Life In The Lion’s Den – Devoured Or Delivered
Years ago, when the great Joe Gordon was playing baseball for the Cleveland Indians, a young black man came up to play on the team as well. His name was Larry Doby, and he was the first Black to play in the American League. God forgive us, there was a lot of tension and racial hatred surrounding his playing in the major leagues. When Larry Doby came up to bat for the first time, you could hear the murmurs, the hisses, the boos. The racial bigots had crowded the stadium that day determined to drive Larry Doby away and destroy his career. As racial epithets rained down upon him, Larry Doby was devoured by the pressure—he swung at the first three pitches and missed them by a mile. The crowd actually cheered at his failure, and he quickly ran back to the dugout, head hung low. He moved past all the other players to the end of the bench and buried his head in his hands. Some even noticed that there were tears running down his cheeks.
Joe Gordon was the next batter up. He was at the time leading the league in hitting, and the opposing pitcher was one he had hit with regularity all season long. But this time, he swung at the first three pitches and missed them all by a mile. He, too, hung his head in shame, walked back to the dugout, past the other players to the end of the bend, sat down dejectedly next to Larry Doby and never said a word. Nobody ever asked Joe Gordon whether he struck out deliberately that day, but from, that day on for as long as they played together, every time Larry Doby went out to the field, he picked up Joe Gordon’s glove first and tossed it to him before going on to the outfield. And Larry Doby went on to become one of the greatest hitters ever to play the game. It makes all the difference in the world, doesn’t it, when someone is willing to stand by us when we’ve “struck out” in life, or when we’ve experienced failure, or when we’ve been tossed into difficult and dangerous circumstances in life.
Of course, that’s one of the great themes of the Bible—that when life becomes a vicious entanglement with the circumstances of this world, God comes to stand by us so that we can be delivered from those circumstances rather than being devoured by them. From cover to cover, from Genesis to Revelation, God is recognized as “the Great Deliverer.” He delivered Joseph from the fury of his brothers and Noah from the fury of the flood. He delivered the Israelites from the powerful Pharaoh and David from the powerful Goliath. He delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace and Paul and Silas from the Philippian jail. But, the greatest delivery of all was what God did for us “on an old rugged cross” through the gift of Jesus Christ our Lord, our Saviour, our great Deliverer.
Deliverance. It is a major recurring theme in Scripture, uniquely so, I think in the Book of Daniel. The story of Daniel deals directly with the way one person managed to live in a lion’s den without being devoured. Take a look. Daniel, a brilliant young Jewish lad, had been captured and carted off as an exile to Babylon. There he was placed in the service of King Darius. Because of his intelligence and his hard work, he caught the eye of the king who elevated him to a position of great responsibility. The other members of the king’s court were jealous and they plotted Daniel’s destruction. Knowing that Daniel regularly prayed to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they convinced King Darius to pass a law that anyone who prayed to anyone but King Darius would be thrown into a lion’s den. Daniel was undaunted by this new law. The Bible says: “Daniel continued to pray to God, just as he had done before.” As a result, the King ordered Daniel thrown into the lion’s den, a sure death in the eyes of the world. The next day, to the King’s astonishment, Daniel was still alive. He said: “O King, my God came to me to stand by me. He shut the mouths of the lions so that they could not hurt me.” Daniel was not devoured in the lion’s den, he was delivered!
We, too, face circumstances in life which seem difficult if not impossible. God may not spare us from being cast to the lions, but He can surround us with protective grace in the den. We, too, can be delivered from the lion’s mouths and remain safe. When we trust God completely even in the midst of circumstances which may be hurtful or hazardous, then we discover that what the Bible says is true: God is our Great Deliverer! Now on the strand of that wondrous Biblical truth, permit me to string three pearls of God’s grace…
First, we learn from Daniel in the lion’s den that deliverance means “to come through in the crisis.”
When the trap was set for Daniel’s destruction, he would not be intimidated or manipulated. The Bible says: “He kept on praying just as he had done before.” He would not yield to the pressures around him. He came through like a champ in the crisis! He rose to the occasion.
I am not a regular television viewer but when the Olympics come around, I nearly overdose on the tube! So it was a few weeks ago. And I saw so many instances of people rising to the occasion, people coming through in the crisis. Do you remember Anita Nall? Sixteen years old. Just a child thrust into the glare of world attention. The pressure must have been incredible. She was a member of our swimming team. She was expected to deliver, to bring home the gold.
Let me digress just a moment, and say that sometimes I’d like to pull the plug on some TV reporters’ microphones. I mean Anita Nall won a bronze medal and a silver medal, yet as she stepped out of the pool, the reporter asked: “Anita, you have failed in these two events, how do you feel now?” Well, she handled it with grace and charm—but I wanted her to say: “I’m sixteen years old, and I’ve come to represent my country in the Olympic Games, and I have won a bronze and a silver medal. What were you doing when you were sixteen?”
But Anita Nall was too big for such petulance. She would not yield to the pressure. She stayed calm and confident—and she rose to the occasion. In her last race of the Games, she won a gold medal. She attributed her grace and strength under pressure to her faith. Reminds me of Daniel.
Or I think of the son of a friend of mine—this one’s too good to let pass! The boy was in the tenth grade at the time. He had a crush on a girl in the eleventh grade. Suddenly, his dreams came true. Out of the blue one day she walked up to him in the cafeteria and invited him to the Junior-Senior Prom. He was ecstatic! He quickly rented a tux and ordered a corsage. Then his dream became a nightmare. It hit him with a sickening thud. He realized that he had no car, and worse, no driver’s license. But he came through in the crisis! He devised an ingenious plan. He knew that his grandfather owned a big, shiny, black Lincoln Town Car. With that in mind, he went down to a nearby pawn shop and bought a chauffeur’s cap. He then convinced his grandfather to put on a black suit and tie and the driver’s cap, and not tell anyone that he was his grandfather, and to serve as his limousine driver for the night. It worked to perfection! His date loved it. His friends were envious. And grand-dad played his part to the hilt—driving well, opening the doors with such a flourish, and throughout the night addressing his grandson as “Mr. Galloway.” That’s what you call rising to the occasion!
The Scriptures are full of that kind of experience—people with the help of God deliver in the crisis moments and turn defeats into victories. Paul may be the classic example. He was tossed into prison. Talk about a crisis, a defeat, a predicament. But does he quit? Give up? Wallow in self-pity? No. He rises to the occasion. He converts his jailers and he writes letters which comprise much of what we now call the New Testament! With God’s help, all of us can do that. Like Daniel and like Paul, we can rise to the occasion, we can come through in the crisis, we can deliver in the clutch, we can turn defeats into victories.
Next, we learn from Daniel in the lion’s den that deliverance means “to rescue from danger and destruction.
Please, please, please remember that God did not save Daniel from the lion’s den, just from the lions. God does not keep us from encountering the difficulties and the dangers of life—He just keeps us from being devoured by them.
Many of you will remember the famous movie star, Betty Hutton. She was a huge box office attraction in musicals in the forties and fifties. But somewhere along the way, Betty Hutton took up living with the lions. Hard times began to claw away at her. Family problems, emotional illness, bankruptcy, depression, alcoholism—her life became a den full of raging beasts. But just a few years ago, she welcomed God into her life. He saved her. He turned her life around. He delivered her from the lions. He put her life in order. She wound up making a comeback in the theatrical world. She joined the cast of the Broadway musical “Annie,” playing the role of Mrs. Hennigan. At her first performance, the playbill contained extensive biographical sketches about the members of the cast, except for Betty Hutton. Under her picture there appeared just five words which she had written: “I’m back. Thanks to God.”
God had not delivered Betty Hutton from the lion’s den, but he had kept her from being devoured by those lions. Like Daniel, He had rescued her from destruction. And what God did for Daniel and for Betty Hutton, He can do for you and me. All we have to do is to do what Daniel did and what Betty Hutton did—we have to trust Him with our lives.
Then we learn from Daniel in the lion’s den that deliverance means “to give birth to new life.”
Have you heard the story about the bride who was extremely nervous on her wedding day? She confided to the minister that she didn’t think she could make it all the way down that long aisle without falling apart. So the minister gave her a bit of advice. He said: “Do these three things. First, as you enter the church, look straight down the aisle. Second, when you get halfway dow the aisle, then look straight up at the altar. Third, when you get near the front of the church, look straight at your groom. Look first at the aisle, then look at the altar, then look at him. It will relieve your nervousness and you’ll make it.” The trembling bride agreed to follow his advice. It worked beautifully. She walked with a radiant glow in her face, poise and confidence in her steps and with no sign of nervousness. There was, however, one small problem. Imagine the surprise of the congregation as they heard her whispering three words over and over as she performed her bridal walk—three words repeated rhythmically: “Aisle. Altar. Him! Aisle. Altar. Him!”
Well, the truth is I suppose, that most brides don’t succeed in altering their husbands very much. But the Good News of the Christian faith is that God can and does alter us. God can change us. God can turn our lives around. As a matter of fact, the change that God can bring to our hearts and Eves is so amazing and so complete and so profound that when Jesus described it, He used strong and dramatic language. He talked about “new birth, new life, new beginnings, being born anew.” He said: “Unless you are born again you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
Recently I read about a young minister, just out of seminary, who wanted so much to be a good pastor. He decided that each time a new duty would come up in his ministry, he would not only seek the counsel of older ministers, but he would also search the Scriptures to see how Jesus performed that particular task. He did this with each new duty he was called upon to perform. When it came time for his first funeral, he turned to the New Testament to see what Jesus would do. But after searching carefully, it suddenly dawned on him that Jesus conducted no funerals, only resurrections! And there were two kinds: physical for those who had died like Lazarus and spiritual for those whose spirits had died.
Let me ask you something. Has your spirit died? Has disappointment or heartache or sorrow or guilt or sin choked the life out of your spirit? If so, Jesus Christ has a resurrection for you, a new chance for you, a new life for you. Notice, please, that when God delivered Daniel from the lions, Daniel emerged from that experience as a new person—wiser, more thankful and more dependent upon God than before. God can deliver you from the lions that stalk you in your life if you will just open your heart to Him and let Him in. My friends, remember this: never go into the lion’s den in life without holding in your heart God in Jesus Christ.
That’s enough for now. Think about these things this week, will you?