If you and I are going to get tripped up and called onto the carpet, may it only be for bearing gracious and truthful witness to God in Jesus Christ (See John 1:14; 1 Peter 3:15). Easier said than done, no doubt. But this is the only thing at stake for missional Christianity: bearing faithful witness to Jesus. The Apostle Paul makes use of the terminology “stumbling block” in 1 Corinthians 1: “but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23; ESV). May winsome and wise witness to Jesus be what causes people to stumble, not anything else in our lives.
As this particular entry is part of a series on the Book of Daniel, I am going to connect Paul’s words “stumbling block” to what Daniel 6 says of Daniel.* Those who were envious of Daniel’s high standing in the royal court of Darius the Mede sought to dig up dirt on Daniel and make him stumble, but they couldn’t find anything to trip him up. They finally concluded that the only recourse left to them was to malign Daniel based on his integrity of following God’s Law! “Then these men said, ‘We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God’” (Daniel 6:5; ESV). So they set out to trick Darius to put into effect an edict that for thirty days all subjects of his kingdom must pray only to him, knowing that Daniel would disobey the king’s edict because it conflicted with God’s higher law, which entailed worshiping the LORD God alone:
Then these high officials and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction (Daniel 6:6-9; ESV).
When Daniel heard these words, he didn’t miss a beat. He didn’t trip up or falter in his prayerful witness:
When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and plea before his God (Daniel 6:10-11; ESV).
Daniel was consistent in his walk before God and people. He did just as he had always done: prayed three times daily with the windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. No doubt, people could see and hear him pray and give thanks to his God. Indeed, those conspiring against him caught him in the act. Daniel had nothing to hide.
How ironic it is that those men knew that they could catch Daniel in the act of being true to his convictions, the very convictions that caused God to bless him in Darius’ royal court (See for example Daniel 6:3-4). How often can it be said of us that people can only catch us in the act of being people of integrity, like Daniel?
Of course, Daniel had to suffer the consequences of the king’s edict and be cast into the den of lions (Daniel 6:16; ESV). Daniel understood that one must pay the price for being a person of integrity and following God’s law even when it entails disobeying human laws. But the plan ultimately backfired, as God closed the mouths of the lions and Daniel was unscathed. In his place, Darius had Daniel removed from the den, and in his place had his malicious accusers and their families cast into the pit where they were immediately devoured (Daniel 6:19-24).
Not always is it the case that God delivers his saints from the lion’s den. History is filled with accounts of God’s faithful people enduring persecution and martyrdom. No doubt, Daniel’s view of the matter was the same as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego recounted in chapter 3: no matter what, Daniel would not bow the knee in worship to any ruler other than God.
In this case, God chose to deliver Daniel. And as with Nebuchadnezzar before Darius, the king realizes the error of his way and gives glory to Daniel’s God as the living God who endures forever and ever:
Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: “Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel,
for he is the living God,
his kingdom shall never be destroyed,
and his dominion shall be to the end.
He delivers and rescues;
he works signs and wonders
in heaven and on earth,
he who has saved Daniel
from the power of the lions.” (Daniel 6:25-27; ESV)
While Daniel did not have the grasp of Jesus’ detailed identity that the apostolic community did, the early church maintained that Daniel prophesied the coming of Christ and his rule over the nations as the Son of Man (Compare Daniel 7:13-14 and Matthew 26:64, for example). So, in this sense, Daniel’s hope before God and for his people in exile was bound up with the coming of this Son of Man. No one or nothing could distract and detour Daniel from remaining faithful to the Law of his God, which entailed honoring the living God above all else.
So, where does this reflection take us today? After all, Daniel lived thousands of years ago under dictatorial rule. How often will we find rulers today, at least in the democratic and pluralistic West, telling us to renounce all other deities and worship only them? Not often, I suggest. It is more likely that we will face push-back when we try and make everyone else adhere to our Christian tradition and heritage. Well then, we will have to approach the matter a bit differently than if we were Jewish people living in exile in Darius’ pagan empire.
Here then are some questions worth asking in the democratic and pluralistic West: How often do people take issue with Christians in places like the U.S. for following Jesus, that is, for adhering to him as our Lord in all our ways? More particularly, how often are we ridiculed for sharing in wise and winsome ways about his life, death and resurrection, and of our need to repent of our sins and turn and follow him for life everlasting? How often are we demeaned for loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength and for loving our neighbors as ourselves? (Mark 12:30-31) How often are we ridiculed and persecuted for keeping ourselves from being polluted by the world system and caring for orphans, widows and aliens in their distress? (See James 1:27; Deuteronomy 10:18, 27:19). How often are we known more for protesting against unjust laws than we are for being disciplined for breaking those unjust laws?
Here we can learn a thing or two from Martin Luther King, Jr. who protested unjust laws, but not for being imprisoned for breaking those unjust laws. Like Daniel, he understood the consequences for standing up for what is right and accepted them. Let’s consider King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and the context surrounding it.
The white Christian majority in King’ day affirmed segregation laws in the South and did not affirm equity in the North. King was willing to go to jail for breaking the unjust laws of segregation. He did not protest being jailed. He protested the laws that promoted and preserved inequity in favor of the majority. Here is what King says to white moderates who took issue with his non-violent civil disobedience work in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:
One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority…
In view of the Book of Daniel and King’s Birmingham Jail letter, let’s consider how to proceed with being missional Christians who do everything possible to make sure people stumble over Jesus, not us:
First, let’s make sure in our missional witness that we are advocating with people who are being oppressed, not for securing our rights over the oppressed and forcing them to stumble. Darius the Mede’s edict was oppressive to those who did not benefit from worship of him alone. Those who conspired against Daniel benefited from Darius’ edict, or so they thought. They had a false sense of superiority as they downgraded the minority religious population, including Daniel’s exiled Jewish community. Jesus is the exiled deity, the God who comes to us from the margins of existence. He rules from the cross, which is weakness and foolishness to the fleshly strong and worldly wise. Missional witness ensures that those who operate in this way will stumble over Jesus in the hope that they repent.
Second, let’s not engage in major protests for suffering unjustly for disobeying unjust laws. Let’s engage like Daniel and King in prayerful civil disobedience. Our Lord Jesus himself sets the example as he protested truthfully and civilly, accepting the consequences for being who he is—the Son of Man (Refer to his trial recounted in Matthew 26).
Third, let’s make sure that we are known for boasting in Christ Jesus and seeking to make sure that at every turn people stumble over Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and call for all people everywhere to repent of their sins and believe in him for life everlasting. Let’s make sure that people stumble over our wise, winsome witness to him, not insulting and obnoxious behavior that seeks to dominate. May they not stumble over us for tax evasion, faithlessness to our spouses, families and orphans, widows and aliens in their distress, but over faithful witness to him in every area of life.
*This is the sixth post in a series featuring how to be faithful in our witness to God while experiencing the threat and reality of spiritual exile. For the previous post, refer here.