Angels and Lions
May 16th, 1971 @ 10:50 AM
ANGELS AND LIONS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-16-71 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church of Dallas. The title of the message today is Angels and Lions. In our preaching through the Book of Daniel, we are in chapter 6. There will be one more message delivered next Sunday morning then the long series will stop for a while. When we come to Daniel chapter 7, we enter an altogether different portion of the book. We even enter another language. We go back into Hebrew from Aramaic when we come to chapter 7. So the sermon next Sunday morning, will close this series on the Book of Daniel. The message today is an exposition of verses 11 through 23 in the sixth chapter of the book [Daniel 6:11-23].
First of all we look at the deceived Darius, who finds himself in a den of his own; a den of dilemma and agonizing frustration. He has signed and sealed a decree that no one in his kingdom can pray or make appeal to any god except to him. And if anyone is found who violates that law, he is to be cast into a den of lions [Daniel 6:7-9]. So this Daniel is found, as he did aforetime, praying to the true Jehovah Lord of heaven [Daniel 6:10]. And verse 11 begins with that open, unashamed commitment of Daniel to his God:
The men assembled, found Daniel praying and making supplication before God.
Then they came near, and spoke before the king concerning the king’s decree, and they said, Did not you sign the decree, that any man that should ask a petition of God or man within thirty days, save of thee, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions? And the king had to answer, Yes, yes, the thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not—
then they drive home their covert scheme—
Then answered they and said before the king, This Daniel, which is of the captivity of Judah, regardeth not thee, O king, nor the decree which though hast signed, but he makes his petition to his God three times every day.
Then the king, when he heard these words, was sore displeased with himself.
What a change! The day before he had attained the giddiest heights of his ambition. He was declared a god; he was deified before the Medes, the Persians, and the Babylonians [Daniel 6:7-9]. And now he’s a dupe; his courtiers have made a fool of him. They have made him look ridiculous [Daniel 6:8-15]. Isn’t that a portrayal of our humanity? From god down to dupe, falling in a trap set for us by our archenemy and adversary. You have just one more illustration here in the king of our awesome and total apostasy. We are a fallen people, all of us! Our minds, our hearts, our thoughts, our visions, our dreams, our ambitions; everything about us is fallen. We are apostate and lost. If such a postulate were presented in a book, we might argue against it with vehemence, but our problem lies in the bitterness of our own experience. There’s nobody under the sound of this pastor’s voice, but finds places in his life of which he is abysmally ashamed.
There is no more dramatic story in the Bible than the story of the Lord God sending Elisha to anoint Hazael, king over Syria. And after the anointing of Hazael, Elisha the prophet looks at him, and looks at him, and looks at him. And as he looks at him, the prophet begins to weep. And Hazael, answering Elisha says, “Why does my lord weep?” And Elisha replies, “For I see what thou shalt do to Israel.” Then he describes it. And after the description, Hazael answers Elisha and says, “But my lord, is thy servant a dog, that he should do such a thing?” [2 Kings 8:11-13]. But he did it [2 Kings 8:15]. He did it. And all of us do.
There is no one of us but that finds himself entrapped. We are dupes. We are fallen. We are apostatized. We are depraved. We are sinners. We are lost; all of us. So this Darius; at heart, one of the finest noblemen and monarchs, but he is a prey of those who seek to snare his feet. And he finds himself in the pit, in the den; agonizingly, frustratingly so:
Then the king, when he heard these words, was sore displeased with himself—
and all of us have those experiences in life—
And he found himself sore displeased with himself, and he set his heart on Daniel to deliver him:
and he labored till the going down of the sun to deliver him.
But these men were constitutional lawyers. They were impeccable; they knew that law to the letter [Daniel 6:5]. The Book says, “the letter killeth, it is the Spirit that maketh alive” [2 Corinthians 3:6]. And all through our courts of justice will you find shrewd lawyers, driving home the letter and violating the intent and spirit of the constitutional framers who sought to deliver us from such mechanisms. These men are shrewd and constitutional; they are impeccable, unassailable! And they say, when the king tries to deliver Daniel [Daniel 6:14], “Know, O king, that the law of the Medes and Persians altereth not. No decree nor statute which the king establisheth may be changed” [Daniel 6:15].
Here it is, written and signed and sealed. You couldn’t help but pause before a thing like that. Why should the king have done such stupidity? Well, trying to explain the situation, maybe it was because they thought that it would give the monarch pause before he made a decree if he realized that it couldn’t be changed. Certainly, it could have been a blessing to the people because it delivered them from constant change. What was done, they could count on and live by. But there is also a thing in this that is so true of a man; that debatable pride that makes him carry through a wrong action, just because he has sworn it or taken an oath to do it. You have an identical instance of that in Herod Antipas. When Salome danced before the king, he was so enamored with it, he was so delighted, he was so pleased that he said, “I’ll give you anything to the half of my kingdom.” And Herodias, her mother said, “Ask for the head of John the Baptist.” And when Herod heard that request, he was grieved [Mark 6:22-26]. He had great respect for the noble prophet, John. But for his oath’s sake, and for the men who were around him, he gave commandment ,and the executioner chopped off the head of the Baptist [Mark 6:27-28].
That isn’t strange in human nature until recent days. Until recent days, no officer in the army, and no nobleman could live with himself if he refused to accept the challenge to a duel. Alexander Hamilton, one of the most brilliant men of America—the first Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington—the man who so largely through his Federalist Papers, created the government, the Constitutional government of America; he was killed in a duel by the unspeakable Aaron Burr. Isn’t that a strange thing? That streak in men, in pride to do wrong rather than lose face; there are whole nations like that: go to war, go to any extremity rather than lose face.
So Darius, as the lawyers stood before him and drove home that constitutional point, the letter of the law [Daniel 6:15], the king bowed in acquiescence. Displeased with himself, set his heart to deliver Daniel [Daniel 6:14], couldn’t do it; then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions [Daniel 6:16]. And a stone was brought and laid upon the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of lords; that the purpose might not be changed [Daniel 6:17]. But he did one other thing, God bless him, “Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest continually, He will deliver thee” [Daniel 6:16].
And isn’t that something? This heathen monarch is turned preacher, and comforter, and exhorter. “Daniel, thy God whom thou servest continually, He will deliver thee” [Daniel 6:16]. Ah, isn’t it great to see a heathen king stand on tiptoe to see the dawn of the gospel? “Thy God will deliver thee!” His heart is in every syllable: “Thy God, personal Lord, whom thou servest continually.” What an impact and what an impression did Daniel make upon that heathen king, “Whom thou servest continually” [Daniel 6:16]. He was so persuaded, the king was, that the Lord God of Daniel could not but deliver so faithful, and so noble, and so steadfast a servant. I wonder what kind of impression that we make upon people? I imagine as they look upon us and our commitment to God, they think we’re poor pickings even for the lions.
So they take Daniel, and they cast him into the dungeon [Daniel 6:16]. This is exactly as the shrewd, clandestine courtiers thought it would come to pass, exactly! [Daniel 6:12-13]. Daniel refused to change his habits of worship. He refused to change his praying to God. He refused to close his windows, open toward Jerusalem. And he refused to obey the decree that would separate him from the Lord God in heaven [Daniel 6:10].
And I can see the old man, he’s over ninety years of age, now. I can see the old man—with his hair so white, in dignity and in calm self-assurance—I can see the old man under the decree of death, I can see him in state and in dignity, walk into the den and the dungeon. Can’t you? Can’t you? The man who fears God only, need fear none else! And with that same spirit of martyrdom that was the admiration and the rage of the Roman world, persecuting the Christians, so Daniel walked into the pit with the lions. And the Lord God sent an angel and shut the lions’ mouths and Daniel spent the night in quiet rest [Daniel 6:21-22]. Why, Daniel was more at rest in the den of lions than Darius was in the palace with all its comforts and luxuries [Daniel 6:18]; for is not the night for rest? In the day we work; at night we rest. In the day we are abroad, at night we are at home. The day, God fills with light and with stimulated activity, but the night God hushes the sounds, and He stops the song of the birds. And He draws the curtains of tenderest, soft darkness. And He says, “Hush.” And as the one hundred twenty-seventh Psalm avows, “He gives His beloved sleep” [Psalm 127:2]
And the Lord God not only sent an angel to watch over Daniel [Daniel 6:22], they also whispered into the ears of those savage and ravenous and carnivorous beasts. He said, “Listen, one of My servants is coming down to spend the night with you. Receive him cordially and hospitably; make him comfortable. Hurt not a hair of his head. And lay your shaggy mane that he might use it for a pillow.
At the end of this chapter these lions ravenously destroy the enemies of Daniel [Daniel 6:24], but Daniel they watch over, and care for, and guard, and keep, the angels and the lions [Daniel 6:22]. The angels and lions, and I can just see Daniel as he lays his head upon the shaggy mane of one of those giant kings of the forest. And he sings a lullaby as he goes to sleep:
Angels and lions a watchin’ over me.
Angels and lions a watchin’ over me
Angels and lions, watchin’ over me.
[from “All Night, All Day, Angels Watching Over Me,” African-American Spiritual]
And God’s servant is asleep.
I can’t help but think of Simon Peter in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts. Herod Agrippa I had cut off the head of James the brother of John the disciple. And because he saw that it pleased the leaders in Jerusalem, he arrested Simon Peter, put him in that iron prison to execute him the next day! [Acts 12:1-3]. Then follows the story of the angel coming down and knocking off the manacles and the chains and the stocks that incarcerated Simon Peter, opened by itself, the great iron door, and led him out into the street and set him free [Acts 12:4-11]. When the angel came down to liberate Simon Peter, what was Simon Peter doing? Do you remember? He was sound asleep between those two guards, chained—sound asleep [Acts 12:6]. And so sound was he asleep, that the Book says that the angel came and smote him and said: “Wake up, Simon! [Acts 12:7]. Don’t you know you’re going to have your head cut off in the morning? Wake up!”
“Angels and lions a watchin’ over me,” and he fell asleep in the love and confidence and guardian, shepherdly care of the Lord [Daniel 6:22]. Now I call that real preaching! All of you in the choir, that think so say, “Amen!” [response: “amen!”]
All you staff members that think so say, “Amen!” [response: “amen!”]
That’s right! Oh, dear, “my God hath sent His angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouth.”
Well, this is a type and a figure of all of our lives. We all are in some den of lions. And I’m not speaking of stuffed animals that have the name and not the nature. The trials of a Christian are not sentimental; they are real! The way is never and always silken and smooth and soft; it is sometime hard and rigorous! We ought never to speak to youngsters and young people as though the Christian life were nothing but a primrose path and a bed of roses; it is sometimes difficult. The writing has been signed against us, and the progress of the Christian is always through antagonism, and trial, and temptation.
Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follow’r of the Lamb?
Must I be carried to the skies
On flow’ry beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?
Sure, I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord.
[“Am I a Soldier of the Cross?” Isaac Watts, 1740]
That is the Christian way! All of us find ourselves in some den of lions. Here in the Book of Daniel, in the first chapter, he’s battling with drink [Daniel 1:8]. In the second chapter, he is to be liquidated [Daniel 2:5]. In the fourth [Daniel 4:19-27], and the fifth chapters [Daniel 5:17-28], he takes his life in his hands, speaking bluntly and truthfully, delivering God’s message to the king. In the third chapter, his friends have been thrown in the fiery furnace! [Daniel 3:19-23]. And in the sixth chapter—in all six of them, it’s just the same—here he is in a dungeon of lions [Daniel 6:16]. That is the Christian faith.
If Abraham is called to go out, he moves, not knowing whither he goes [Hebrews 11:8]; take his whole family with him, not knowing where he’s going. When Moses is called [Exodus 3:9-10], he leads his children through a wilderness of burning furnace [Exodus 15:22]. And when Elijah stands before Jezebel and Ahab [1 Kings 16:29-33], not to speak of the seven thousand whose names are not chronicled, but whose names are in heaven [1 Kings 19:18]. When the apostle Paul wrote, “Yea, all who would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer trial, persecution” [2 Timothy 3:12]. The apostle, the Lord’s brother James, the brother of the Lord starts his epistle with Christians that fall into heavy trial [James 1:2]. It is for all of us; we all face the lions, we are in some den.
The whole world is that way. They also, out in the world, face trial and trouble and lions, but there is a difference between them and us. And the difference is found, and it lies in the possession of the presence of God. He makes the difference. You go behind the Christian’s back to stab him, and God is behind his back! You go in front of him to ambush him, and God is in front of him! You waylay him by the side of the road, and God’s on his right hand and God’s on his left hand. As the apostle Paul said in the twenty-seventh chapter of Acts, in that awesome storm that wrecked the ship, he said: “For there stood by me this night the angel of God” [Acts 27:23]. As he wrote in the Mamertine dungeon, in the fourth chapter of his last letter, the second letter to Timothy, he said, “When I stood before the court, no man stood by me; but the Lord stood by me, and delivered me out of the mouth of the lion” [2 Timothy 4:16-17]. It’s God that makes the difference.
But immediately when we read this story, the question cannot but come to our minds, “What if the lions had eaten him up? [Daniel 6:16]. What if they had broken his bones and shredded his body? What if the lions had devoured him?” He still would have won! He couldn’t lose. He still would have triumphed!
It may be God’s will that he died. It could be God’s will that he will be delivered. But the important thing is not the deliverance or the death; the important thing is God’s will. It may be God’s will that the servant die. God did not deliver John the Baptist; they cut off his head, and he lay in a pool of his own blood [Mark 6:27-28]. It was not God’s will that Jesus be delivered; they nailed Him to the cross [Matthew 27:32-50]. It was not God’s will that James, the brother of John be delivered; Herod Agrippa cut off his head [Acts 12:1-2]. It was not God’s will for Stephen to be delivered; they beat his life with stones into the dust of the ground [Acts 7:58-59]. It was not God’s will that Paul be ultimately delivered; the executioner on the Ostian road outside Rome cut off his head (history). Because he was a Roman Christian—because he was a Roman citizen, he could not be crucified. But by the side of the apostle Paul there was a throng of them crucified!
Some of us in a few days will be looking at the great Coliseum in Rome. When you go in that Coliseum and look down, remember that in that place there were thousands and thousands of Christians that were fed to the lions. Sometimes it is not God’s will that the Christian be delivered. But this is God’s will: that for us there is a triumph and a victory, Via crucis, via lucis! —“The way of the cross is the way of light.” The Christian is never defeated.
Down is up to the Christian, and black is bright, and light, and glory. “Well,” you say, “John the Baptist with his head severed; is not that a disaster?” A disaster? No! It was his entrée, and his introduction, and his presentation in glory; he went to heaven, just like that. Why, you might as well speak of a man who spites a ship by casting it into the water. He just launches it! For the ship, though it is made on the land, is built for the sea. And the child of the Christian is not at home until he is in heaven; that is the Christian home.
I am a stranger here,
Heaven is my home;
Earth is a desert drear,
Heaven is my home;
Sorrows and dangers stand
Round me on every hand;
Heaven is my fatherland,
Heaven is my home.
[“I’m But a Stranger Here,” by Thomas R. Taylor]
And had he lost his life, the angels would have carried his soul to Abraham’s bosom. Doesn’t the Book say so? [Luke 16:22]. If it’s God’s will for us to live, we are delivered, as the three Hebrew children [Daniel 3:24-26], and as Daniel [Daniel 6:22]. If it is not God’s will, we are brought up to be with the Lord in glory, as Stephen [Acts 7:55-59], as Antipas, an unknown martyr in Pergamos in the second chapter of the Revelation [Revelation 2:13]. But whether it is to live, we’re under the guardian, shepherdly, loving care of God; or whether it is to die, the angels watch over us to bear us on snowy wings to glory [Romans 14:8]:
O come, angel band, come, and around me stand,
O bear me away on your snowy wings,
To my immortal home.
[“My Latest Sun is Sinking Fast,” Jefferson Hascall, 1860]
“Angels and lions are watching over me” [Daniel 6:22], in the purpose and will of God for our lives; hid with Christ in the Lord [Colossians 3:3]; kept forever by His omnipotent hand, doing His will in His holy purpose for us, as He shall choose, as God’s best, His purpose for us.
In this moment that we sing our song of appeal, a family you, a couple you, or one somebody you to give your heart to God, would you come and stand by me? Make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming, you. There’s a stairway to the right, to the left, at the front and at the back. There’s time and to spare. If you’re seated on the topmost row, make the decision now, and come. On this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, “Here I am, pastor, I decide for God, and here I come.”
No greater decision could you ever make than to offer your life to the keeping care of the Lord. Make a partner of Him in your business; invite Him as a guest into your home [Revelation 3:20]. Rear, in His love and admonition, the children God places in your arms [Ephesians 6:4]. It’s just a glory way; it’s a heavenly road. Whether it leads to the valley or over the mountaintop; whether it is in the dark of the night or in the meridian sun, if God is with you, it’s just God that makes the difference. Come, come, make the decision now and come; the family, the two, or just you. In a moment when we sing, and you stand up, stand up coming down that stairway or into the aisle and here to the front, “Here I am, pastor, I make it now,” do it, while we stand and while we sing.
ANGELS AND LIONS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Decree signed, Daniel
flagrantly, openly breaks it
B. Darius displeased with
C. Case against Daniel
D. King is trapped
The delivered Daniel
A. Delivered to the lions
B. Delivered from the
A type of our victory
A. The lions we face
B. The blessings of the
C. Suppose the lions had
D. “Is they God able?”