“Finishing Well” (John MacDiarmid)

Notes on Sermon Preached at PCF on 4 March 2012

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Reference: Daniel 6

At the time of writing, we are just a few months away from the biggest sporting event that we have had in the UK for many years. The Olympics come to town in the summer and sporting careers will be made and broken in London and elsewhere during a few short weeks in the summer.

In the flagship athletic races, there are no medals for the person who is leading at the half way point, or three quarters of the way through the race. The winner’s trophy goes to the winner – the person who is in the lead at the end of the race.
Paul tells us to “run in such a way as to get the prize”. The Christian life has often been compared to a race, and the prize goes to the one who finishes well. Today we look at the final recorded event in the life of a man who finished well – Daniel. He is in his eighties when we read this story, and it crowns a lifetime of service to God and exemplary conduct. It also shows that you are never too old to be used by God. In many ways this was Daniel’s finest hour – and it took place when he was in his eighties!

1. A Dedicated Servant (v 1-5)

Daniel is serving yet another king. He has gained a reputation for integrity and ability. We may not all have Daniel’s exceptional qualities, but we do have gifts given us by God which we can use to the best of our ability. In the case of Daniel, it is not only his ability – it is the fact that her uses it with total integrity. For a boss, they should know that they can trust a Christian who works for them to be above reproach in every area of their lives.

The trouble is that such conduct –though pleasing to God, and often pleasing to the boss – does not necessarily win us friends amongst our colleagues.

In Daniel’s case his integrity meant that he – a Jew from a foreign conquered land – would be preferred to all of them for promotion. Add to that the likelihood that Daniel’s integrity was “so that the King did not suffer loss” – it meant that all the opportunities for profit that came from being in positions of power were gone as long as Daniel was in charge.

The observation is that “they could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.” What a thing to say about Daniel! Can the same thing be said of us?

2. A Dastardly Scheme (v 6-9)

Paul warns us that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”
So Daniel’s colleagues, motivated by greed and jealousy put into place a carefully planned plot. Using flattery they goad the king into making a law that they know that Daniel can not accept and then wait for the inevitable opportunity that Daniel’s integrity will bring. We shold not be surprised that following Jesus hard brings as much opposition as it does blessing.

3. A Dutiful Response.( v 10-15)

If death was the penalty for going to church today, one wonders what sort of congregations there would be around the country! The fact is that the source of Daniel’s godly life is his relationship with God and that is a non-negotiable. Is it with us? Even the threat of death itself will not stop Daniel from worshipping his God. He could easily have rationalised that he could pray in secret, or that he could stop praying for thirty days. But not Daniel! Knowing exactly what he was doing Daniel carried out his duties to God. He cared more about pleasing God than preserving his own life. This is normal Christianity.

4. A Deadly Scene (v17-22)

Daniel and the King are both trapped. Having spent the day on death row, Persian justice has to be satisfied that same day. So Daniel is thrown into the den of lions. One can only imagine what his reaction was. The fact is that every believer knows what it is to be in the den of lions, in some way. God may choose to deliver us – or he may choose not to. That is His prerogative alone. But he does promise that that we do not go alone onto danger. Just as Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego were not alone in the fiery furnace, and just as the disciples were not alone in the boat with Jesus during the storm, so God does not abandon us in our time of need.

5. A Divine Sequel (v 24-28)

Two questions are answered in the final few verses:

1. How should we treat those who have hurt us? There is no doubt that to live as a Christian is to be hurt. What is our response to them? Jesus is quite clear – we forgive, we turn the other cheek and we pray for them. The pacesetter for this is none other than Jesus himself, who prayed for his executioners as he hung in agony on the cross. One of the reasons for this is that vengeance belongs to God, and to God alone. It is not our territory. But because we are commanded to forgive does not mean that God ignores damage that is done to his people. Those who have tried to hurt Daniel get their just desserts. There is a day of reckoning and those who have worked against God and his purposes will have to face it.

2. The other question that is answered is the whole question of why bad things happen to good people. When Daniel goes into the lions’ den, one may well ask – what sort of reward is this for a man who has served God all his life? Have you ever asked that? Why is there a consequence of such severity for those who deserve the opposite? But when we look at the king’s message to his subjects a different picture emerges. Because of Daniel’s obedience and deliverance the king makes the God of the Jews part of the worship system of the empire. Incredible – the conquered despised Jewish people have their God officially recognised. Why? Because Daniel went into the lion’s den. Further, we may reasonably conclude that this started the train events that led, within a few years to the return of the Jews to their homeland. We simply do not know what God is doing in difficult situations. Neither do we need to know. Our responsibility is to trust our faithful creator, who is doing far more than we can imagine.

And finally…

We have reached the end of Daniel’s story. He has started well, lived faithfully through his life, and finished well. At the end of the book he is promised rest, and that at the end of time that he will rise to receive his allotted inheritance. That is a promise for all those who have served him . Let’s be like Daniel – let’s start well, live a life of integrity and finish well.

John MacDiarmid
March 2012

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