A Superlative Minister
May 2nd, 1971 @ 8:15 AM
THE SUPERLATIVE MINISTER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-2-71 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Superlative Minister, a minister of state. Last Sunday we marked the close of one of the tremendous historical epochs and eras in human history: the close of the first golden kingdom, the great universal empire headed by the gifted and glorious King Nebuchadnezzar, which descended into the abysmal debauchery and ruin of his grandson Belshazzar [Daniel 5:5, 25-31]. Today we begin in another world, with another kingdom: the second great world empire, that of the Medes and the Persians. So I begin to read:
It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom a hundred and twenty princes. . .
And over these three presidents; of whom Daniel was first. . .
Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm.
Then the presidents and princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find none occasion nor fault; he was faithful. . .
Then said these men, We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God.
Then these presidents and princes assembled together to the king, and said unto him, King Darius, live for ever.
All the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, the princes, the counselors, the captains, have consulted together to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask any petition of any god or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions.
Now, O king, establish the decree, and sign the writing, that it be not changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which altereth not.
Wherefore King Darius signed the writing and the decree.
We speak first of the elevation of this Daniel. "And over these, out of a hundred twenty satrapies, out of these, three presidents; of whom Daniel was first." We are so enmeshed in the story that follows, the lions’ den, and the guardian angel, and the night of prayerful and wakeful agony, and the retribution to those who so counseled destruction and death for this Daniel [Daniel 6:14-24], we are so caught up in the story that we don’t notice this little sentence; but it’s the key to all that follows: "of which this Daniel was first" [Daniel 6:2].
He was manifestly and overtly first. He was first in the eyes of the people: his noble and pure and saintly life. It’s very difficult to hide a city that is built on a high hill; it is no less difficult to hide the purity and nobility of a man’s life, "of which this Daniel was first"; he was also first in the judgment of the king. The king sought for wisdom and integrity in his minister of state; he found it aboundingly in this Daniel.
Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and the princes [Daniel 6:3]. That Aramaic word, here translated "preferred," could be translated "he outshone them." There was a light in Daniel that wasn’t found in the other counselors and ministers. There was an inspiration about the man. His syllogisms were as though they were inspired. His judgments and his counsel was as though a man had inquired at an oracle of God. His speaking to the king was with words of profound wisdom and insight. To listen to him was like listening to fine music, as though he had contact with the infinite heights above. This Daniel outshone, there was a light in him, above all the other counselors and cabinet members of state.
So, he was chosen and elevated because "an excellent spirit was in him." Isn’t that a magnificent tribute? "Because an excellent spirit was in him," God saw it. Three times he is called "Daniel, the beloved," by God, by the Lord, the Lord who inspired the writing of the story – "an excellent spirit in him" [Daniel 6:3]. In Ezekiel there are three noble men that are named by God: one, Noah; third, Job; and in the middle always this Daniel [Ezekiel 14:14, 20]. And when Ezekiel wrote that, Daniel was alive. In God’s sight, the Lord saw in him an excellent spirit.
It’s a remarkable thing as we read these unusually devout and holy personalities. One, Joseph: never a fault recorded in him. Another, Jonathan: if ever a pure, holy spirit, unselfish, magnanimous ever lived, Jonathan was that one, the friend of David. And this Daniel, "because there was an excellent spirit in him"; God saw it, and the king saw it.
The king was acquainted with all of these years of history that had gone before his coming. He knew of Daniel as he stood before Nebuchadnezzar and spake of the dream, that great image in the second chapter of the Book of Daniel, and Daniel’s interpretation [Daniel 2:31-45]; and he knew of Daniel’s guiding the kingdom in the seven years of Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity and madness in the fourth chapter of the book [Daniel 4:30-37]. And he also was aware of Daniel standing before the dissolute Belshazzar and speaking to him of things concerning repentance and righteousness [Daniel 5:22-23]. Always this Daniel was seeking the good and the better and the best in behalf of his sovereign. And when the king sought a minister of state, he found in Daniel that dedication that made him a man of trust and integrity, "because in him was found an excellent spirit" [Daniel 6:3], and we see it also.
I want you to look at him, just a little more carefully. We see it also. How old is he? Well, let’s figure it up for ourselves. I’m talking now about our innate respect and reverence for the man. How old is he? He was born about 625 BC. When Cyrus took over the kingdom, that was in 537 BC, how old was he? He was ninety-three years old, ninety-three, about ninety years of age if he were born in, say, 623 or 22, instead of 625. He was about ninety or ninety-three years of age. Yet there was summertime in his heart. His whole life flowed God-ward and heavenward, Christ-ward, praise-ward. There was the spirit of youth, and joyfulness, and hopefulness, and optimism in Daniel, this aged minister.
Again, look at him: in all of the words in these twelve chapters, there is never from him any approach to a complaint. Why, he was a captive, he was a slave, he was a trophy of war, he was one of the spoils of battle. Do you find him complaining about his lot? Rooted out of his home, taken from his family, set down in a strange and foreign land, a slave in a court; his soul is free; his spirit soars. You can’t help but see in him an excellent spirit; no complaint!
I think he was a eunuch. In the thirty-ninth chapter of the Book of Isaiah, when the king of Babylon, Merodach-Raladan, tried to woo King Hezekiah, and King Hezekiah was so flattered [Isaiah 39:1-2] – anyway – the Lord sent Isaiah to speak a word of judgment and deliver the prophecy of the coming, long, long hence, of the coming captivity in Babylon, and the Lord God said to Hezekiah, "Of thy sons, of the seed royal, that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon" [Isaiah 39:5-7]. And Daniel was of the seed royal [Daniel 1:3]. I think he was a eunuch. Do you ever find any lament or any complaint that he was an emasculated man, a dried branch without hope of issue? Never!
When I think of him and his excellent spirit, and when I see us, some of us are all complaint. If there is any word of cheer or encouragement, it would do us personal injury if we voiced it. Some of us our faces are so set until if we smile we’d break the mold. "An excellent spirit in him" [Daniel 6:3] – I repeat, there is something in this man that, when you’re in his presence, you feel up. He gave himself to the recognition of unrecognized men; he sought them out.
You know, there are some people that when you are in their presence you feel mean and despised. And then there are others, when you’re in their presence you feel exalted and lifted up! Isn’t it a strange thing, the spirit of a man, how he can do one of those things to you? "There was in him an excellent spirit."
Now I turn to a part of the story I wish we could omit. I turn now to the bitter penalty. You remember, always, always, exaltation and primacy has its price, always. There is, if nothing else, there is a personal price. Any man who excels is a man who disciplines himself. He works for one thing; he works, he slaves, he works. Is it in music? He’s chained, he’s a slave. Is it in art? Is it in medicine? Is it in theology? Wherever a man excels, he works! Primacy has its price. He has responsibility.
I could not but be interested when the president of the United States said, "I try to listen to these men. I take five minutes for lunch. I take five minutes for dinner." I could not but be impressed as I sat by his aide, and the aide said to me, "You know, it’s [not] unusual, when you see him late at night with his sleeves rolled up, his coat off, slaving there at his desk" – responsibility.
The ignorantly ambitious look at these who are exalted, and they covet their honors, but they shun their sacrifice. Is it desirable to be exalted? It is and it isn’t. It is yes and it is no; for it carries with it always a tremendous suffering and sacrifice. Primacy has its price.
But there’s another thing that is dark that goes with exaltation: it is the price of greatness that it is always followed by envy. There is a seething and a burning in the hearts of others toward the one who is exalted; even though he has done them no injury. And the more he is exalted and successful, the more they hate him.
"Pastor, hate this good man? Envious of this good man? Plotting against this Daniel, God’s beloved and holy saint?" That’s what I’m saying. That’s what the Book says. And that is human nature.
You know, Plato said something. Let me tell you what he said. Plato said that if truth, truth, that if truth were to come down out of heaven and display herself upon the earth that she would be so wonderfully acceptable that men would fall down and worship her. You remember what Socrates said? "If we knew everything, we would be good; because the only reason a man is bad is he does not know everything." So Plato said, "If truth were to come down to the earth, all men would bow down and worship her." That hypothetical conclusion of the Greek philosopher Plato is denied in sacred and secular history.
Didn’t truth come down? Did not He say, "I am the way, the truth, and the life"? [John 14:6]. Didn’t truth itself come down out of heaven and walk in the presence of men? And what did they say? They cried, "Crucify Him!" They cried, "Away with Him!" [John 19:15]. They shouted, "Not this Man, but Barabbas" [Matthew 27:17-26; Mark 15:7-15]. Now Barabbas was a robber, a traitor, and an insurrectionist, and a murderer. You see, that’s always the fatal – and that’s what I preached about last Sunday morning – there is always that fatal flaw in human philosophy and in humanism: to them sin, the depravity of man, is always a slight thing. But not in God’s Book and not in God’s eyes. Sin is a devastating thing. We are wholly fallen. And it is illustrated here in these presidents and princes, filled with envy because this Daniel was first [Daniel 6:2].
Well, they had a lot of reasons, to them: he was a captive, he was a slave, he had belonged to that hated Babylonian regime. But there are two other things in it. One: the king sought to set him over the whole realm [Daniel 6:3]; and they themselves were ambitious. And another thing: the integrity of this man was a block in their personal enrichment, to use office for self-aggrandizement. We sure see that writ large on the pages of the modern newspapers: where men of state use their high and exalted offices to enrich themselves. Just go down here to some of these capitals and some of these states that are real near to us and watch the politicians.
And the integrity of this man was a rebuke! And they hated him. So the diabolical plan: how would they find fault with him? They had to open to view, to exhibit some miasmic abysmal wrong in him, fault in him. So, they tested everything that he did in the kingdom, everything. Tried every judgment, looked at every word of counsel; they tested everything they knew in him, and the conclusion was "There was none occasion, nor fault" [Daniel 6:4]. He dispensed his patronage impartially. His words of judgment and counsel and wisdom were, as I say, as if a man had inquired at an oracle of God. He was true and honest and above bribery!
You know, a bribe, oh, what it does to the man of state! It opens one of his eyes in the scales of justice, and it seals his lips against patent and flagrant wrong, bribery. But this man Daniel was of such integrity and nobility there was nothing in his public life in which they could point and say, "Look at this misjudgment, and look at this colossal error, and look at this flagrant mistake." Then they hit upon some kind of deep, dark, diabolical inspiration themselves: "Look at his God. Did you ever see so strange a God in your life as Daniel worships? No idols, no sharing in these ceremonies at Baal Merodach. There, that’s it."
I wonder if I have enough nerve right here to pause and make a comment. Would you like to hear it? There is no such thing as a man of God and a true Christian who is not a patriot, period. This Daniel, in every situation, whether it was with Nebuchadnezzar, or whether it was with Belshazzar, or whether it was with Darius, he is a true patriot. That doesn’t mean that he compromises his convictions of God, and of prayer, and of the service and ministry of Jesus. You’re going to read that as we go forward in the story. But in every instance where Daniel was, he was a true patriot.
All right, let’s take the obverse, the obverse of that. If you are to inquire into the lives of these who want to change just for change’s sake, they want to tear down just for tearing down’s sake; they have no program, they have no future, they have nothing to offer that elevates. But they talk and they rant and they demonstrate. If you were to look into their lives, would you find family altars? Would you? Would you find prayer at the table before they break bread? Would you? Would you find in their hands well-worn Bibles? Would you? Would you find them in the sanctuaries of the Lord, bowing before the great High God in humility? No. No. No! For there is something about the Christian faith and the Christian commitment that makes a man a patriot: loves his country and his government, and he does it without compromise, as you will see here in the story of the lions’ den [Daniel 6:16-24].
There’s everything ennobling about the worship of God. There is everything abysmally deteriorative and destructive in those that don’t know God!
Well, all of that is just extra. Don’t charge you for that at all, it’s just extra.
This diabolical scheme against his religion, against his faith – I want you to look at that diabolical scheme. They were so certain that Daniel would not compromise his faith; they were so dead sure that he would be true to his God until they felt they had a sure-fire case when they made it impossible for him to go before God in prayer and supplication. Now that was their opinion of Daniel’s religion.
I wonder what the world’s opinion of our religion is, and of us? Wash it out. Why, I don’t know how many fellows, young men now, when their boss says, "Bottoms up," down goes the liquor, because the boss says, "Let’s drink." His idea of our religion is one of contempt: we sell it for a mess of pottage; we compromise it for any advancement or circumstance. That’s the world’s idea of us.
That wasn’t the world’s idea of Daniel. "He will die," they said. "And that’s the way we’re going to put him out of the way. He will die before he compromises his convictions and his faith." That’s a good worldly judgment of a man’s righteousness and religion, isn’t it?
Well, we must continue. "Then these presidents and princes assembled together to the king" [Daniel 6:6]. Now that Aramaic translated there "assembled together to the king" has in it the idea that they rushed impetuously, tumultuously into the presence of the king; never bothered with kingly etiquette, which is always obtained in those courts in order to protect the presence of the king. Man, they said, "We’ve got an inspiration! We have an irresistible impulse!" It was all premeditated. And had the king given time for thought or argument, such a thing could never have happened at all. The two presidents, why Daniel was, his colleagues, he not with them, "We have an inspiration," they said, "We have an irresistible impulse. Great king Darius, we want to honor you. And we have chosen you God for a month" – like queen for a day – "God for a month, for thirty days you’re going to be vice-president of the whole universe." And I want you to know it’s an unusual critter who isn’t subject to flattery. Oh dear! And the king was pleased. He was honored. For thirty days, no worship or adoration or intercession or petition was to be addressed to any god or man except to him, thirty days to be infallibly divine. And he caught the bait, hook, line, and sinker; lock, stock, and barrel; middle and both ends. And without thinking, he signed the decree [Daniel 6:9]; "If any man prays, calls on the name of a god for thirty days, he will be cast into the den of lions" [Daniel 6:7].
Now I have to close.
And when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, what did he do? Oh, the quiet self-possession of this man of God! I mustn’t mention it because we’ve got sermons ahead, and this time is gone. But over yonder on the fourth floor of that activities building across the street there is a picture of Daniel. And I think some of you ought to go look at it if you can. There’s a picture of Daniel, and one of the famous ones: he’s standing there with his hands behind his back in quiet contemplation, and the lions themselves are looking at him in amazement and in astonishment! The quiet self-possession of this man of God, living the Christian life, whether anybody noticed it or whether they didn’t notice it, and his holy self-assurance, walking with God through the trials and the responsibilities of the day.
As I think of him, I couldn’t help but think of aged Polycarp, the pastor of the church at Smyrna: in calm self-assurance, burned at the stake and the flames but wafted his soul to glory. What is that passage in Isaiah? "God will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee" [Isaiah 26:3]. I think of Simon Peter in the twelfth chapter of Acts, going to be beheaded the next day, sound asleep, chained to two Roman soldiers, just quite [Acts 12:6].
Dear me! How I need this sermon. So full of anxiety and worry and perturbation, so full of things that could happen and might happen – just quiet self-confidence as he had done before, loving God, doing now, serving the Lord, and as long as the days of his age shall last, Daniel, God’s holy man whose heart is at peace because his soul leans upon God.
We have to sing our song. We’ll put a comma there and we’ll start next Sunday morning. While we sing our hymn of appeal, a couple you, a whole family you, or just one somebody you, while we sing the appeal, come. Make it now. If you’re in that balcony, there’s time and to spare; down one of these stairways and to the front. If you’re on this lower floor, into the aisle and here to the pastor, "Here’s my hand; I’ve given my heart to God, and I’m coming." On the first note of the first stanza, make the decision now; and when you stand up, stand up coming. And welcome in the way as you come, while we stand.