Summary: A sermon of encouragement from Daniel and the Lions.
Congratulations! You’re a winner! Those are the words everybody likes to hear. I know that because if we didn’t like to win Advertising Agencies and Marketing Consultants wouldn’t use the idea of winning to entice us to buy almost every product imaginable. This week alone for $100 dinner place I could have won the house I’ve always dreamed of owning, a 25 dollar ticket could have won me a car, a free draw could have won me a Carribean Cruise, buying four C.D.’s could have made me $250,000 richer, a $1.00 ticiet could have won me 2 million dollars and just one more dollar on that very same ticket might have won me $100,000. Buying a caramel flaky pastry this week did win me a ’buy-one-get-one free’ Whopper at Burger King and a Twix Chocolate bar won me a free Supreme Personal Pan Pizza at Pizza Hut. So if I look a few pounds heavier this week it’s from all the healthy food I’ve had! But we all like to win and we all face many chances to win every day. And that’s just it, isn’t it. It’s a matter of chance. We could win. But then again, we might not, too. It is not a sure thing. But this morning what I have to offer you is a sure thing. It’s a winner, and it’s a winner every time. I used that phrase this week that we often hear. I said, "I can’t win if I don’t play." But to be on the winning team this morning, there are no games to play and it’s not a matter of chance. There is some risk, but we will always win.
You see, Jesus said in the last half of the last verse we read this morning, he says: "In this world you will have trouble, But take heart! I have overcome the world." Now there’s something in that statement that really gets me excited. It gets me more excited than even the possibility of winning, because Jesus said, "I have overcome the world." It’s that little word "have" in there that gets my heart going a little faster every time I read it. Because you see, it tells me, it’s already done. And for a little while this morning, I would like us to consider what it means to live as winning Christians. Because Jesus tells us three very specific things in this little phrase that give to us a kind of blueprint for what will happen when we’re on his team.
Just like any great coach would do, Jesus lays it on the line for us. He tells us what to expect, then he gives us instructions for our strategy - what it is we’re to do, and then, then he assures us of victory. And victory is guaranteed!
1. First, Jesus tells us what to expect. He says, "In this world, you will have trouble..." Now as much as we like winning, none of us really like trouble, do we? But how often do we hear someone say, "Oh, it was worth the trouble!" I expect Daniel knew it was worth the trouble. We read about him first this morning. In fact, Daniel got into so much trouble that he ended up in the lions’ den. Now that’s not the lion’s den that the little boy talked about when he and his family came home from church one Sunday. The sermon had been about Daniel, and the preacher had described quite vividly about Daniel’s experience in the lion’s den. On the way home from the church, the little boy complained that the preacher seemed to be making an awful fuss about it. Mother looked at the young lad and said, "About what dear?" To which the little boy replied. "About Daniel in the lions’ den. I guess it must have been his very first circus." Well, I think Daniel knew that it wasn’t a circus he was going to. And we today, as we face the world with a pure and contrite heart of service to God, will most often, feel like we’re not at the circus but that we are indeed in the middle of the lion’s den.
Perhaps Dr. C.I. Scofield says it best when he relates that within a week after his conversion, he passed by the window of an art gallery in St. Louis. He saw hanging there an engraving of a painting of Daniel in the den of lions. The prophet with his hands behind him, and the lions circling about him, is looking up and answering the king’s question. "The one thing," says Dr. Scofield, "that I was in mortal fear of, in those days, was that I might go back to my sins. I was a drunken lawyer in St. Louis when I was converted, with no power over an appetite for strong drink, and I was so afraid of a barroom or a hotel or a club that when I saw I was coming to one I would cross the street. I was in torment day and night. No one had told me anything about the keeping power of Jesus Christ. I stood before that picture, and a great hope and faith came into my heart, and I said, "Why, these lions are all around me - they are, he said, my old habits and sins - but the God that shut the lion’s mouth for Daniel can shut the lion’s mouth for me." I learned, he says, that my God was able. He had forgiven me, and He was able to deliver me from the lions. Oh, what a rest it was!" I don’t know what lions are circling around you today, but this I do know - that when Jesus said that in this world we would have trouble, he meant it. But I also know that for whatever you’re struggling with today, whatever your temptation or testing may look like, the same God that protected Daniel in the lion’s den over 2000 years ago, is still God today, and while the lions may circle around you, while they may be pacing at your side, their mouths will be shut. You know, sometimes in our Bibles, I’ve noticed that the heading for the story about Daniel is called: "Daniel delivered from the lion’s den." I prefer the heading like it is here in my Bible. It says, "Daniel in the lion’s den." You see, God didn’t prevent Daniel from being thrown into the den. He didn’t prevent the lid from being placed on the den and it being securely sealed so that maybe a friend could come along and get him out. God didn’t stop any of that. And I think what Jesus is saying to us in his own words is that, like Daniel, we will go through some pretty rough times, we will have trouble in this world. But I think like Daniel, we will be able to look up and say, "Oh King live forever! My God has sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me."