he couldn’t. Jesus shut his mouth. When the devil tried to tempt Jesus to sin, Jesus overcame. When the doubters and sceptics tried to trap him in his words, he shut the lion’s mouth again. When the roaring and scary grave opened its mouth to devour Jesus, even that couldn’t hold him. Death has been swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54). Jesus died to shut the lion’s mouth. He rose to close the mouth of sin and death along with him. Those things cannot harm us. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37-39).
It was confidence in Jesus’ victory that prompted Luther to pen the words to stanza three of A Mighty Fortress. They are words that can eb our hope and strength as well.
Though devil’s all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill;
They cannot overpower us.
This world’s prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none.
He’s judged; the deed it done!
One little word can fell him. (CW #200 stanza 3)
My friends, with Daniel and with Luther, we can stand. We can face the lions of this world, knowing that the One who has overcome them all stands at our side, ready to defend us, ready to guide us through the dangers, toils and snares of this world. We can thank God for bold confessions of the past and seek to make our own. We can hold firmly to the promises of God. We need not fear the lions, for the God who shut the Lions mouths for Daniel and for Luther, can shut the mouths of those who threaten us today. We can live boldly and confidently knowing that that powerful and loving and forgiving God is our God!
Has Your God Been Able to Rescue You? was King Darius’ question for Daniel. God answered it for Daniel with his powerful protection. It’s a question that Luther answered with the life that he lived. And it’s a question we can rejoice to know the answer to. It’s a question with a life changing answer. Has Your God been Able to Rescue You? You know that he has!! Rejoice! Jesus is our Rescuer, our Rock, and our Redeemer! Amen.
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